The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Abroad students return to life at ND

Julie Bender | Tuesday, January 18, 2005

For Notre Dame students who spent a semester away from apple pie, shopping at Wal-Mart or watching the NFL playoffs, returning from studying in a foreign country can pose significant challenges. This “reverse culture shock” is something international studies programs at Notre Dame say they are aware of and deal with as students make the transition back to South Bend. “There is a maturing that goes on, and it is often difficult for students to readjust to their old culture with their new perspectives and the emotional changes that have occurred while abroad,” said Julia Douthwaite, associate provost for International Studies at Notre Dame. “Anybody who goes abroad will see the U.S. from a different perspective, and it can be shocking to return home to the American way of things again.”Due to the regular occurrence of this problem each semester, the Office of International Studies offers some ways to ease the transition for students returning home. “We offer debriefing luncheons where we reunite the groups of students from the various locations,” said Douthwaite. “This way students can touch base with one another and discuss their experiences and struggles while readjusting.” Along with efforts to reunite students who studied in the same location together, OIS has also made efforts to help assist students in the academic realm as well.”We are trying to encourage faculty to design courses that will build on the cultural experiences gained by students studying abroad. This will help returning students to reflect on their time overseas, and it will also increase the internationalization of the University,” said Douthwaite. In addition to the services provided by OIS, this year the University Counseling Center has also taken steps to ease students back into Notre Dame after their international experiences.”Students come back [from abroad] changed,” said UCC psychologist Andrew Weis. “They go to their study abroad countries geared up and prepared for their experience with many of their cohorts, but when they return and are reintegrated in the University, they often find themselves isolated among students who haven’t studied abroad and don’t understand or grasp the experience.”In order to help students dealing with reverse culture shock, last semester the UCC created a support group for students to get together and discuss their concerns and experiences, he said. “UCC staff members found they had many students in their casework who were having trouble readjusting in their return to Notre Dame, so that’s where the support group idea came in,” he said. The support began last semester and aims to bring students with similar issues together.”Support groups differ from therapy groups because they provide more of an opportunity to share experiences with others. Students often think their culture shock experiences are unique to them, but with the support group they find they are not alone in their struggles to readjust,” said Weis.Because readjusting is an on-going process for returning students, each person has to find a unique way to cope based on individual personalities and experiences. “My biggest struggle so far has been the weather,” said junior Pattie Mackin, who just returned from Perth, Australia. “A few weeks ago I was in the southern hemisphere, and now I’m in the snow and cold of South Bend.”For junior Meghan Winger another struggle has been the difference in class workload. “I studied in Fremantle, Australia where we only had one class a week. It’s hard getting used to Notre Dame again after having so much time to do work while abroad.”Beth Wernet, who studied in London last semester, agreed.”The workload and classes where I studied in London are different from Notre Dame, so that’s been a change. For me though, the biggest thing has been being back on campus again,” she said. “Notre Dame seems the same, but a lot is different, which makes things weird.”Whether it’s the weather, the work, dealing with the changes in friends or adjusting to campus again, most returning students said they did have some concerns about returning to Notre Dame, even after just a few months of absence. But with the UCC support group and planned OIS programs, this semester students have many resources available to help with the readjustment process.”I definitely plan on taking part in some of these offerings,” said Winger. “They sound like great opportunities, and I’d love to get together again with all the people I met while abroad.”