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Abroad participants back at ND

Emma Driscoll | Monday, September 8, 2008

Returning to Notre Dame after studying abroad can often be just as overwhelming and challenging as acclimating to a foreign culture due to the effects of “reverse culture shock.” This fall, over 400 students returned to campus after studying abroad throughout the world for either one or two semesters.

“Reverse culture shock” happens when students have expectations about returning to campus and come to find that life seems different.

“Reverse culture shock is when you expect that you know where you’re returning to and how you fit into your life and then realizing that you’re looking at things differently and that you don’t fit in the way that you used to,” Kathleen Opel, director of the Office of International Studies, said.

Senior Charlie Vogelheim returned to campus after studying in Innsbruck, Austria, during the last academic year.

“What I’ve been telling everybody is that it was a sensory overload kind of thing because I was gone for a whole year,” Vogelheim said. “Things were the same, but a year had passed, so a lot was different.”

Opel said that students react differently to their return to campus.

“Depending on the location that [students are] coming from, there are a variety of feelings, and depending on how long they’ve been away,” Opel said.

Whether students study abroad in urban cities or small towns also has an impact on their reentry into Notre Dame, Opel said.

Senior Rachel Wiehoff spent the spring semester in London, England. Wiehoff said that she misses all of the cultural events that capital city had to offer.

“There’s such a variety of things you can do. On any given night, there are hundreds of opportunities,” Wiehoff said.

Senior Kyle Neary also spent the spring semester in London. He said that American culture in general seemed different after his time abroad.

Neary said that on the airplane ride back to the United States from London he sat next to an American businessman.

“The American accent was so weird to me and I couldn’t get over how loud he spoke,” he said.

Neary has also noticed that when people walk down hallways and sidewalks in America, they often block other people.

He said that it is just a difference in culture, and that while it is culturally acceptable to speak loudly in America so that everybody can hear you, in London this behavior would have been considered inconsiderate.

“It’s not so much inconvenient as it is humorous,” Neary said.

After spending time studying in different schools throughout the world, some students find it challenging to adjust to the academic life at Notre Dame.

Senior Luis Crespo, who studied in Angers, France last fall, said that returning to school at Notre Dame was a change of pace.

“[While abroad] you just do your homework for the class and take off for the weekend. Here, academic standards are very different,” he said.

He said that with studying abroad in the fall and the pressure to find an internship for the summer during the spring semester, “in a way, junior year didn’t exist.”

Wiehoff added that the public transportation system in London is also something that she misses now that she has returned to South Bend. Senior Mark Bond agreed.

“Public transportation was a lot less available, which annoyed me,” Bond said.

Still, Bond said that he did not go through a period of “reverse culture shock.”

For some students, returning to campus after studying abroad is more challenging than leaving campus in the first place, Opel said.

“For some students, it’s a more intense experience when they’re coming back,” she said.

Vogelheim said the experiences of going abroad versus coming home are unique.

“The experiences were so different that you can’t compare,” he said.

He said it seemed difficult to adjust to arriving in Austria because he was jetlagged and people were constantly speaking German to him. However, Vogelheim said that arriving in Innsbruck was easier in some ways, particularly because he traveled with a group of Notre Dame students.

“We went over as a group and we had each other to talk to. Coming back, you’re kind of alone a little bit,” Vogelheim said.

Opel said that students who are readjusting back to life on campus often like to talk about their experiences abroad and relate well to people who shared their abroad experience.

“They do see themselves differently at Notre Dame,” Opel said. “That’s part of a growth process and they are still who they were before they went, but now there’s something else that makes them more than that as well.”

Wiehoff said the connections that she made with other Notre Dame students while abroad have made Notre Dame more exciting.

“There are still a lot of friends that I have on campus that I am still close with and I stayed close with while I was abroad, but so many people that I met while I was abroad in London … have turned out to be some of my closest friends. It’s really fun not to be back because there were so many of us from so many different groups …” she said.

In order to help students readjust to life on campus and deal with reverse culture shock, The University Counseling Center (UCC) has developed re-entry support groups.

The OIS also hosts returning meetings for each program in which students debrief their experience and the OIS can learn about the students’ time abroad, Opel said.