Supporting Your Student Upon Return
Welcoming your student back as they return from their Academic Year in Freiburg should make you very proud as a parent or family member. Yet, whether you notice it or not, your student may be going through cultural readjustment known as “reverse culture shock.” This readjustment may show itself through excitement and difficulties in resuming relationships as well as adjusting back to life on campus both academically and socially.
Questions to Ask
The best way to help your student with readjustment is showing genuine interest through listening to your student’s stories and concerns while encouraging them to not segment their life abroad. Faced with questions such as “How was your time in Freiburg?” a student often can only answer “Great!” before conversation moves on to another subject.
Encourage friends and family members to ask more specific questions like “What were the best things about living abroad? The most difficult? What places did you visit? Are people’s daily lives in Germany the same as in the United States?” Not only will such questions remind students they had a worthwhile experience and help them to readjust, it will help others in your community or family learn more about the world around us.
Each Returnee Responds Differently
It is important to remember that each returning AYF student will respond differently when coming home. Some students may immediately want to return to Germany while others are content to stay with their families. Some students may immediately feel the pains of reverse culture shock and feelings of not understanding American culture while others may only come across these differences days or weeks later. The good news is, in most cases these feelings subside within a few weeks and your student can better appreciate home from two different perspectives.
How Can I Help?
Be there for your student
Your student may be going through a tough transition – help them along without being critical, especially when they are.
Adjusting can be particularly hard in the first few days. Students may just need a less busy schedule and time to reacquaint. When these feelings pass, help your student refocus their energy to identify new goals or become more active in their newfound interests.
Be open for listening on your student’s terms. Be there when they need to talk but also give them space. Accept that memories and stories may only come out at a much later time when the student feels ready to talk about them. Talking about your own life experiences to the student will help to open a line of communication. If you notice that they may need professional help overcoming reverse culture shock, help them get in contact with their study abroad office or a counseling service.
Support and guide your student as they readjust. They may be vastly more independent than before. If your student’s goals have changed, discuss them. If your student is worried about losing language or cultural skills, discuss strategies to keep their skills fresh while managing cultural readjustment.