So, you’ve gone abroad and returned home or you’ve sent students abroad and they have returned home.
What did that experience mean?
What do you do with the feelings that have come up upon returned home?
You might be reading this after returning home and you’re feeling stuck. These thoughts and tips are meant to guide you towards a plan to process what you’ve already experienced.
If you haven’t gone on your international experience yet please be open to thinking about developing a plan for after your experience even right now before you leave. It is never too late or too early to cultivate a plan for re-entry after an international experience. It’s also not too late for professionals to recommit to re-entry programming either.
Process your experience through journaling or conversation
International experiences gives us all sorts of emotions and dimensions to think about. Don’t keep it all up in your head! Processing experiences happens most concretely through expressing ourselves. For some this may mean writing things down in a journal while others process experiences and emotions better through talking with someone. Most of us will process through a combination of the two. When we write down our experiences and emotions we are more likely to remember them.
Share your story with others
Whether it’s a program provider organization, a college or university, disability organization, or an any number of online publications, share your story! Any of these groups would love to hear about international experiences. Don’t be afraid if it isn’t all sunshine and roses either. Real life happens even while abroad. GoAbroad and Transitions Abroad are specific organization that loves to have returnees write for them!
Continue to practice new skills
International experiences give you opportunities to gain new skills. Some of those skills are called soft skills such as creative problem solving, teamwork, and cultural understanding. Other skills are called hard skills which are practical, tangible skills such as self-management skills and presentation skills. Then there are skills such as new activities and interests you pick up during a time abroad such as subject interests, creative arts, sports, and other leisure activities. Don’t abandon these activities upon returning home. Find ways of staying involved and connected to these new interests and skills.
Add your experience to your cover letter and résumé
Don’t forget to add your international experience to your cover letter and résumé. Many employers appreciate applicants who have international experience. Be sure to emphasize the skills gained through the experience rather than simply a synopsis of what you did.
Volunteer or work with local NGOs
Connect with local organizations that support causes you have an interest in. Channel the international experience into serving in your own backyard.
Get involved with groups connected to the host country/culture
Learning about and interacting with the host culture doesn’t need to end upon return home. Find local groups or events connected to the host country/culture to continue learning. Learning about (and from) an immigrant community in your local area can give you another perspective on international affairs.
Be patient and communicate even in random situations
International experiences cause people to grow and learn new skills. Unfortunately, not everyone at home is on the same page in realizing that. There will be times when people still make assumptions about what you can’t do. It would be nice if international experiences were the remedy to that common occurrence but unfortunately it’s not. Sometimes you may get the opportunity to share that you’ve been abroad and maybe a bit about what you learned/gained. Other times you may not get that opportunity. Sometimes those situations happen so quickly it’s hard to know what to say no matter how many time those situations happen! Regardless of the situation try to be patient.
Write an action plan down on paper
Thinking about specific actions is a great first step. Writing down specific actions on paper is even better. You are 42% more likely to accomplish a goal if it’s written down. This action plan from World Learning (SIT Study Abroad) is a great tool to get those actions down on paper.
Re-entry can be a beast of an issue to tackle. It can also be easy to dismiss re-entry issues in favor of preparation and on-site issues. But re-entry issues need their time in the spotlight. Spotlighting re-entry issues gives us opportunities to re-evaluate our thoughts, consider new ones, and evaluate coping strategies. I hope you feel more equipped and committed to investing in a strong plan for re-entry moving forward.