Returning Home 


What could be easier than going home? After all, you grew up in that culture, speak the language, understand how the system works, are familiar with how to cope with daily living, and have a ready-made support group. When you were homesick you dreamed how great it would be to be back in a comfortable and familiar place surrounded by family and friends. However, the reality is that returning home after a significant overseas experience is not without its stresses. There are many reasons why this is so, but the major contributing factors seem to be:

  • It Is Largely Unexpected - Few people prepare for the return because they expect it to be easy and are surprised when it is not. 
  • The Reality of Home Differs from Reality - When you are abroad, images of home life can become idealized or romanticized. It is easy to forget or minimize the problems or issues that once were sources of stress in your everyday life. Re-encountering them can be disconcerting.
  • Everything Has Changed - However major or subtle, things are different. You, the people around you, and your culture have changed. Sometimes this is obvious and immediately observable; sometimes it is "hidden" and only comes out under certain circumstances—circumstances that are usually unpredictable and therefore unsettling.
  • People May React to Returnees in Ways They Consider Inappropriate - People generally expect you to be the same person you were when you left and usually attempt to treat you that way. They often have little patience for a returnee who seems to be significantly "different" or who exhibits behaviors or attitudes that, to them, seem odd or uncharacteristic of that person.
  • Reverse Culture Shock Is Neither Recognized nor Understood at Home - Few people in the home culture are likely to be familiar with the concept of reverse culture shock. Therefore, people often respond to a returnee having difficulty readjusting by bluntly suggesting they "get over it" as though it were a conscious act on their part or that they could control their emotions if they wanted to. Unlike undergoing culture shock while abroad where program directors and fellow students are likely to be at least sympathetic, upon reentry the pressure to conform quickly and substantially can be intense and tolerance can be in short supply.

 Thus, although there are always lots of reasons for looking forward to going home, reentry into your home culture can seem both as challenging and as frustrating as living overseas. Contrary to the expectation that going "home" is a simple matter of resuming your earlier routines and reestablishing prior relationships, reentry has its own set of special social and psychological adjustments.

What can you do to prepare to return home? Being aware of the reentry process and following some advice from those who have already returned can facilitate your reentry. The following list is compiled from many sources, but all of the tips come from returnees who have offered these ideas in the hope of making your initial reentry easier for you and for those at home. They are offered to you as things to consider as you prepare to return from study abroad. First, say goodbye. It is important to have some closure with your program staff, faculty, friends, and host family before you leave.  Then:

  • Mentally prepare for the adjustment process - The more you consider your alternatives, think about what is to come, and know about why returning home is both similar to and different from going abroad, the easier the transition will be. Anticipating is useful. As one psychologist put it, "Worrying helps.”  However, obsessing does not, so be prepared—not paranoid!
  • Allow yourself time - Reentry is a process that will take time, just as adjusting to a new foreign culture required a period of acculturation. Give yourself time to relax and reflect upon what is going on around you, how you are reacting to it, and what you might like to change. Give yourself permission to ease into the transition.
  • Understand that the familiar will seem different - You will have changed, home has changed, and you will be seeing familiar people, places, and behaviors from new perspectives. Some things will seem strange, perhaps even unsettling. Expect to have some new emotional and psychological responses to being home. Everyone does.
  • There will be some "cultural catching up" to do - Some linguistic, social, political, economic, entertainment, and current event topics may be unfamiliar to you. New academic programs or regulations, slang expressions, popular culture references, recent events, and even major social changes may have emerged since you left. You may have some learning to do about your own culture. The longer you have been gone, the more you may have to discover, and the more noticeable it will be to others that you are not culturally fully up-to-speed. Approach this challenge in the same way you approached culture learning overseas: with a sense of humor and an open mind.
  • Reserve judgments - Just as you had to keep an open mind when first encountering the culture of a new foreign country, try to resist the natural impulse to make snap decisions and judgments about people and behaviors once back home. Mood swings are common at first, and your most valuable and valid analysis of events is likely to take place after allowing some time for thorough reflection. Most returnees report gaining major insights into themselves and their home countries during reentry, but only after allowing a sufficient period of time for reflection and self-analysis.
  • Respond thoughtfully and slowly - Quick answers and impulsive reactions often characterize returnees. Frustration, disorientation, and boredom in the returnee can lead to behavior that is incomprehensible to family and friends. Take some time to rehearse what you want to say and how you will respond to predictable questions and situations; prepare to greet those that are less predictable with a calm, thoughtful approach.  If you find yourself being overly defensive or aggressive in responding to those around you, it is probably time to take a deep breath and relax. It is tempting when asked for the twentieth time, “How was London?” to sarcastically reply, “Very British!” but the momentary satisfaction will do little to open a real communication channel. As always, thinking before answering is a good strategy.
  • Cultivate sensitivity - Showing an interest in what others have been doing while you have been on your adventure overseas is a sure way to reestablish rapport. Much annoyance with returnees results from the perception that returnees are so anxious to tell their stories and share their experiences that they are not interested in what happened to those who stayed at home. This is ironic because one of the most common frustrations reported by returnees is that those at home only ask superficial questions (e.g., So how was it?) and want short answers. Returnees see this as a lack of opportunity to express their feelings fully. In such circumstances, being as good a listener as a talker is a key ingredient in mutual sharing and you may need to practice those skills upon return.
  • Beware of comparisons - Making comparisons between cultures and nations is natural, particularly after residence abroad. However, a person must be careful not to be seen as too critical of home or too lavish in praise of things foreign. A balance of good and bad features is probably more accurate and certainly less threatening to others. The tendency to become an "instant expert" is to be avoided at all costs.
  • Remain flexible - Keeping as many options open as possible is an essential aspect of a successful return home. Attempting to re-socialize totally into old patterns and networks can be difficult, but remaining aloof is isolating and counterproductive. What you want to achieve is a balance between resuming and maintaining earlier patterns and enhancing your social and intellectual life with new friends and interests.
  • Seek support networks - There are lots of people back home who have gone through their own reentry process and both understand and empathize with a returnee's concerns. Returnees may find it useful to seek out people with international living experience such as academic faculty, exchange students, Peace Corps volunteers, international development staff, diplomatic or military personnel, church mission officials, and those doing business internationally. The Office of Off-Campus Study is also a place where returnees can find support and empathy as they go through the reentry process.

Realistically, what can I expect when I get back?

  1. Boredom - After all the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, a return to family, friends, and old routines (however nice and comforting) can seem very dull. It is natural to miss the excitement and challenges that characterize study in a foreign country, but it is up to you to find ways to overcome such negative reactions. Remember a bored person is also boring. Try new things, travel domestically, and continue cultural and linguistic studies.
  2. No one wants to hear - One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as many times as you will want to share them. This is not a rejection of you or your achievements, but simply the fact that once they have heard the highlights, any further interest on your audience's part may be unlikely. Be realistic in your expectations of how fascinating your journey is going to be for everyone else. Be brief.
    There may actually be some people who will be interested in your stories and hundreds of pictures or slides. Think about who they might be and make a list. Consider emailing them before you return and asking if they really do want an evening on “My experience in [fill in the blank]” and promise to make a date when you get home. Give them a chance to change their minds but respond now with a message that says you are really looking forward to your date.  Come tell CGE.  We want to hear all about your study abroad experience.
  3. You can't explain - Even when given a chance to explain all the sights you saw and feelings you had while studying abroad, it is likely to be at least a bit frustrating trying to relay them coherently. It is very difficult to convey this kind of experience to people who do not have similar frames of reference or travel backgrounds, no matter how sympathetic they are as listeners. You can tell people about your experience, but you may fail to make them understand exactly how or why you felt a particular way. It's okay.
  4. Reverse "homesickness"- Just as you probably missed home for a time after arriving overseas, it is just as natural to experience some reverse homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to as a student abroad. To an extent, writing letters, telephoning, emailing, and generally keeping in contact can reduce them, but feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourns and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of study abroad.
    Be sure you have collected the email addresses, the home addresses, and the addresses of the parents of all your new friends. If you want to keep in touch, you need to be prepared. We all know that young people may move around so it is important to be able to contact their parents when they fail to send a new address.
  5. Relationships have changed - It is inevitable that when you return you will notice that some relationships with friends and family will have changed. Just as you have altered some of your ideas and attitudes while abroad, the people at home are likely to have experienced some changes that are very important to them. These changes may be positive or negative, but expecting that no change will have occurred is unrealistic. The best preparation is flexibility, openness, minimal preconceptions, and tempered optimism.
  6. People see the "wrong" changes - Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior or ideas and seem threatened or upset by them. Others may ascribe any "bad" traits to the influence of your time abroad. These incidents may be motivated by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority. To avoid or minimize discomfort, it is necessary to monitor yourself and be aware of the reactions of those around you, especially in the first few weeks following your return. This phase normally passes quickly if you do nothing to confirm their stereotypes.
  7. People misunderstand - A few people will misinterpret your words or actions in such a way that communication becomes difficult. For example, what you may have come to think of as witty humor (particularly sarcasm, banter, etc.) and a way to show affection or establish a conversation may be considered aggression or "showing off." Conversely, a silence that was seen as simply polite overseas might be interpreted at home, incorrectly, as signaling agreement or opposition. New clothing styles or mannerisms may be viewed as provocative, inappropriate, or as an affectation. Continually using references to foreign places or sprinkling foreign language expressions or words into an English conversation is often considered boasting. Be aware of how you may look to others and how your behavior is likely to be interpreted.
  8. Feeling of alienation/seeing with "critical eyes" - Sometimes the reality of being back "home" is not as natural or enjoyable as the place you had constructed as your mental image. When actual daily life is less enjoyable or more demanding than you remembered, it is natural to feel some alienation. Many returnees develop “critical eyes,” a tendency to see faults in the society you never noticed before (e.g., Americans are so wasteful, materialistic, fat, in a hurry, etc.). Some returnees become quite critical of everyone and everything for a time. This is no different than when you criticized the host culture while abroad. In both cases, being critical is closely related to discomfort during readjustment and mild "culture shock." Mental comparisons are fine, but keep them to yourself until you regain both your cultural balance and a balanced perspective.
  9. Inability to apply new knowledge and skills - Many returnees are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to apply newly gained social, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant at home. To avoid ongoing annoyance: adjust to reality as necessary, change what is possible, be creative, be patient, and above all, use all the cross-cultural adjustment skills you acquired abroad to assist your own reentry.
  10. Loss/compartmentalization of experience ("shoeboxing") - Being home, combined with the pressures of job, school, family, and friends, often conspires to make returnees worried that they might somehow "lose" the experience. Many fear that it will become compartmentalized like souvenirs or photo albums kept in a box and only occasionally taken out and looked at. You do not have to let that happen: maintain your contacts abroad; seek out and talk to people who have had experiences similar to yours; practice your cross-cultural skills; continue language learning. Remember and honor both your hard work and the fun you had while abroad. To the extent possible, integrate your overseas experience into your ongoing life and activities.

Academic Credit

Academic credit is granted after you return from abroad, provided that:

  • you received letter grades of C or above (Credit/No Credit or Pass/Fail is not an option)
  • your academic course load had been approved by the Registrar and Off-Campus Study (CGE)
  • GE and Major courses were approved by the Department Chair(s)
  • you followed all relevant CMC academic policies 


During your semester or year abroad, the Registrar enrolled you in a 4 credit “placeholder” course called “Off-Campus Study”.  When your original transcript is received from your program provider, the Registrar will add your actual credit earned and list coursework taken along with the grades you received.  Processing your transcript will take time, depending on when CMC receives your transcript.

If CMC does not receive your original transcript, it is possible that your program provider is withholding your transcript for outstanding fees such as dorm damage.  You may need to order your transcript from your program provider.  Contact your program provider directly. 


If you enrolled in an internship abroad for academic credit you may receive up to one-half (0.5) CMC credit if there was an academic course that meets CMC requirements for internship credit.  This course must have been pre-approved by the Registrar and taken for a letter grade.  If the internship was part of your 15 U.S. semester credit minimum, you will receive 3.5 CMC credits.  If the internship was in addition to the 15 U.S. semester credit minimum, you will receive 4.0 CMC credits.  Internships that fail to meet these criteria are not eligible for credit. Receiving compensation for the internship does not preclude the granting of credits. 


Your grades from abroad will not be computed in the CMC cumulative GPA, but they will be reflected on your transcripts, including C-, D, D- and F. Many graduate programs will recalculate the cumulative GPA to include the study abroad grades.

Probation or suspension 

As with on-campus academics, students abroad are required to remain in good academic standing.  Should official abroad grades not met CMC’s requirements for good academic standing, students may be placed on CMC academic probation or suspension.  Please see the CMC Academic Catalog for addition information.


Most study abroad alumni want to go back.  One way to do this is to apply for one or more of several fellowships available to graduating seniors.  Internationally-focused graduate fellowships include Fulbright, Luce, and many others.

Some notes to increase your chance of winning a fellowship:

  • The Director for Fellowships Advising and faculty fellowship advisors will have specific information on each fellowship.  Find out as much about these fellowships as you can before you go on your program and then be on the lookout for good ideas.
  • When applying for a fellowship, your ability to demonstrate relationships with and support from host-country institutions and individuals will strengthen your application.
  • The most important thing you can do is develop contacts while you are abroad.  Cultivate relationships with host-country nationals and organizations in the field you wish to pursue.  Discuss your ideas with them.  Ask for advice.
  • Refer back to journal entries and quote them when appropriate in your fellowship application essay.  This demonstrates long term interest and, perhaps, passion—important ingredients of successful fellowship applications.
  • Get specific and accurate contact information for people and their institutions (phone numbers, fax number, email addresses, official titles, etc.). Ask them before you leave if they would be willing to support and/or recommend you for a fellowship.
  • Keep in touch with your contacts.  Send a thank you message as soon as you return home.
  • When appropriate, and if communications permit, allow host-country contacts to help you with your proposal.  If they feel involved in the planning stage, they may offer stronger support.
  • While you are still abroad, visit local institutions that sponsor specific fellowship recipients.  Fulbright representatives are often very willing to discuss your ideas and fellowship possibilities with you.  Six months later when a bunch of applications come across their desk, yours may be the only one with a face associated with it.  That may make all the difference.

One of the keys to successfully obtain a scholarship or fellowship is preparation!

  • Do not wait until your senior year to start researching programs.   Several have deadlines early in the junior year, including the Truman.
  • Attend any informational workshops each semester. 
  • Consult the advisors for these programs for helpful suggestions regarding your application.
  • Use the Internet to research other programs that may suit your interests and aspirations.
  • For further information, contact the Director for Fellowships Advising.
  • Visit the CMC Fellowships website for additional resources.

The following programs are just a sampling of the many, many opportunities that are out there.  Do not limit yourself to just these programs.

Selected List of Scholarships and Fellowships:

Photo Contest

CGE hosts a photo contest every semester.  We will email you about the photo contest upon your return.  We need photos that capture moments from your study abroad destination – we want to see you in action!

First Prize—$75
Second Prize—$50
Third Prize—$25

Study Abroad Evaluation Form

Please take the time to complete the study abroad evaluation.  It helps CGE to review each program option and assist with prospective study abroad students who may be interested in your program.