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Strangers in their own land: U.S. student reentry shock

McCabe, B. Strangers in their own land: U.S. student reentry shock. (1989, October 7). The Boston Globe.




The National Association for Foreign Student Affairs, Washington, D.C. describes "reentry shock" or "reverse culture shock" as being precipitated by the anxiety that often results when one tries to reestablish oneself in one’s own culture after a prolonged absence. It is aggravated by a feeling of anger or alienation at the discovery that one has become a "stranger to one’s own culture."

Students can "experience a double dose of reentry shock, first when they return home to their families and second when they return to the campus."

According to Rob Winslow, director of educational services at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut:


A football game or a Saturday night party can seem like a pretty pale experience when you’ve become accustomed to spending a Saturday afternoon at the Louvre or going to the theater on Saturday night in the West End of London. You’re asking yourself, ‘My G-d, how did I get back in this environment.’


Brett Thorns of Tufts University spent a year in China before returning as a senior. He found China "fascinating and alluring." He adds, "When I came back, I felt I’d changed but others hadn’t. My culture shock set in when I came back to school."

Brandeis University senior David Dick spent a semester in Japan. "I’m still bowing when I speak to someone on the phone."

University of Massachusetts, Boston senior Tim O’Brien says, "I lived cheaply in Germany. Here everything is big and throw-away, big cars, big buildings, big everything. If there’s a problem it’s just thrown out with the trash. In Germany everything is conserved, watched over, watched out for."

Returning senior Joanna Mendelsohn from the University of Massachusetts, Boston reflected on her year in Germany: "Everything feels and looks the same but everything seems to be in chaos." In contrast to the coming together of cultures in America, "The Germans have no feel for this. They’re a monoculture. They accuse us of not caring for our homeless and point out how their government takes care of things like food and housing. But their (country is) the size of Maine."

Both Mendlesohn and O’Brien like the rich heritage they found in Germany and hope to go back.

Portia Scott traveled in Europe and Africa, working for three months building a doctor’s house in Ghana. She sees her travels and time in Africa as having heightened her cultural identity and political awareness. She asserts, "I don’t want to raise my children here. I want to raise them where we came from, which is Africa. (I want to) return and wake up with the roosters there."

To ease reentry, a pamphlet from the Division of International Programs Abroad at the Center for Instructional Development at Syracuse University recommends several options for returning students:

  • Share feelings about reentry with family members.
  • Be sensitive to what happened to friends here while away.
  • Keep contact with oversees hosts and friends.
  • Discuss new perspectives with an academic campus adviser.
  • Pretend the United States is a foreign country and use coping strategies developed abroad.
  • Realize that readjustment takes time and reflection.


    • Those who travel and live abroad often appreciate their families, friends, and country in a new way.
    • Poverty and need in some countries may develop a guilt and anger toward one’s home country. Buried anger may erupt when one first sees superhighways, expensive cars, luxurious homes, credit cards, and so forth. It is difficult to find understanding persons to discuss these perceptions and feelings.
    • Travelers may wish the efficiency and care in other regions could be more true of their own and become frustrated.
    • Great experiences make visitors in other parts of the world wish they could be shared with those at home. Upon home arrival, one finds it impossible to share impressions in the same way they were experienced.
    • Most travelers and students agree with Randolph Lee who said, "We need more culture shock and reentry shock in education." And in all our lives.

Dean Borgman cCYS