Opinion

Have No Fear: How to Deal with Study Abroad Returnees

By Elizabeth Crea
CONTRIBUTOR

You’ve seen them; the fresh faces that haven’t appeared on campus in awhile, faces unbeknownst to freshman and only slightly recalled by the general student body. Eight months later, these people show up. Some return with a new sense of confidence, others with a new list of complaints about the world. Ah, the return of the study abroad students.

It’s a difficult transition back into Beloit life after studying abroad in a foreign or domestic program. Mailbox combinations are completely forgotten, as well as Java Joint prices and registration procedures. These Beloiters have traveled through the Australian outback, the remote villages of Chile, and the busy streets of Moscow, but nothing could prepare them for Beloit culture shock. (Surely you remember your prospie days; Beloit can be a frightening place.)

Having recently returned from a term in Istanbul, Turkey, I have faced an unexpectedly harsh transition into campus life. The majority of my encounters are scripted, predictable, or avoided altogether. Freshmen look at me like I’m a rookie. Others stare me down, straining to remember my name. I find myself asking the same question: Does anyone really remember me?

I’ve heard many Beloit fall term students complain that they have no idea how to approach an often “self-inflated” returnee because, quite frankly, it’s awkward. Even worse, it’s sometimes irritating to hear all of their stories about international magic and wonder.

Don’t worry. Not all returnees will excessively brag. In fact, many returning students have had their fair share of terrible, terrible times. I almost went completely deaf in one ear due to a mysterious illness and then saw my life flash before my eyes in a taxi crash all within a two-week period. Not exactly scrapbook-worthy memories. It’s often difficult to process the mixed feelings about living abroad and culture shock, and it eases this anxiety to talk about it. All we want is to be listened to and be able to share our experiences with friends, acquaintances, and classmates.

Advice for people dealing with returnees? Know that we do remember you. And we want to get to know you again. But first, the heinous “How was [insert country here]?” question must be obliterated. Never ask that question unless you want a bland one-word answer. Ask specifics; we love obscure questions.
Advice for returnees? If you claimed to not miss Beloit, like, at all during your abroad term, that’s a lie. You fished for gossip via Facebook more than once. Now that you’re back, ask questions. Get informed. It’ll be difficult integrating back to campus life without knowing the news from last semester. Take advantage of the new perspectives you gain from people, and you may learn something new about the world.

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