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Elon study abroad students experience ‘re-entry shock’


Leanne Jernigan / Reporter

Elon has always encouraged students to reach out of their “bubble” and explore new things. One way students achieve this is by studying abroad.

Students return after a semester in a different country with a much different outlook on life at Elon, as well as life in the United States. Those who were abroad fall semester have recently returned to the “Elon Bubble” for Winter Term and spring semester. Upon their arrival they experienced a sort of re-entry shock.

Some found it strange re-adjusting to life back at an American college. Little things such as makeup and cars seemed out of place, while attending class every day seemed foreign after being accustomed to taking classes at their own pace.

Some universities around the country offer programs that help students who are returning to the states with “reverse culture shock.” Elon does not offer students the chance to receive help or advice on adjusting back to regular life. But is a program in which students have to learn how to re-adjust to a normal life really necessary after studying abroad?

Junior Valentine Woods was part of the Denmark International Study Program where she studied medical practice and policy programs in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“There is definitely a culture shock when you come home, but I’m not sure that it’s anything a class could help with,” she said.

Junior Laura Bartholomay spent fall semester in Orebro, Sweden. The only advice she received about re-adjusting to life was a packet that explained the “emotional rollercoaster” when preparing to leave. The packet contained information on the highs and lows when abroad while touching a little on re-entry shock.

“The hardest part is feeling out of the loop with things like current songs and movies. Also, I have to keep reminding myself that life went on here without me,” she said.

Students who studied abroad and returned for Winter Term say they still do not feel as if they have returned to a real college atmosphere. With Winter Term having a more laid-back environment than a regular semester, returning students did not feel in the normal grind of Elon life.

When she returned for Winter Term, Bartholomay said she felt as if she had to wait a while for the “real Elon” to actually start.

Since Winter Term consists of only one class, returning students are just now feeling the pressure of 16-to-18-hour class weeks. While in Sweden, Bartholomay took self-study courses where she was in class for a brief time each week.

Besides the adjustment to schoolwork, Woods touched on other cultural differences she noticed.

“What has always been normal suddenly seems strange,” she said.

She had to become readjusted to using a car for transportation as opposed to taking a train like she did in Denmark. Also, she was surprised when she noticed how many Elon girls wear full makeup everywhere around campus, whereas Denmark’s women believe in natural beauty. Feeling like an observer in a world that she used to feel a part of, Woods started noticing the little things.

One of the purposes of studying abroad is to allow students to view the world through a different perspective. That is the exciting part – experiencing new things and returning with a new sense of everything. Though students who have spent time abroad find it hard to reacclimate themselves to life in the United States, they doubted a program designed to help with re-entry would be effective.

“I personally don’t think it would do any good. It’s more like you’re personally changed and I don’t think there’s anything they could have done or said to help. It’s more processing everything on your own.” Bartholomay said.

Woods proposed a different sort of program.

“I think it might be nice if there was a time for all the students who were gone to just get together and talk about their experiences both abroad and returning. Sometimes just knowing someone else understands what you're going through is all the help you need,” Woods said.

Photo Submitted

Laura Batholomay takes a break from her study abroad classes in Sweden to visit the mountainous regions of Norway. Her class schedule allowed for frequent trips to other countries, a convenience not necessarily afforded at Elon.