Returning Home

Moving out,  Settling accounts,  Academic transcripts,  Forwarding address,  Culture Shock,  Attitude

While you may not expect much adjustment and turmoil in going back to your country of origin, research and experience suggest otherwise. Not only have you developed new habits, relationships and expectations during your time away, the country you call home has also undergone changes during your absence. One of the best ways to deal with reverse culture shock involves planning for it so that it doesn’t catch you off guard.

Recognize that you have changed as a person. Make a list of the ways you have changed since you left—physically, emotionally, spiritually, academically, philosophically, etc. Before you even return, think about the best ways to communicate these changes to the friends and family back at home. Would it help prepare them to receive a letter from you talking about the changes before you return, or would sitting down with them after you return be a better way to handle it?

Research and read about what to expect upon your return. Many others have gone through this; you can glean information and practical tips from them by joining an online discussion group or blog.

Don’t leave the U.S. without compiling a list of friends and instructors that you can maintain contact with after you leave. Use any campus organizations that work with international students to get the names, phone numbers or email addresses of others from your home country who have studied at that college or university that you could connect with once you get back home.

Don’t plan to hit the ground running as soon as you return. Allow yourself time to process everything you have experienced and how you can find your new place at home without falling back into old habits and routines that no longer fit the person you have become.

Proactively pursue methods of nurturing the growth and transformations you have undergone while away. These experiences have likely changed your life—build on that. If you developed an interest in gardening while in the U.S., do some research to find out how you can cultivate that hobby once you return home. If you got used to attending church while in the U.S., ask around for some leads to find a good church in your home country.

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Moving out

Remember that the practical aspects of moving require quite a bit of planning and organization that you shouldn’t wait to address until the last few weeks of your time in the U.S. Stress and moving go together. Especially since you will soon be in another country, you may feel tempted to cut corners and get through the moving out experience as quickly and with as little effort as possible—don’t. Finish well.

Whether you lived in an apartment, with a host family or in a dorm environment, don’t ever just pack up the things you care about and leave the rest in a state of disarray. Apartment companies will not refund the deposit you paid when you moved in if they have to clean up behind you. You will probably want to stay in touch with your roommate(s) or hosts even after you leave, so make sure they know how much you appreciate their part in your life by leaving the room clean and neat. As a rule, leave things the way you would like to find them if you moved in next.

Always give plenty of notice when you have decided on a departure date. Most apartments require at least a 30-day written notice so they can plan ahead for the next occupants. Notify the school and dorm about your departure plans so they can have accurate information for incoming students.

If you have lived with a host family during your time in the U.S., do something special for them before you leave to communicate how much you appreciated them opening their home and family to you. You will likely have built a strong bond by the time you leave, so keep them up to date on your plans for leaving and let them participate in helping you prepare to move.

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Settling accounts
Once you have a departure date, you will need to make sure to notify all businesses with which you have accounts. That would include utility companies, phone services, university departments, banks, etc. Let them know the date you would like to terminate services, and provide them with your forwarding address and contact information. They usually send the final bill to this forwarding address. To close bank accounts you will need to go to the bank in person with your account numbers and personal identification. Try to take care of this paperwork while still in the U.S. to avoid unnecessary charges for services you will no longer need as well as time delays. Make a list of each company you notify and their contact information. Document the date and the name of the person who assisted you in case you need to refer to it later.

If you bought a car, furniture or any appliances while in the U.S., you will need to decide how you want to deal with those. Don’t wait until the last minute—this will add unnecessary stress to an already hectic time. Advertise or put up notices about anything you wish to sell, or contact your friends at ISI if you would like to donate items for other students who will arrive the next semester.

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Academic transcripts
An academic transcript provides an official permanent record of the courses, grades and degrees received by a student at a college or university. The registrar’s office usually prints the documents on special security paper with an original signature by a school official to prevent forgery or counterfeiting. Transcripts show a complete record of a student’s course of study, including incomplete classes and withdrawals.

Some schools provide a transcript upon graduation, but you will definitely need official transcripts to confirm your course of study and/or degrees in the future. The university will not release your transcript until you have taken care of any outstanding fees or debts at the school. You can request a transcript from the Registrar’s Office at the university, or you can also request one online at the university website or in the mail. Most universities charge a fee to reproduce the official records. Some prospective employers, as well as any subsequent universities you attend will require transcripts to verify your education, so make sure you have these records filed with your important documents.

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Forwarding address
Make sure to leave an address where people can reach you after you leave the United States. Not only will your friends and co-workers appreciate having a way to get in touch with you, but the university and any businesses you transacted with will need to know how to get in touch with you as well. You will still need to receive paperwork, records, follow-up and final documentation after leaving the U.S. Even if you do not know exactly where you will settle, provide the address of a family member who will always know where to reach you.

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Culture Shock
Virtually all international students experience culture shock when returning home, some to a greater degree than others. This is NORMAL, and a natural part of the process.

Although culture shock generally describes the anxiety, confusion and feelings of disorientation people experience when exposed to an entirely different culture or environment, the same effect can occur after spending an extended amount of time in such an environment and then returning to the familiar one. We call this reverse culture shock and many students who return to their homeland after studying in the U.S. find themselves experiencing it.

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Making contacts
One of the best ways to ease the effects of reverse culture shock involves preparation and expectation. During your time in the U.S. you likely made adjustments that affected your perceptions, habits and even values. You have changed as a person, and depending on the length of time you’ve spent away, your home country could have changed a lot as well. Expect to feel some letdown or disorientation. Don’t assume you can just step back into your old habits and routines. Give yourself time; don’t expect to readjust in a matter of days, weeks or even months. But gradually, you will notice that the effects of reverse culture shock don’t feel as overwhelming as they did at first.

Try to get in contact with other students who studied in the U.S. Spend time talking about your experiences and sharing how different you feel. Someone who can relate and eagerly expresses a similar need to talk about it can help compensate for those who don’t seem interested. Connecting with others who have done what you’ve done also reminds you that everyone goes through this adjustment to some degree or other.

The better adjusted and integrated you became while in the U.S., the more reverse culture shock you will feel when you return home. Try to remember what coping skills worked well for you when you went to the U.S. and try putting them into practice as you readjust to life back at home. Rather than criticizing the differences and constantly comparing, respect both cultures without having to label one as better or worse than the other. Recognize and appreciate how things differ, but focus on the positive instead of getting bogged down in negative comparisons.

And now that you have experienced how culture shock feels, perhaps you can help prepare and/or empathize with others who plan to study in the U.S. or have come from somewhere to study in your country.

Before you even leave the U.S., compile a list of names and contact information for all the friends, professors and co-workers you will leave behind. Ask for references from the university’s international student organizations for former students in your home country or names and contact information for anyone they can refer you to that can help you build a network of support and links to connect with once you have returned home.

Don’t hesitate to request letters of reference or referral from professors and co-workers to take back with you. Keep a file of these papers as you never know when you might find them useful.

Once you have returned home, actively pursue building relationships with others who have studied or lived in the U.S. Having similar experiences will give you a common bond that could prove mutually beneficial.

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Your attitude about returning home will definitely make a huge difference in your ability to readjust. If you return with a positive attitude, looking forward to reestablishing relationships and building a future, you will transition much more smoothly than if you go back home grudgingly and constantly compare everything in your home country to the U.S. Too often international students return with an attitude of superiority that irritates their friends and family back home. You will find that people quickly become tired of hearing your critiques and how much things fall short in your country compared to what you experienced in the U.S. Remember that although a lot of people like to use the United States as a worldwide standard or benchmark, no matter where you come from, your home country has many features and qualities that surpass those in the U.S.

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