Reverse culture shock, or re-entry shock, affects thousands of returning study abroad students every year. Symptoms include lacking the ability to communicate the significance of time spent abroad, being critical of values, customs, and beliefs that weren’t bothersome before studying abroad, as well as simply missing the lifestyle of a foreign country — full of adventure and new experiences.

“I felt depressed for a couple of weeks when I got back,” said Leslie Gustafson, a senior from Overland Park who studied in Costa Rica for two months this summer. “I didn’t have a job to come back to, so I missed all of the things I had done in Costa Rica, and not really having anything to do for a while made it worse.”

Jen Weghorst, the program director for Spain and Latin America in the Office of Study Abroad, has led re-entry sessions at the University of Kansas for two years through the Office of Study Abroad. However, this year she isn’t sure if one will be offered because of the lack of attendance at these non-mandatory meetings in the past.

She said this would simply be due to the busy schedules that students have when they get back, but the importance of learning how to deal with these feelings cannot be ignored.

One issue students encounter is the lifestyles they come across abroad and differences in outlooks on life compared to what they’re used to at home.

“People in Europe just seem more apt to dealing with hard circumstances, or not ideal situations,” said Paul Tackett, a senior from Wamego who spent four months in Wales, United Kingdom, this past spring. “Whereas coming back to America, if something doesn’t happen according to plan, people get upset quickly and don’t really go with the flow as much.”

Weghorst described these recurring sentiments.

“You can see home in a more critical light,” she said. “Meaning, you more closely examine things that you might have taken for granted before you left whether they be social, cultural or political aspects of life.”

In 2007-2008, 262,400 students studied abroad, according to the latest numbers published by the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Educational Sciences. For most of these students the experience changed their lives and had an immensely positive effect on them, but one of the biggest transitions students face is conveying their stories of adventures and the significance of their travels to others.

Weghorst recommends that returning students set up Facebook groups or general discussion groups among other students who have traveled abroad either with them or at other times. This allows students to compare notes on their transitional progress and experiences, and especially on the things they miss.

Educating people on how to transition back into their own social networks when they return has helped past students, and the Office of Study Abroad includes this in pre-departure mandatory meetings with students.

“When you’re talking with friends back home, all they’re doing is listening and asking questions,” said Brian Kelly, a senior from St. Louis who studied abroad in Rome for six months last fall. “But when you talk to somebody who’s done the same thing, you can relate with them and it’s more like a discussion.”

The Office of Study Abroad recommends that students dealing with severe reverse culture shock take advantage of counseling services offered at the Counseling and Psychological Services located in Watkins Health Center.

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( By Nicolas Roesler- The University Daily Kansan)

The demands on leaders of study abroad programs can be humbling.

“You have to have a willingness to learn and share experiences with students,” said Nancy Guthrie, program coordinator for Iowa State University’s Study Abroad Center and the center’s liaison with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “One of my most profound learning experiences came in Sucre, Bolivia, one year when I was spending the night on a cot in a clinic. It was cold; the student was severely dehydrated. If any of you know clinics in Latin America, some of them are very small, they don’t have a lot of staff, so I was there if she needed a drink of water; whatever she needed, I was there to help get.

”That’s kind of a reality check when you’re a faculty member. I was mom, I was translator, I was health care evaluator to see whether what the doctors were prescribing for that student were really appropriate or not. And if I hadn’t lived in Bolivia for six and a half years before that, it would have been very difficult.”

“How do we prepare faculty to handle those kinds of situations if they don’t have any previous experience?” Guthrie asked. “Of course they can call back to our offices, and we run through all these scenarios, but still, once the rubber hits the road, it’s very difficult to predict exactly what skills are needed.”

Guthrie and several colleagues discussed the challenges of faculty-led study abroad during a session Wednesday at the annual conference of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, where more than 7,000 professionals have gathered to discuss the benefits of international exchange, incoming and outgoing — as well as the pitfalls and risks.

“On our campus I’m on the phone with the risk manager every day,” John D. Battenburg, director of international education and programs at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, said during the session on faculty-led study abroad.

Short-term, faculty-led programs are key elements in the ongoing push to increase the number of American students studying abroad. Indeed the majority of students now studying abroad — 56 percent — do so on short-term programs. While the quality of these programs is correlated with the quality of the faculty leader — “Great faculty make great programs,” as Battenburg said — figuring out which professors will make great study abroad leaders is a fallible process. “The quickest way to ruin a program is to choose the wrong faculty member. And you don’t always know,” Battenburg said.

The faculty leader is thus the “wild card” in any study abroad program, as Richard Webb, president and founder of ProWorld, a study abroad provider, put it. Tales of short-term study abroad programs gone awry because of poor faculty leadership surface periodically (and, for a twist, in the most recent case to attract news media attention, it was not a professor but a college president who was faulted for the way he handled the suicidal behaviors of a student on a course trip to Costa Rica ).

Such distressing reports will probably keep coming as colleges increase the numbers of short-term programs, but Battenburg stressed the need to put protocols in place to reduce their likelihood. “My campus, we do quite a bit with the selection of faculty members, quite a bit with the training of faculty members, and quite a bit with program delivery when they’re overseas. So with selection, we have an application process, we have a committee that chooses faculty members, and it’s a broad-based committee [made up of former faculty leaders], representing different colleges.

”We have information meetings with the faculty beforehand, so they know what to expect, in terms of compensation, in terms of workload issues, in terms of risk management, in terms of academics. The faculty submit a statement of purpose for those courses they want to offer, teaching evaluations, and the signature of the chair and the dean, which we find very important, because then if there are problems, the dean or chair can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s not my problem.’ ”

Battenburg continued: “We interview the faculty member. We talk a lot about, ‘How are you going to connect the dots? How are you going to use the location, the city or location where you’re going, as a laboratory?’ Then of course we appoint the faculty member, but it’s a conditional appointment. Obviously it depends on enrollment and it can depend on other issues. We also deal with training. We spend a lot of time with risk management. We require all faculty to take emergency management response PowerPoint training. We also have faculty involved in the pre-departure orientation with the students.

“And, then, finally program delivery. We communicate with the faculty often. With our faculty-led programs we send a staff member for at least part of the duration of the program. We have students and we have a supervisor evaluate the program and then we also meet with faculty afterwards. So we take it very seriously. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes we do; sometimes we don’t,” Battenburg said.

Despite the challenges, one message of the session Wednesday was that if colleges want to expand their study abroad capacity, faculty-led programs are an essential component. La Roche College, in Pittsburgh, is ramping up its faculty-led programs significantly: It recently began the Study Abroad + Study USA program, in which all students will have the opportunity to participate in a one- to three-week program abroad or in another part of the United States, at no extra cost (the cost is included in the college’s tuition structure). Those in the entering class of 2009 are the first students who will benefit from the new program, and so La Roche plans to offer 19 faculty-led programs come May 2011. “This can only work with collaboration of the faculty,” said Thomas G. Schaefer, the associate vice president for academic affairs at La Roche. “There is no alternative for this. These are all faculty-, staff-led programs.”

“What we’re seeing is, there is excitement on the part of the faculty, but also apprehension,” said Schaefer. “It’s the fear of not knowing what to do.  By Elizabeth Redden

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(ByElizabeth Redden, Inside Higher Ed)

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