Reentry for the Parents Back Home

It’s the beginning of June as I write this. Three of the students in our group have returned home … a trickle that will expand in the next 2-3 weeks as the rest of the students leave. We are in the “final stretch” before all the students in Oregon and Washington return to their home countries by mid to late June.

We talk a lot at this time of year about “re-entry” issues, how to “transition” back into one’s home life, and the more familiar term — “reverse culture shock.” But it’s not just the students who need to think about re-entry. Their parents back home need to be part of this picture.

We’ve talked before about how the parents back home are part of the cultural exchange success puzzle. Parents play a key role in preparing their children before teens and young adults leave home for their exchange; students whose parents have talked to them about budgets, communication, and adjustments issues tend to adjust more easily to a different way of life. Parents can have a significant impact during the exchange year as well. Students may naturally tend to ask parents how to do something, or confide in parents regarding events happening in the host family, or share the student’s feelings about how the exchange is going. How a parent reacts to those conversations can dramatically affect how successfully a student deals with the issue.

But let’s not forget that the exchange experience doesn’t end when a student gets off an airplane back home. Just as you must prepare your student for studying abroad at the beginning of the process and support him or her while he or she is away, parents must also be sensitive to the likelihood that their child will experience “reverse culture shock” when he or she returns home.

Some basic suggestions and guidelines for parents include:

  • Allow your child a period of adjustment when first getting home.
  • Don’t just assume life will restart where it left off before your son or daughter left home 5 or 10 months ago.
  • Students are used to being more independent now. Even though they have had to follow rules, do chores, and come home before curfew in their host families’ homes, it’s different from being in your parents’ home. Take that into consideration during the first few weeks after your child returns home.
  • Encourage your student to keep in touch with the people he or she traveled with and met while studying abroad. These connections are important and can last the rest of their lives. A difficult concept for parents to accept is that the past 5 or 10 months have been a process of your son or daughter having a life other than their life purely as your child.
  • Listen to your teen’s stories. He or she has a great deal of experiences to share; it will be a terrific opportunity for you to reconnect.

Parents are a key variable in the entire concept of “cultural exchange,” yet their impact seems so often to be ignored. That perception should change if we want to increase success in our teens’ exchange experiences. Everyone is a part of the puzzle.

Photo credit: Padurariu Alexandru