Students share study abroad experiences

by Mickie Barg

As part of an independent study program last year, Paul Kelley, an international relations student, spent time in Korea. When he returned to the United States, he had a difficult time reacclimating to American life.
“I adjusted well to life in Korea, but was unprepared for the emotions I had about American society when I came back,” Kelley said. “I was so unaccustomed to our liberal views and independent thinking.”
Wednesday in Coffman Union students learned of possible issues surrounding re-entry. “Bringing the World Home,” sponsored by the Study Abroad Alumni Society and the Global Campus, incorporated information and entertainment to educate about problems surrounding re-entry.
“This event is wonderful to tell students how they can use their experience abroad and internships,” said Nanda Bognar, an intercultural communications instructor in the Department of Speech-Communication.
More than 20 organizations supplied information on opportunities available for returning study abroad participants.
“It is really positive — events like this which have many opportunities in one place,” Kelley said. “It is like an international party where we can select from a smorgasbord of information.”
Although the event offered information on several aspects of the study abroad program, the majority centered on readjusting.
“The better a study abroad student adjusts to the foreign culture, the more difficult it is for them to readjust to their home culture,” said Ginger Haddorff, a graduate student in comparative and international development education, “Sometimes because they don’t expect to have difficulty.”
When problems do arise, they often extend outward, beyond internal changes.
“Sometimes it is very difficult, after an international experience, to integrate back into life, educational and career goals,” said Katrina Wass, co-chairwoman of the SAAS. “People come back and view themselves differently but are thrown back into their lives.”
Amanda Bolinder came back from two study abroad programs eager to tell everyone about her life-changing experiences.
“Nobody wanted to listen to what happened to me,” Bolinder said. “They just wanted to tell me what happened here. It was very difficult.”
Haddorff, who is doing her thesis on the re-entry programs available in several colleges, finds that there is not much offered, and what is available is under-funded and understaffed.
“The SAAS is a start, and the re-entry course offered at the University is wonderful,” Haddorff said.
When Haddorff returned from a study abroad experience in the 1960s, there was not even a word for re-entry shock.
Al Balkcum, director of the Global Campus, said he sees a changing society in international exposure. The experience shows flexibility and personal growth.
“In a study abroad experience you learn a language,” Balkcum said. “You learn about yourself and your own country as much as about the country you are visiting.”