Re-Entry 101

2 Things I Got Wrong About Re-Entry

When I returned home from my first year living in Germany, I got two things wrong about re-entry:

  1. First, I assumed re-entry = reverse culture shock.
  2. Second, I thought re-entry only lasted a couple weeks, maaaaaybe a month, tops. 

Consequently, I thought all I needed to do to win at re-entry was to get through those first few weeks.  

Oh how wrong I was! 

Why did I make these assumptions? 

  1. At the time, I just didn’t know much about re-entry! I’d never been through it before, and I didn’t know anyone who had. I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know.
  2. I didn’t want to return home so I didn’t make much of an effort to learn anything helpful about re-entry. In fact, I avoided thinking about my return home as much as I possibly could, even after I returned home. I wanted to focus on going abroad again, rather than making my return a positive experience.
  3. The only re-entry info I remember having access to was the W-curve (sometimes also called the re-entry worm). I might have received more info about re-entry but it obviously didn’t make an impact!

So, the overall impression of re-entry that formed in my mind was one of well, it’s just a couple weeks of noticing all the cultural things about the US that I didn’t notice before and may not like anymore…ok, well, I survived culture shock when I moved to Germany so I can get through a couple weeks of reverse culture shock. How hard can it really be to return home? I want to go abroad again anyway, so I’ll just stay focused on figuring out how to make that happen and I’ll be fine!

The thing is, I was so wrong.

Re-entry is about SO much more than reverse culture shock. It’s not bound to a specific amount of time. And ignoring it didn’t make the difficult parts go away. Not knowing this made my re-entry a very rocky road to travel.

As it turns out, what I got wrong about re-entry is what many returnees get wrong about re-entry – through no fault of our own, I must add! Most of us have several misconceptions about re-entry, simply because we don’t often talk about it or get much support for it beyond reverse culture shock, how to include our time abroad on a resume or discuss it in a job interview or how to go abroad again.

Here are five misconceptions returnees shared with me. Which hold true for you?

1. A misconception that I had about re-entry was that I could engage with it only when I wanted to, as if processing re-entry was like attending a weekly in-person session. I thought that I could set aside time each day to “deal” with it, then “put it away” for the rest of the day. In reality, my experience was far from this expectation. Re-entry can lay dormant, then sneak up on you when you are least expecting it….sometimes months after you have returned home. (Adriane)

2. I’ve also historically believed that similar to my life back home being “on hold” everyone else’s was too…wildly inaccurate, but certainly something I thought at the time. (Priya)

3. I thought that jumping right into the next step (working towards a job in International education) was my “solution” to re-entry. I did take the time to attempt to unpack my experiences with the resources I had, but I recognize there is so much left untouched, still. I think finding that passion was my attempt to say I was through my re-entry and onto the next “thing”, but that definitely hasn’t been the case. (Hannah)

4. My biggest misconception about re-entry was thinking it would be a short period of readjustment back to my home life. It was much more than that, encapsulating many aspects of my life and taking a long, gradual process to come to terms with it. (Jack)

5. My biggest misconception: I was hesitant to approach re-entry because I felt like unpacking my experience would be like saying “goodbye” to my life abroad. I was afraid to readjust to life in my home country because I felt like I’d become “stuck” there. (Madelyn)

What can you do if you realize there’s a lot about re-entry you didn’t know about?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! No matter where you were abroad, how long you were abroad, why you returned home or how long you’ve been back, we’re here to help you make re-entry a transformational experience that leads to greater insight and meaning. You can listen to our podcast, join our Facebook group, and download our free Quickstart Guide for Re-entry below!

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About Author

Dr. Cate Brubaker is on a mission to make re-entry after living abroad a positive, transformational force (even when it’s not easy…especially when it’s not easy)! Cate is the author of the Re-Entry Roadmap workbook and the Study Abroad Re-entry Toolkit. Cate has lived in Germany, worked and traveled in 37 countries on four continents, and has helped all kinds of globetrotters successfully navigate global transitions for over 20 years.