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What to Expect: Emotional

Have you become accustomed to more privacy than you had back home?

Do you feel differently about relationships and people?

Have you become more (or less) free to
express your feelings?

Do you have a positive or negative attitude about
moving back home?

Emotional changes can create some of the most awkward or self-conscious situations when readjusting to once-familiar family and friends back home. These people probably haven’t thought about the way you have changed beyond academically and perhaps physically. They might not realize that your experience in another country, with new people and new customs will affect the way you see the world and other people. They think they know you, and suddenly the way you react or think surprises them; so they might not approve or be sympathetic to your feelings.

Often students who come to the U.S. have spent much, if not all, of their lives living in close quarters with their families. If you feel more independent now that you have spent time away from your family and enjoyed more privacy, it might be difficult to go back to living in such close quarters again. You may prefer to make your own decisions and enjoy your own space like you did while in the U.S., but family traditions and expectations go against those desires. This may create problems within your family, as they might not understand your perspective and expect things to be the way they were before.

Thinking about these possible situations before returning home will prepare you to either accept their expectations or come up with possible solutions that everyone can agree on. For example, if in the past your family always expected you to spend Sundays with them, out of respect for their expectations and traditions you could compromise by spending Sunday afternoons with them after attending church in the morning. Or perhaps you could agree to spend one Sunday a month with the family, and accept that you will miss church once a month. The more willing you are to talk through these kinds of situations and expectations without flaunting your new-found independence or criticizing their ways, the less disrespected and resentful they will likely feel; and therefore, they will be more willing to work with you on acceptable solutions.

Some non-Western cultures are not comfortable expressing feelings, emotions, or affection. If you have grown used to having more freedom in this area, you might find it difficult to go back to not expressing these things openly. Perhaps your family will appreciate you sharing more openly with them, especially if your sharing is positive. However, some cultures view this openness as a weakness and consider displays of affection or emotion unacceptable or inappropriate. Also, if what you share seems negative, critical or selfish, your family and friends may wish you to keep that expression to yourself.

On the other hand, if you return to a culture that shows more emotion and affection than the people you spent time with in the U.S., you might have difficulty readjusting to your culture's openness. For example, many Latin American and African cultures see Americans as emotionally cool, uncaring and too formal. If it takes you awhile to warm back up to your home country's cultural expectations, you might need to make a thoughtful effort not to seem uncaring.

You need to think and pray through what level of openness will allow you to feel comfortable without offending or embarrassing friends or family members. Culture plays a large part in this subject, and just as you adapted to the culture of the U.S. as needed, you will have to determine how much you can appropriately express or hold back in your own culture. For example, just because you might have come to appreciate that American couples show much more physical affection than couples in your culture do, you cannot assume that everyone will appreciate your attempts to show them the difference. Also, if relationships between men and women in your culture generally show more physical affection than you now feel comfortable with, make sure not to offend anyone by your feelings about it.

Your attitude about returning home will affect your ability to readjust. If you return with a positive attitude, looking forward to renewing relationships and building a future, you will adapt much more quickly than if you go back home with a negative attitude and constantly compare everything in your home country to the U.S. Too often international students return with an attitude that irritates their friends and family back home. You will find that people quickly tire of hearing you criticize the way things are 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, no matter where you come from, your home country and culture has many qualities that are better than those in the U.S.

Take care to share your experiences in moderation and never with an attitude of arrogance. Unfortunately, everyone at home probably doesn’t want to hear about all your experiences in detail, so you will likely need to establish relationships with others who have studied or will study abroad in order to talk in depth about your experiences as an international student in the U.S. Make a real effort to set up contacts that will allow you to do this. Your time away from home likely stands out as a huge milestone in your life, with life-changing implications, and you need to be able to relate to someone about it all.

Maintain a positive attitude about your return home. If you need to create a visual reminder, make a list of things you appreciate about home and focus on those areas rather than on the things you regret. Someone coined the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” to encourage making the best of a situation by focusing on positive actions and attitudes until you begin to feel more positive. The feelings will often follow the action.