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What to Expect: Social

o Have there been marriages, births, divorces and/or deaths in your family since you left?

o Have you maintained relationships with friends back at home while you lived in the U.S.?

o Have you changed in your attitudes or manners towards the opposite gender or your elders?

o Are you more or less conscious of social status or class than before you lived in the U.S.?

 Depending on the amount of time you have spent in the United States, your family may have gone through quite a few changes during your absence. For example, in a five-year absence, siblings could have gotten married, and/or had children; grandparents may have died; maybe your parents retired, etc. These kinds of changes affect the family dynamic, particularly in cultures where families form the backbone of society. Take some time to think through what events have occurred since you left and what consequences they will have on your family and therefore, on you as you return home. Many cultures highly revere the elderly and when one of them dies, it can move the hierarchy of the family down a whole generation. Or if your entire family used to live together and now your siblings have married and moved out, you might feel more pressure as the only child left living at home.

Another almost opposite situation could leave you feeling strangely uncomfortable with your family in a wholly different way. While you spent time in the U.S. you likely changed and grew in many ways, but your family might have just gone on as usual in your absence causing you to feel frustrated because nothing has really changed at home. Maybe you feel more independent and mature, but when you return home, everyone treats you like the sheltered younger child again. You wish they would have changed or at least acknowledge how you have changed, but they seem content to relate to you the way they did before.

It will likely take time for your friends and family to realize the ways in which you have changed. Don’t worry. After sharing with them some of the ways you have changed, let them see those changes in the way you live your life. Without flaunting it, show them the ways in which you have matured, always treating them with the respect and honor they deserve. Your actions make a stronger impression than your words when it comes to allowing your circle of influence to recognize and accept the changes that have taken place in your life. If you tell them you have become much more careful with money than before, don’t spend money irresponsibly and you will actively demonstrate what you have verbally told them has changed.

Having lived in another country and culture you have probably developed new and different perspectives about relationships and social interactions as well. Decide what attitudes and actions you can appropriately display without shocking or offending your family and peers. Perhaps because of your time in the U.S. you have become more uncomfortable with social classes. Think carefully about what circumstances might allow you to express your concerns with social discrimination, so that you don’t just appear uncaring or indifferent to cultural/societal norms and conventions. Not everyone will appreciate your new perspectives, so prepare yourself for criticism and try not to respond defensively. Remember, you don’t want to act as if you feel superior just because you had the opportunity to study in the U.S.

All of Romans chapter 14 and the first seven verses of chapter 15 talk about the need to respect every individual at their own level of understanding. Don’t condemn those who don’t agree with your perspective, but rather look at it as an opportunity to demonstrate grace by not judging them according to the standards you have set for yourself. Your relationships will benefit much more from treating people with dignity and respect, in spite of differences of opinion than they will from having you push your convictions on them without regard for their feelings.

Whatever you do, don’t become like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They got so caught up in the “letter” of the law that they forgot the “spirit” (or reason) behind it. Look at the account of the man with the withered (deformed) hand in Matthew 12. The Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the law because he healed the man on the Sabbath (a holy day) and the law said no work should occur on that day of rest. Jesus turned the issue back on the Pharisees and asked them if they would rescue their sheep if it had fallen into a well on the Sabbath. He told them that the law permitted him to do good on the Sabbath—he cared about the condition of the man, not the fact that according to the law he should not lift his hand to help someone in need.

You may find that the friends you left behind when you left to study in the U.S. have totally different lives and interests than you do now. Time has passed for all of you, and with time comes change. Don’t expect to pick up with those relationships where you left off. You may no longer have the same interests or priorities. Your friends may want to meet after work hours and go to clubs and parties, whereas those activities may no longer appeal to you the way they once did. Without judging or offending your old friends, explain to them that you have different goals and objectives than you used to. Your social circles will likely change as you choose new and different activities to fill your non-working hours. Don’t allow old friends to pressure you. Sometimes when you find yourself in a once-familiar environment, old habits can easily take over. By taking time to think through the possible scenarios you could encounter, you can prepare yourself with well-thought out responses so you don’t get caught off guard.

If you used to meet friends at a bar after work or school before you went to the U.S. to study, they will all expect you to fall right back into that pattern with them. Allowing that habit to begin again will make it much more difficult to stop. In a respectful and non-judgmental way, make it clear immediately upon your return that you have changed and therefore, the way you live has changed. Yes, you could possibly lose some friends who choose to make fun of your new standards or priorities, but they won’t likely provide the best support and encouragement for the way you have chosen to live your life anyway.

And even the friends who stick around might not show the interest you would expect in your experience studying overseas. While they might show mild curiosity at first, you will probably find that they lose interest quickly. Since they cannot relate to the experiences you’ve had and have no understanding of the world you participated in, it will not mean much to them. Make sure you don’t talk constantly about the U.S. or make continual comparisons with your own home country. That would certainly annoy your friends. Try to relate to them in their own lives and in areas you do have in common, then establish other relationships with people who have studied abroad to address your need to talk about those experiences.

Remember that the way you interact with others and how you live your life will have a much stronger impact on your social circle than simply the words you speak. If you choose to verbally communicate with them about the ways your life has changed, don’t just expect them to accept that and congratulate you. They will watch you and make their own determinations about the changes you’ve made. If your walk supports your talk, that will get their attention. Even if you choose not to verbally communicate any changes you’ve made, people will notice if your life has changed in ways they can see and appreciate. One international student’s wife told an ISI staff member how much she appreciated whatever had happened to her husband while he had studied in the U.S. as he had come home a different person. She saw the difference in the way he lived his life!