University of Tasmania

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Coming home: university exchange students' narratives of cultural re-entry

posted on 2023-05-26, 14:24 authored by Sharon ThomasSharon Thomas
Cultural re-entry – the process of returning to one’s home culture after an overseas sojourn – is ostensibly a return to the familiar: familiar places and familiar people. Yet, this simplistic understanding of the phenomenon belies its multi-layered, complex nature. More appropriately framed as a psychological process than one of physical relocation, re-entry is characteristically challenging for sojourners, its impact being felt affectively, behaviourally and cognitively. Despite being a focus of research for half a century, the challenges associated with re-entry remain primarily unexpected, by both sojourners and those at home. The cost –personal, social and financial – of such ignorance is great. As globalization and concomitant increased travel becomes a reality, an increasing number of people world-wide will experience the phenomenon of re-entry. This longitudinal qualitative study sought to explore the experiences and perceptions of six university students during the first six months of their return to their home culture from an international exchange. Employing a narrative inquiry approach, this study sought openended exploration, the purpose of which was to understand rather than explain the experience. It was motivated by a desire to enhance multiple meanings as opposed to enhancing certainty. In presenting six individual stories this study gave voice to experience, and in doing so, traded generalisation for particularisation. There are a number of provocative findings from this study. First, the study underscored the inherently idiosyncratic nature of each person’s re-entry experience. Second, it reinforced the notion of cultural adjustment as a process, the symbiotic relationship between the overseas experience and re-entry clearly discernible. Third, affective and cognitive processes (internal) – as opposed to behavioural processes (external) – were found to dominate the participants’ re-entry experiences. Finally, relationships emerged as the most significant and powerful variable in the re-entry experience, a finding which positions re-entry as a social rather than a personal phenomenon. While students were the lens through which the phenomenon of re-entry was explored in this study, these findings may be of interest to the myriad groups who undertake sojourns – not only prospective sojourners, but also their families, friends and colleagues, and those responsible for organizing and managing sojourner travel.





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Faculty of Education, UTAS

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