The advice column in my local newspaper recently had a letter that sought advice on re-entry. The advice-seeker – Pining in Rome – is a student studying in Italy and loving it. She’s entering her last few weeks on the program and is worried about her return home.
Pining’s main concerns are: all her friends will have left for their own study abroad programs, there will be no one with whom to speak Italian, and the foods and pastimes she’s been enjoying do not exist at home. She has fallen into despair and is concerned she will not be able to enjoy her remaining weeks in Italy.
Here is the advice given: recognize how fortunate you are to have this opportunity and experience, “try not to over-romanticize the experience” and see it for the short-term fun it was, know you can return whenever you can afford it, and “how well you adjust depends entirely on your attitude.”
Being someone who has dealt with re-entry more than once, I find the advice given to be dismissive and unknowledgeable of the effects of a study abroad experience and the return home on a person. It doesn’t take into account the emotional and the personal connections and change that can take place. Pining in Rome is treated like a silly college girl who thinks she found true love on spring break. It also belittles the re-entry process, which can be a very complex negotiation of emotions, expectations, and reality.
The advice is very ‘big picture.’ I am not against getting some perspective, but this advice comes from too great a distance to have any chance of being helpful to someone engaged in all-or-nothing thinking. The one good bit of advice is the suggestion that one’s attitude will go far in affecting the return.
My response to Pining would go something like this:
Dear Pining: I’m thrilled you’re having an amazing experience on your study abroad program. As you enter your final weeks, concerns about returning home are to be expected. Your home institution should have provided you with information about re-entry and I hope you read it, if not, please do so now. Don’t let all-or-nothing thinking take over. You are in rare company that ALL of your friends are also interested in studying abroad and will be on their own programs. If this is indeed true, returning will be like going abroad again in that you don’t know a lot or any other people and you need to put yourself out there. Also, you don’t need Italians to speak Italian. If your school doesn’t offer Italian classes, branch out and see if there are any language groups in the town’s community. As for your concern about specific foods and pastimes, well, they are what make Italy, Italy. But if you do your research and call upon your newly honed skill of stretching your comfort zone, you might just find similar items and activities closer than you thought. Read up on re-entry issues (there are resources out there), make a game plan on how you can marry your experience with home, and stay positive.