Study abroad students transition back into U.S. life

Country Place / Pablo Prieto
GVSU student Pablo Prieto traveling in Argentina during his study abroad trip.

Country Place / Pablo Prieto GVSU student Pablo Prieto traveling in Argentina during his study abroad trip.

Kara Haight

While most Grand Valley State University students are thinking about the upcoming winter break, those who have been studying abroad this semester have other things on their minds. With the new semester beginning, these students will soon be making their transition back to life in Allendale.

Potential study abroad students work closely with the Padnos International Center before their proposed trips, but the communication doesn’t end when their travels do.

“Students are sent a lot of information on opportunities to stay connected and get involved once they return home,” said Rebecca Hambleton, director of study abroad and international partnerships at the PIC. “Students that participate in faculty-led programs also have gatherings after returning to reconnect and talk about the experience.”


The PIC website offers many tools to returning study abroad students to reconnect and reflect on their travels, including a list of what needs to happen when they return, and opportunities for past study abroad students to share their stories and experiences. The students are given the opportunity to participate in study abroad fairs, share their stories through publication and other activities, and become peer advisors in order to help other students prepare for their trips.

Hambleton said the prospect of returning is discussed prior to the students’ trips, but “it doesn’t mean much to students until they actually return home and go through the experience.”

One of the major opportunities for returning study abroad students is the Welcome Back Dinner, where they can reconnect to the university and prepare for life after studying abroad.

“The Welcome Back Dinner is combined with a resume development session, (and) the first part of the evening focuses on the transition of returning back home and the second part of the evening focuses on how to articulate what you learned to future employers,” Hambleton said.

Lisa Knapp of GVSU’s Counseling and Career Services partners with the PIC to help with the resume building aspect of the Welcome Back Dinner.

“We deal with how to translate a study abroad experience into a career asset,” Knapp said. “We have also met with students about how to make some career connections during a study abroad experience.”

Knapp said that during the event, she helps students translate their study abroad travels to paper to include their experience on resumes.

“Study abroad can be highlighted in the education section, skills section, and even in a category of its own—something like ‘Cultural and Travel Experience’ or ‘International Experience,’“ she said.


Apart from turning the experience into a career asset, students attending the dinner also learn to stay connected to the experience they had abroad while continuing life in the U.S.

“Many students have a feeling of loss when they return home,” Hambleton said. “Students may have become very close to people in the host country and find it hard to say goodbye.”

It is sometimes hard for students to open up and share these feelings with others at home, according to Hambleton.

“It often isn’t until someone returns home that they begin to understand just how much they changed during a short time abroad,” Hambleton said. “In many cases, the return home is far harder than the initial culture shock.”

Pablo Prieto traveled abroad to Italy in fall 2010 and to Argentina in winter 2012. Prieto said he did feel the transition when he came back the next semester.

“I missed friends I met while I was abroad and I missed having people to talk about the experience,” Prieto said. “I wanted to keep talking about the experience, keep connecting.”

Prieto attended the Welcome Back Dinner and said it was one of the things that help him re-enter into the new semester.

“You get to meet with the other students (who went abroad) and share stories,” Prieto said. “You can’t really talk about (your experience) with students who haven’t gone, You’re looking for someone who understands.”

Along with the peer advisers and the staff at the PIC, Hambleton said students can speak with any counselor from GVSU’s Counseling and Career Services to get back into the swing of things.

For more information about Study Abroad or the Welcome Back Dinner, contact the Padnos International Center at 616-331-3898 or find information on their website
[email protected]