Tips for Cultural Adjustment and Re-entry After Your Off-campus Experience

a note from Nora Samuelson '05, Swedish Program alumna

Welcome back to Bucknell!

While it may seem like your transition back to Bucknell will be a breeze, returning to Lewisburg after a semester or year off-campus can be harder than you think. For me, going home was easy, but even after a whole summer of being back in the country and readjusted to "American living," coming back to Bucknell was the hard part.

I didn’t think it would be a difficult transition. After all, I was going to be living with my three best friends, reconnecting with friends and professors I hadn’t seen in over a year, and I was going to be a senior. While I thought I was ready for the "bubble," I found out that I wasn’t as prepared as I imagined. It’s called reverse culture shock, and no matter how ready you think you’ll be to go back to your "old life," little things will throw you for a loop.

One of the most difficult things for me to come to terms with was that Bucknell seemed to be the same on the surface, but I had changed and the people at Bucknell had changed, too. Not only was I coming back after a year of incredible new and eye-opening experiences, I realized that I didn’t know half of the students at Bucknell anymore. Since I'd left, two classes had graduated and two new classes had taken their place. I know that most students only study off-campus for a semester, so you may not have this problem, but it was definitely a shock for me. At the same time, most of my really close friends were returning to Bucknell after spending the spring semester off-campus, so as soon as I started to tell a story about my time in Sweden, I felt like I was cut off so that a friend could tell a bigger and better story.

These are only a few of the challenges that I faced upon returning to Bucknell. It took me about three weeks to adjust to life here, and once I did, I had the best year of my life. It might seem really easy to come back, but definitely take your time. It’s normal to be sad, confused, and "homesick" for your off-campus friends and location. Here are a few tips for breaking back into the bubble that helped me and my friends:

  • Don’t quit your campus activities and jobs. After returning to Bucknell, your campus activities might seem unimportant, or you may have a hard time adjusting to new faces or the absence of recent graduates. Even though these changes might be disconcerting at first, getting to know new people and getting into a routine are great ways to get back into life at Bucknell.
  • Talk about your experience with your Global Education advisor. Your Global Education advisor helped you through the off-campus study approval process, so scheduling a meeting with him or her will give you the chance to talk about your experience with someone who has a vested interest in you and your time off-campus.
  • Stay involved with the Office of Global & Off-campus Education. Attend the Welcome Back Meeting in the fall or spring. You’ll get a chance to hear about other students’ experiences, as well as discuss your own. Get involved with Bison Abroad, work at the International Education fair, and volunteer for panel discussions. Being on a panel during parents weekend was one of the best chances for me to talk about my time off-campus.
  • Recognize those things that are challenging for you upon your return. What’s different? What kind of emotions are you feeling? Sometimes, identifying the things that are difficult or bothering you can be the key to overcoming them.
  • Keep in contact with the people who have been on your program. If you were on a Bucknell "in" Program, plan a reunion get together during the first month that you are all back on campus. If you were on a non-Bucknell program, find out if there is someone who either has been or is going on your program. I didn’t have a Swedish Program alum to talk to, but I corresponded with a Bucknell student who was in Stockholm during the fall of my senior year. I also sent group e-mails to the other students on my program and visited as many of them as I could.

Everyone deals with reverse culture shock in different ways, and it’s hard to predict how it will hit you. I know I didn’t see it coming. But no matter what, it’s important to remember that you should value your time off-campus, and your time here at Bucknell. We can only live these four years once, right?

Best wishes,
Nora Samuelson '05
Swedish Program alumna