Welcome Back! Like all good things, the experience abroad, whatever its duration—and whether you are U.S. citizen returning to your home country, or an international student studying abroad in South Hadley—at some point comes to its inevitable conclusion. While you may be eager to return, you probably may also want to hold on to the richness of your recent experience for as long as possible. As you will have discovered, living and learning abroad can bring unanticipated dimensions of intellectual and personal growth, independence, as well as an invigorated sense of direction and engagement.
There are a variety of pragmatic ends to tie up as you resume your life at MHC, and there are the challenges of integrating your international experience into your coursework, your co-curricular life, and your plans for life after MHC.
"Connecting International Experience to Campus, Community, and Career" includes re-entry resources and tips to help you navigate your return and capitalize on your international experience as you resume your studies at Mount Holyoke and plan ahead for your future life and career.
For Study Abroad Participants
- Complete the Study Abroad Evaluation Form (log in to ISIS using this link). Because student feedback about their program and their overall experience is so important to Mount Holyoke, students who do not complete the evaluation will have a hold on their account for preregistration in the semester after their return.
- Ask your program/host university to send an official copy of your transcript to the Registrar’s Office, if you have not already done so.
Credit Transfer for Study Abroad Returnees
Remember that courses to fulfill specific requirements (e.g., major, minor, distribution, etc.) must be approved individually by the appropriate department chair; forms are available on the Registrar’s website.
- The Registrar’s Office cannot provide copies, to you or to anyone else, of the transcript sent to us by your program or university; it will keep its copy for a limited period of time and then destroy it.
- The grades earned abroad will not appear on your MHC transcript (except for MHC's own programs in Monteverde, Shanghai, and Beijing), so graduate schools and potential employers will want to see your study abroad transcript as well as your MHC transcript. You will have to request additional study abroad transcripts directly from your program or host university. Be sure to obtain extra copies for yourself now in case you cannot get them later.
- In planning to complete your MHC requirements, remember the residence requirement: You must be in residence at MHC for at least four semesters out of your sophomore, junior, and senior years, and complete a minimum of 64 MHC credits (including Five College credits) during that time in order to earn a Mount Holyoke degree. If you were away for your whole junior year, this means that you must complete a minimum of 64 MHC credits during your sophomore and senior years combined; if you completed less than 32 credits in your sophomore year, you will need to make up credits during your senior year in order to meet this requirement.
- See your advisor, Class Dean, or the Registrar’s Office if you have questions regarding credit transfer.
For Mount Holyoke College International Internship Program (MHC-IIP) Participants
- Complete the MHC-IIP Final Report
- Schedule a debriefing meeting with Kirk Lange, Director of International Experiential Learning. Contact the McCulloch Center (or x2072) to make an appointment.
- Plan to present on your summer internship at the annual LEAP Symposium where you will have the opportunity to share your summer experience with the wider MHC community. Presentations should focus on your work with your host organization, skills and insights developed and the way in which the summer project connects to your academic program and career plans. (Please note: Students who have done an internship focusing on English-language teaching can present at LEAP or deliver a talk at a departmental event.)
For Global Studies Summer Fellowship (GSSF) Recipients
- Plan to present your findings at the annual LEAP Symposium
- Build upon your summer research with a four-credit independent study in the fall semester
Cultural Readjustment and Reverse Culture Shock
Just as you had to prepare for a period of psychological and cross-cultural disorientation when you went abroad, you should also expect a somewhat parallel period of readjustment upon your return home and to MHC. “Re-entry shock” may be especially disconcerting because it is often unexpected. You likely will have changed during your time abroad, and will find that your family and friends, your home setting, and MHC will have changed as well. You may have returned with a renewed sense of purpose and direction and a clearer sense of your skills, interests, and needs, or more confused than ever about the future!
If you are an American national, coming home and returning to the MHC campus is not likely to be as foreign to you as the environment to which you adjusted abroad. If you are an international student, returning to the MHC campus will most likely be less of a shock than it was when you first arrived in South Hadley. Your experience of dealing successfully with culture shock abroad will have provided you with the psychological tools for dealing with the challenges of return. The key is to build on the cross-cultural coping skills you now possess and to find conscious ways of integrating your new “self” into your evolving personal and academic life, not seeing it as a “dream” or something irrelevant to your future.
For some helpful insights into the transition home, see these resources:
- "Connecting International Experience to Campus, Community, and Career," a guide for MHC students returning from abroad
- Linda Senecal ’09, who studied in Rome for a semester, reflected candidly on her return home when she spoke to returning students at the Welcome Back dinner in September, 2008
- “What’s Up With Culture: On-Line Cultural Training Resources for Study Abroad” includes an extensive section, with interactive exercises, on processing your cross-cultural experience
- AbroadView magazine contains several excellent overviews of the re-entry experience, with links to useful resources
- Glimpse magazine offers reflections on students' experiences abroad that may help you build on your experience as you transition back.
- SIT’s “Toolkit for Returning Students” is designed for SIT program participants, but includes a wealth of ideas and resources relevant to any student returning from abroad.
Integrating Your International Experience
After the initial period of being back, most students who have studied abroad readjust rather rapidly to the familiar rhythms and routines of academic life at MHC. The experience of learning within a different educational system and cultural environment often has a liberating and confidence-building effect. You may conclude that your experience abroad has helped you "learn how to learn" and take responsibility for your own education. You may find yourself eager to work hard and take advantage of the high quality of Mount Holyoke teaching and resources, something you may or may not have fully appreciated previously.
The following are suggestions from past returnees that will help you build upon your international experience:
- Make an effort to stay in contact with your host family, program director, other Americans you met while abroad.
- Keep in touch with news and events in the country where you spent time via newspapers, journals, and the internet. Become an expert on this country or region.
- Discuss your experience abroad with your advisor and professors to explore ways of integrating what you learned abroad papers or presentations.
- Continue to develop the language skills you developed while abroad, or start a new language. Participate in a language table and maintain your proficiency by seeking out native speakers.
- Submit original writing you did while abroad or reflections on what you learned or on being back to the Mount Holyoke News, your home paper, or to, Transitions Abroad, a great publication on alternative work, study and travel overseas. Other magazines that publish student-written articles on international study and travel include Abroad View and National Geographic’s Glimpse.
- Get involved with clubs on campus that focus on international issues and cultural heritage identity, such as the International Club, cultural houses, language clubs, etc.
- Take courses with a strong international focus, at MHC or in the Five Colleges.
- Volunteer to help local, national, or international organizations involved in environmental concerns, human rights, relief work.
- Teach English as a Second Language to members of the new immigrant communities of South Hadley and surrounding regions.
- Discuss your experiences with students considering studying, interning, or researching abroad. Your comments and advice are invaluable, and your help is very much appreciated.
- Volunteer to assist with pre-departure orientation for future education abroad participants
Marketing Your International Experience
Whether you intend to start your career in the US or elsewhere, you can use your international experience to help you stand out in a competitive job market. Many employers highly value the abilities and skills that students typically develop through studying, interning, or researching abroad (such as resourcefulness, initiative, the ability to adapt and function effectively in a new environment, the ability to communicate across cultural differences, etc.). Both the Career Development Center and the McCulloch Center offer resources on marketing your education abroad experience to help you articulate your skills and demonstrate their relevance to a potential employer.
Pursuing Other International Opportunities
Post Graduate Fellowships and Scholarships
Students returning from abroad are often strong candidates for the major national awards for graduate study abroad, such as the Fulbright, Marshall, Rhodes, etc. Some of these awards enable you to study for a degree, others will support short-term study and research. Many national fellowships and scholarships require nomination by Mount Holyoke’s Committee on Fellowships, so the first step is an internal application process. Deadlines are often in September or October. See MHC's National Fellowships Office for details.
The Career Development Center can help you undertake a job search for a position abroad after graduation. Resources include directories listing US companies with offices abroad and foreign companies with offices in the US, resume and cover templates appropriate for many other countries, etc. Competition for the plum positions in the global job market is very stiff, however, and you may need to obtain a graduate degree and/or work your way up in an organization before qualifying for a post abroad.
International Careers in the US or at Home
Remember that there are many ways to pursue an international career within the US or your home country. Globalization means that many businesses and industries deal with people and goods from other countries, so your cross-cultural skills will be an asset to almost any employer. Other careers involve working directly with diverse populations within your country and can be a good way of staying connected with people from other places. Examples include:
- Teaching English as a second language, or teaching another language
- International student advising
- Study abroad advising or administration
- Immigration law
- International admission recruitment
- Fellowship/scholarship administration
- Advocacy/support for immigrant or refugee groups
- Travel writing/publishing
- Tourism/travel industry
- Community international centers (e.g., World Affairs Council)
- NGOs and other international organizations
Many returned students express a strong desire to go back to the country they spent time living and learning in, but perhaps on a different basis. Others want to go somewhere else, sometimes more far-flung and adventurous. While there is almost no way that the same kind of the education abroad experience can be replicated, there are a multitude of ways of ‘returning’ abroad during your undergraduate years, and upon graduation. These include getting an international internship, doing short-term paid work, volunteering, enrolling in language study institutes, or teaching English. If you are interested in pursuing such opportunities, check out the Career Development Center; the McCulloch Center webpage on Developing Your Own International Internship includes resources and advice that are relevant to students seeking undergraduate and post-graduate opportunities. Almost all overseas work requires obtaining a work visa. While it is possible to do a long-distance search for overseas opportunities, utilizing the services of U.S. or foreign agencies, which can assist in helping to obtain a work visa, is usually the best approach.
Here are some Web-links to some of the most well-known agencies and organizations:
- Going Global (an online international career development tool that provides MHC students a database of internship and job opportunities around the world, career related country profiles, and more)
- Lonely Planet's Volunteer: A Traveler's Guide to Making a Difference Around the World
- Global Volunteer Network
- U.S. State Department