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Workshop Preps International Students for Return Home

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Students at the ISSS re-entry workshop in 2013.

Between culture shock and adjusting to a foreign language, studying abroad can be as tough as it is rewarding. According to Senem Bakar, returning home can sometimes be even tougher. With that in mind and with a population of more than 1,000 international students on campus, Bakar is working to help ease that transition for students.

“Like orientation, [we think] how can we orient them to? I think we need to orient them from,” she explained.

That’s why International Student & Scholar Services recently held its Re-Entry Workshop for international students soon returning home. Developed and organized by Bakar – ISSS’s associate director for exchange visitors and student services – the afternoon-long workshop featured everything from speakers and alumni perspectives to group activities, all aimed at prepping students for any obstacles they might face when rejoining their home cultures.

Bakar is particularly proud of this year’s iteration of the evolving event.

“We’ve been piloting it for a couple semesters. We finally figured out the content that could address the re-entry issue from several important perspectives,” she explained. “We are very fortunate that we have all these resources to tap into and bring to our students.”

The resources Bakar mentioned include Career Center advisor David Fletcher, the Counseling Center’s Dr. Keum Hyeong Choi, School of International Affairs professor Kyoung-Ah Nam and international alumni who themselves had the experience of returning home.

Paola Daza is finishing her last year as an SIS master’s student in international development. Looking to turn her degree into a successful career back home, the Bogotá, Colombia, native found Fletcher’s advice on leveraging her AU education particularly helpful.

“Just being abroad and studying abroad in a country with a different language, it’s giving you all the value in the world. How to play that card to make yourself marketable, it’s really important to learn,” she said.

Drs. Hyeong Choi and Nam spoke on how to cope with the common anxieties of returning home as well as how to recognize the strengths of a global hybrid identity. Having already dealt with re-entry issues after previous US studies, SIS master’s student Eduardo Ulloa shared his perspective as well.

“Having faced so many, if not most, of the re-entry challenges presented in the workshop without real preparation, I felt a sense of responsibility to graduating students to share my experiences,” Ulloa said. “In going through a re-entry shock, it is good to understand that while everyone's circumstances may be different, we most likely share common experiences and can support one another.”

Most surprising to graduating SIS master’s student Neda Nazmi were those similar experiences and feelings Ulloa referred to. While the group of 22 students in attendance had diverse backgrounds ranging from Scandinavia and Latin America to South Asia and the Middle East, they shared many concerns.

For Nazmi, that was a critical thing for everyone to realize – they’re not alone.

“The most important thing in this kind of workshop is that you see other people have the same concerns as you,” she said. “In the first months [at AU], everyone is focused on ‘Did you have culture shock?’ and all those expectations, but no one talks about how difficult it can be when you’re going home.”

As the evolving Re-Entry Workshop hits its stride in supporting students, Bakar notes that the event highlights AU’s attention to its place in international education.

“AU is very globally aware,” she explained. “Our students in the classrooms are prepared for a global education. The administration and services are also leaning that direction. [The workshop] says a lot about AU’s commitment to an international education.”

Beyond that, AU is simply an institution committed to an unsurpassed education for its students. So, while a transition home may be difficult, Bakar will continue to strive for a better “orientation from” that the entire AU community can be proud of.

“AU is a place where people are very committed to helping students in any way. Everybody takes pride in it. You could see how happy everybody was to be a part of this program,” she said. “This is one more thing we can do to make the student experience better.”