It’s the term study abroad professionals often use to describe a student’s return to his or her home country after an extended period of time living and studying abroad. It has become increasingly common for professionals in the study abroad field to design all sorts of seminars and programs to ease the student’s transition back home.
However, if you’re a teaching assistant abroad (or really anyone else outside of a university or military setting who goes to live abroad), you don’t get a “re-entry” program to help you reflect on your experiences and adjust back to life at home. It just hits you.
“Excusez-moi de vous déranger, Monsieur, mais pourrais-je emprunter votre portable?” I began. “What?” said the man whom I had addressed, in a very American accent. And so began my “re-entry” to the U.S.—and I hadn’t even left Europe yet.
I was at the Geneva airport, after a long morning of travel as the only adult passenger on tiny, sleepy trains filled with middle school students going to school in the Swiss mountains. I was desperately trying to make phone calls to my water, electric, and insurance companies to tell them the readings on my meters and to inform them that I had officially moved out of my French apartment that day. Unfortunately, the minutes on my prepaid Orange cell phone ran out just as I was beginning my calls. The previous day, I had turned in my French bank card to my banker, so I couldn’t refill my phone by entering the card number. None of my American bank cards worked either. To complete my frustration, there was no Orange store or tabac in the airport selling phone cards. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make these calls from the States without paying a hefty international fee, so I started approaching random people to ask if I could use their phone. The first several I asked responded in American English, jarring me a bit. I finally ended up finding a sympathetic security guard at my gate who lent me his smartphone, which he told me to use for as long as I needed because he had unlimited minutes.
Disembarking the plane at Washington Dulles airport, I found my ears straining to pick out the bits of French conversation that were intermingled with the English flowing around me. It felt strange not to exercise my brain in the way it was used to being worked when thinking and speaking in French nearly 24/7.
Driving home from the airport on large, open highways, I stopped at a gas station. About to automatically respond with a “Bonjour” and a curt nod to the attendant upon entering, I stopped myself when the cashier leaning on the counter didn’t even look up.
Over the next several weeks, I adjusted to American life and speaking English without too much difficulty . . . although listening to lots of French music eased my feelings of “withdrawal,” as did going to the Richmond French Film Festival and attending a job orientation for a summer program which was conducted completely in French.
Designing your own “re-entry” program, where you get infusions of the language and culture of the country you recently left, can definitely be beneficial to acclimating back home.