Home General Supporting Your Student Through Their COVID-19 Study Abroad Returnee Experience

Supporting Your Student Through Their COVID-19 Study Abroad Returnee Experience

by Angela Manginelli
Mother and daughter chatting

The readjustment period for any study abroad student can be challenging, and this is especially true for this semester’s participants. We imagine you and your student are feeling a wide range of emotions both at their early return and the uncertainty of the global pandemic we are all navigating. The entire AIFS community is working hard to continue supporting students through this difficult time. We invite you to download and review Navigating Uncertainty: Resources for Thoughtfully Processing Your Time Abroad and Your Return,” a guide we created to help students unpack the full experience they’ve had and provide them with some resources as they continue their return. 

Families are an essential part of a student’s support network and you have the opportunity to play an important role in helping your student to take time to reflect on their time abroad. We recognize that you might not know how best to navigate this process, so we have provided some tips for getting started. 

1. Ask students to talk about their time abroad and really listen to what they have to say. 

Many participants find that they change a great deal from living in another culture and having an increased sense of independence and opportunities to have new experiences. Often times returnees feel isolated and that no one wants to hear about their time abroad beyond a short recap. Students struggle to find the right combination of words to capture the totality of their experiences in a few sentences. By allowing them space to talk about their day-to-day reality of living abroad it can provide clarity and help them to figure out how this experience will impact their future personal and professional goals.  

Asking your student questions about the realities of living in a new culture can also be a way for your family to learn about other places while providing a much-needed outlet for your student to process their experience. These questions can include:

  • What was something that surprised you from your time abroad?
  • What was something about your way of life in the host culture that you appreciated?
  • What was difficult for you to adjust to about life in your host city? 
  • How did the university experience abroad compare to your home university experience?
  • What did a typical weekday or weekend look like for you abroad? 
  • What was the best thing you ate while abroad? 
  • What is something you miss from your time abroad?

2. Help them find ways to bring aspects of their host culture into everyday life.

There are numerous ways for students to transfer pieces of their international experience into life back home. Perhaps your student appreciated being able to walk more or getting to cook for themselves for the first time. Maybe they appreciated the relationship their host culture has with time and valued being able to have a dinner that lasted hours. As your student is telling you about their daily life you might notice trends in their stories that can help them to see the aspects that resonated with them. Once you have identified these aspects you can find ways to incorporate them into life Stateside. It can be as simple as asking your student to go for a walk more often or taking time once a week to have a leisurely family dinner. Being able to work these new traditions into life back home will help to keep the experience alive long after the program has ended. 

3. Tap into different mediums for exploring their experience. 

My dad is a musician and has never been abroad, so when I came back from my program in London, music was one of the easiest ways for me to share my semester with him in a meaningful way that interested him as well. I was able to tell him what I learned about the music of the British Invasion as well as talk about the current music scene in London. I created a playlist of songs that reminded me most of London and listening to it with my dad was a subtle way for me to involve others in my time abroad. Journaling, painting, scrapbooking, and cooking recipes picked up during the semester away can all be tangible ways to honor this chapter of their college experience.  

4. Recognize if they need assistance. 

Sometimes it is important for students to connect with trained counselors and mental health professionals to fully process the impact of their time abroad. The impacts of COVID-19 continue to be far-reaching and every changing. Students are not only navigating returning from their time abroad earlier than expected, but they are also navigating the added stressors of moving into a virtual learning environment, concerns over their health and the health of loved ones, as well as the uncertainty of their future. Encourage your student to seek assistance if needed.    

5. Prompt them to explore outlets for continuing to share their experiences. 

For students that want to talk about their time abroad in a meaningful way, there are several opportunities to do so. Their campus study abroad office might have a suite of programs for them to join in addition to the offerings AIFS has. 

  • Join our Ask Alumni program and respond to questions from prospective study abroad students
  • Provide a quote and get featured on our website and in our catalogs
  • Serve as an Alumni Advocate and engage with students online and on campus 
  • Join our Alumni Ambassador professional development program and learn how to leverage your time abroad in your career 

It’s important for you to know that returning from study abroad is an on-going process and your student might continue adjusting for a while. This is a normal part of the process and with your assistance in the steps above they can navigate it more easily. Should you have any questions, you are welcome to connect with me directly at alumni@aifs.com

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