Post-abroad adjustments: DU students return to campus


A collection of postcards Madeline Nash acquired from friends and from her own time abroad.

The University of Denver campus may look a bit more crowded this winter quarter than in autumn. There was recently a resurgence of third and fourth year students returning from semesters of studying around the world.

“It’s all embraces and big hugs when you see your friends for the first time. It feels so awesome to reunite,” said Madeline Nash, a junior International Studies and Spanish major who went abroad to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The DU Fact and Figures page cites DU as, in 2011, ranking sixth in the nation in the percentage of undergraduate students who study abroad, with about 63.4 percent of the undergraduates at DU choosing to go abroad for at least a semester.

Read more: DU Study Abroad Blog

Winter quarter then operates as a period of re-adjustment for the juniors and seniors returning to campus. It is the time to re-acclimate to the routine and culture of the United States and of DU as well.

Back to normal?

Many returning students might feel overwhelmed by the contrasts between life in their host country and the US. While not always extreme, feelings like this are part of the common cycle of culture shock. The process of adjusting back to life in one’s home country is specifically referred to as reverse culture shock, or re-entry shock.

“I expected to come home and immediately hang out with all the people I hadn’t seen in so long, but when I arrived all I really wanted to do was rest and take some time to myself,” said junior Amelia Leigner, an International Studies major who studied Shanghai, China.

Reverse culture shock is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment, similar to the initial adjustment to living abroad. Other physical habits like sleep patterns and diet might also need time to adapt back to the changing environment. Reactions to re-entry will vary, but just as it took time to adjust to a different culture when they arriving at a host country, it takes students some time to re-adjust to home as well.

Nash gave her best advice about how to approach returning home, “Don’t have any expectations. Don’t set a bar for how you want things to be when you get back. Just go with the flow.”

Leigner had similar advice saying, “It’s important to just take the time to let your body and mind reflect on the experience and ease back into a normal pattern.”

Academic adjustments

Education systems and classes in other countries can also differ from what students are accustomed to at DU. Some may find they have to discipline themselves more to keep up with the workload while others may find DU’s classes easier to function in.

“The way I manage time here at school versus abroad is completely different. It’s exhausting to have so much homework every day”, said Aisling Gould, a junior HRTM major who went abroad to London.

Leigner, who took all classes in Mandarin Chinese grammar and usage while abroad, found it a relief to return to the DU classrooms.

“Using a totally new complicated language in class and everyday life was a lot to deal with so coming back to DU just feels so natural. It made me appreciate school here because I could go back to using my creativity in class again.”

New faces, new places

Arriving back and seeing a sizeable new population of students and an ever-evolving campus can initially make a returning abroad student feel like a stranger.

“My first day walking through the halls felt like I was a freshman all over again because I didn’t recognize anybody around me,” said Leigner.

A whole new crop of businesses around DU also opened up Autumn Quarter, such as Jelly, the new brunch hangout, and Pita Fresh, which opened up where Zingers used to be located, among others.

The Mile High Merchant's Saloon on University Blvd. assumes the former location of the Border Bar

The Mile High Merchant’s Saloon on University Blvd. assumes the former location of the Border Bar

There was also mourning among the general population of returning students for the infamous Border Bar, which closed its doors for good Summer 2012 and has been replaced with the Mile High Merchant’s Saloon.

“It is interesting how only one quarter away from DU can still feel like so much changed, from the new faces to the new bar scenes and even the architecture around campus has changed,” said Nash. She was noting the new signs that now mark all of the buildings around campus and the progress so far on Penrose Academic Commons.

Moving forward 

To grapple with any residual homesickness for life abroad, students have plenty of options:

  • Decorate at home and/or make scrapbooks with mementos from the experience
  • Get involved in alumni programs through the International House
  • Keep in touch with friends from abroad
  • Journal or blog thoughts and ideas
  • Enter photo and writing contests and share experiences with others
  • Start planning the next trip abroad!

The Office of Internationalization also offers plenty of support for returning students.


One Response to Post-abroad adjustments: DU students return to campus

  • Alexandra Wetzler
    Alexandra Wetzler says:

    You did a really great job on this issue story. I love the photo you chose to start with, it really grabbed my attention. Your paragraphs are also very short and concise. I like all your links, they do a good job supporting your story. The study abroad blog link is also great, it gives readers insight into the study abroad experience through the eyes of the bloggers. In addition, this story is very relatable right now especially the part about everything changing, and I really enjoyed reading about it.

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