Joshua Hancock from New Zealand studying at Clemson University is a finalist for the ISV Magazine summer scholarship. He explains the biggest challenge international students face is when they return home.
The biggest challenge facing international students studying in the USA does not actually happen while the student is in the USA, but rather when the student returns home. For many students, studying in another country will be a life changing experience that they will never forget. Some students will want to remain on their trip forever, others will be homesick, and a few will be indifferent about their time away. One thing they all have in common is they will all, at some point, miss their family and friends enough to plan a trip home. What many returnees find is that their return home may not be what they expected.
Initially, coming home feels great! Life seems ‘normal’ again, your bed is just as soft as you remembered, and the weather is just how you like it. However, what they didn’t mention before you packed your bags is that life at home will never be the same as when you left. While the initial couple of weeks back home include catching up with your family and friends, sleeping in your own bed, and eating everything you missed, the following months afterward leave you feeling a little lost. All you can think about is how much fun you were having before you came home, and how could you ever be so silly to leave that for this!
I have had this experience multiple times on returns from trips, and I believe that coming home becomes harder each time. For example, upon returning to New Zealand after my first trip overseas, I stayed at home for a year and a half; then I got itchy feet and had to leave again. Following the end of my next trip, I remained at home in New Zealand for a mere two months before I couldn’t handle being home anymore. After the third major trip I cut my time at home in half again, only staying home for one month before escaping. Finally, the last time I went home I stayed for a grand total of one week.
I think the main reason I stayed at home for so long following my first trip was because I had been travelling with friends. While we all returned home after different amounts of travelling time, we all equally shared the experience of travelling and could relate to one another more or less the same as before we had left. My following trips were not with my friends, so when I returned home I found that I had a sense of not being able to relate to anyone. Old colleagues had moved on; friends were hanging out in different circles, some had different interests, and hardest of all, many just did not care or want to hear about my travels. I found myself in an awkward position of feeling like I couldn’t quite fit in or relate to my own friends.
I believe that all exchange students who spend an extended amount of time away experience difficulty adjusting when they return home. The thing that makes this the hardest challenge facing international exchange students is that there are no procedures or support groups for reintegrating returning students. There is no information for parents or teachers detailing how to best support their child or student. It is an invisible problem that leaves students confused, alienated, and struggling to fit in with their peers and society. Unless reintegration procedures and policies are put into place, ‘coming home’ will remain the number one challenge facing international exchange students.
If I were to win the International Student Voice Magazine scholarship I would be able to afford to make a trip to New York City to meet with a family friend of my mother’s, William Finnegan, who is a journalist for The New Yorker magazine. As an aspiring journalist, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but unfortunately I will not be able to afford a trip to meet him without a little financial support. The opportunity would have a substantial impact on my future as a journalist since Mr. Finnegan will be able to teach me skills that I would never have access to in a classroom.
Along with visiting Mr. Finnegan, I would arrange to visit the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. It is at Columbia University where I one day hope to attend and earn my masters degree in journalism. The trip to New York City has been a dream of mine for some time, and even if I do not win the scholarship, I still plan to make a trip in my future. It just may take a little longer!