From Piazza Navona to Attallah Piazza: Students Transition Back From Abroad

by Sarah Paciocco

If you are about to take advantage of the Chapman program to study in another country, beware: While the experience may be great, coming back home can be a bit confusing.

“After having such a great time while abroad, you worry that may have been the peak. That it is only downhill from there because nothing can compare,” said senior television and broadcast journalism major Tom Jackson.

Jackson, who studied abroad in Rome in his Spring 2013 semester, echoed a statement many abroad students have expressed before. At Chapman, studying abroad is an opportunity a great majority of students take advantage of–approximately 35% of Chapman students will have studied abroad through some type of international program by the time they graduate, whether it is a travel course, a semester or academic year program, or an international internship.

Despite the overall positive response, there is one piece of the study abroad puzzle that everybody tends to overlook: reverse culture shock. 

“It’s not necessarily that students are having a difficult time when they come back to Chapman, they’re just trying to figure out their place and how they fit in now that they have a new perspective on things and have made new friends while abroad," said Chapman's Overseas Program Manager, Jodi Ebner. 

After immersing themselves in an entirely new lifestyle for anywhere from one month to a full year, every Chapman student has returned to Orange with a new perspective. Often, students have had a more personalized experience than expected which translates to new values and priorities when they return.

“Students don’t always think they’re going to learn about themselves when they go abroad but I think that’s one of the most shocking things that comes with the experience. It could even affect where they want to take their career,” Ebner said.

Senior political science and communcations major, Melissa DuChene, echoed Ebner’s sentiment while reflecting on her time in Sydney during Fall 2012.

“My experience overall actually made me reevaluate my personal goals. The people I met while in Australia influenced my whole view on what constitutes a successful life. It honestly altered my perception of how I want to spend my twenties," said DuChene. 

In order to channel this new perspective into their lives back in America, many students seek out opportunities that will allow them to utilize their new cultural outlook and open them up to more foreign experiences. For instance, junior business administration major, Lyle Sarembock, is currently pursuing internships abroad after his rewarding experience in London last spring.

“Since I have extended family in South Africa, I’m looking into using my South African passport to try to get an internship there this coming summer," said Sarembock.

Another option students can consider is to pursue a graduate degree abroad. One student in particular, Sarah Faulkner ’12, chose to pursue her postgraduate degree in Edinburgh, the home of her area of study, British literature.

“Edinburgh has the first ever English department in the world; I had to take advantage of the opportunity to study there! I was also able to attend multiple conferences in the UK that wouldn't have been feasible if I was studying in the States,” Faulkner said. “I attended conferences in Newcastle, London, and Cambridge, and made valuable contacts for my future career.”

Despite ample opportunities available abroad, students can find something equally as rewarding without leaving the States again. Thanks to Chapman’s Center for Global Education (CGE), students can access a myriad of resources to further their cultural experience.

“One event we really try to promote is for students to attend the ‘Lessons From Abroad’ conference which is held a couple different times each year in Los Angeles and San Diego. The conference teaches how to incorporate study abroad into your life now and where to go from here,” Ebner said.

At the conference, a large variety of topics are covered and students can gain a very comprehensive experience without leaving Southern California.

Furthermore, Chapman students have a wide variety of events and programs on campus that can help further their experiences once they return as well. The CGE constantly looks for returning students who want to work in their offices as peer advisors. Ebner elaborated on the idea and said, “Often, students come back and want to tell every story and experience to all of their friends and family and struggle to find people who are willing to listen to them but with students who want to study abroad, they always want to hear about their experiences.”

Additionally, Chapman students can apply to be an “exchange buddy,” a program in which students can help an international student acclimate to the Chapman environment and provide as a resource for him or her.

Above all else, students and professionals alike have recommended that all those dealing with reverse culture shock find outlets to discuss their experiences abroad and make sure not to neglect their international experience once they return to America.

Junior dance major Chloe Albin shared her biggest piece of advice. 

“In terms of coping, talk to others who studied abroad. I have found that there is a strong connection between anyone who has studied abroad, no matter what country they went to," said Albin. "I think about Italy every day, and use those memories and experiences as motivation for my next adventure!”

Ebner shared a similar sentiment with Albin.

“Don’t keep everything bottled in, because that’s when it can come out in negative ways, whether it affects school or your personal life," Ebner said. "Actively seek out ways you can incorporate your international experience into your life again. Talking to fellow students who have gone abroad is also an excellent way to help incorporate into your life again.”

No matter to what extent a Chapman student is suffering from reverse culture shock, there is always an opportunity available to help him or her with acclimating. Below is a list of resources accessible to all students struggling with the transition back from study abroad, courtesy of the Center for Global Education.


To contact the study abroad office about working as a peer advisor or being an exchange buddy,

e-mail or call (714) 997-6830.

If you’re interested in attending a study abroad conference, follow this link: http://

To research more about going abroad again, working abroad, or even pursuing your graduate degree abroad, visit the Center of Global Education’s “Returning Students” page below:

Follow the CGE on Facebook:

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