You Cannot Go Home Again: A Phenomenological Investigation of Returning to the Sojourn Country after Studying Abroad

Article excerpt

Culture shock, as a phenomenon, is well documented in the literature (P. S. Adler, 1972, 1975; Baty & Dodd, 1977; Becker, 1968; Brislin, 1981; Church, 1982; Furukawa, 1997). However, relatively little research has been done on cultural shock resulting from reentry into one's home country following a sojourn abroad. Furthermore, the reentry research has been limited to quantitative studies that, although identifying the culture shock phenomenon, fail to provide in-depth descriptions of the experience (Christofi & Thompson, 2004; Rogers & Ward, 1993; Rohrlich & Martin, 1991; Tamura & Furnham, 1993). Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to conduct a phenomenological study to provide an in-depth description of participants' experiences of returning home, becoming disillusioned, and returning again to their sojourn country.

* Rationale for the Study

Christofi and Thompson (2004) researched the experiences of people who studied abroad for at least 3 years, returned home, and made the decision to remain in their home country. However, it appears from the literature that only 50% of students who study abroad elect to return to their home country after their sojourn. In 2000, there were 515,000 foreign students enrolled in colleges in the United States. Compared with 179,000 foreign students in 1976, it is obvious that there is a large increase in the number of students choosing to come to the United States for their education (Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2002). It is unknown how many of these students will return to their home country following their studies. In 1985, there were 18,113 foreign doctoral recipients in science and engineering, and 60% of these students had firm plans to return home. By 1997, the total doctoral recipients in science and engineering rose to 26,847, and only 50.3% of these recipients planned to return to their home country (Johnson, 1998). Finn (2003) found that 71% of foreign citizens receiving science/engineering doctoral degrees from U.S. universities in 1999 were still in the United States in 2001. The 2-year stay rate was only 49% in 1989. Therefore, the focus of the current study was to research the experience of participants who rejected their home culture for the culture of their sojourn country.

Culture shock can occur when individuals become immersed in a culture different from their own (Westwood, Lawrence, & Paul, 1986). The intensity of cultural shock is highlighted in Oberg's (1960) early definition of culture shock: "a disease precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse" (p. 177). Just as entry into a new culture will result in cultural shock for many sojourners, reentry into the home culture may be followed by reverse culture shock. Uehara (1983) defined reverse culture shock as the "temporal psychological difficulties returnees experience in the initial stage of the adjustment process at home after having lived abroad for some time" (p. 420).

Variables affecting sojourner adjustment and readjustment include the individual's background, the host culture, and the reentry environment. Variables such as gender, age, and readiness to return home as well as location and duration in the country of the sojourn all affect reentry adjustment (Baty & Dodd, 1977; Gama & Pedersen, 1977; Gullahorn & Gullahorn, 1963; Rohrlich & Martin, 1991). Gama and Pedersen found that Brazilian women had more reentry problems than Brazilian men did after living in the United States. However, Rohrlich and Martin found that women were significantly more satisfied than men upon return to their home culture. Gullahorn and Gullahorn reported that older returnees had less difficulty readjusting than did younger returnees. Gullahorn and Gullahorn also found that students who returned from Europe faced less dissatisfaction on their return home than did those who sojourned in countries very different from their home. …