Teaching and Learning Forum 96 [ Contents ]
What is the extent of responsibilities of universities to prepare overseas students to return to their home countries?
School of Management Studies
Curtin University of Technology
Australian Universities encourage overseas students to come to Australia for graduate and post graduate learning. The purpose of this paper is to encourage discussion and pooling of ideas and experiences regarding the moral and ethical responsibilities of our universities to ensure that the education that is offered is worthwhile and adaptable to overseas situations.
Return culture shock definitions and causes
Return Culture Shock is the transition from a foreign country back to an individual's home country. "It involves facing previously familiar surroundings after living in a foreign country for a significant period of time". (Adler 1991 pp 232-3). This is the period of time when students re-integrate with their social, psychological and occupational networks of their home country. There are many similarities between the feelings they experienced on arrival in Australia. To begin with they will feel very elated. For some people this elation lasts for a month or it may only last a few hours. This is often followed by a period of depression. Adler (1981) suggests that the maximum time for readjustment is six months however, the author has interviewed past students who still experience some problems 18 months after their return.
There are many reasons why most students experience some degree of "return culture shock":
The low or depression usually occurs during the second or third month after their return or it may occur within days of reaching home. The feelings they may experience seem inexplicable and confusing: a feeling of being cut off, alienated from things around them; threatened by returning responsibilities at home and/or at work.
- they may have idealised "home" while they were away
- their home country may have undergone major economic and/political changes during their absence
- when they arrived in Australia they expected things to be different. When they return some aspects of their society will also be different and this may cause a shock
- they may find that their good friends have become less close
- there may be a gap between their memories and reality
- there is a gap between the values of Australian and their society
- they may expect the returning "high" mood to go on forever.
The "W" Curve
The experiences which overseas students have had on arrival and on their return to their home countries has been described as a "W" shape (Gullahorn and Gullahorn, 1962). Please note, this is only a model it is not a predictor of how everyone will adjust. It is also interesting to note that the low part of the curve is often where most learning takes place.
Figure 1: The W-Curve
The vertical axis shows levels of self esteem. The depth of depression in each transition may be trivial or extreme, but it probably has occurred or will occur in some form or another even for a brief period of time. The W theory of transition adaptation is controversial since:
It is a model which helps us to make sense of the very complex reality of our lives.
- students may not experience all the stages
- students may not experience them in the same sequence
- some stages may be repeated.
Reasons for the research
The trigger for my research was a critical incident involving a student of mine who returned to Nepal after completing a Graduate Diploma in Human Research Development and a Masters of Management. On his return to his lecturing position at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu he tried to introduce group work into his classroom. The results were:
As a result he felt threatened and became alienated and as soon as the opportunity arose he left for a new job in the Development Field. Since then the School of Management at Tribhuvan University has tried to change its curricula and would have benefited from the skills and learning that he could have contributed.
- his students said he was not teaching
- his colleagues felt threatened and in some cases became hostile.
At the end of my time in Nepal I found out during informal discussions with mutual friends that the student had tried to innovate at Tribhuvan before he left for Australia with even more disastrous results. My concerns are that:
As a result I decided to spend my study leave in Nepal talking to students who had studied in the "North" ie developed world. I conducted numerous video interviews and informal conversations. In terms of products my research has produced:
- he did not learn from the first experience
- he spent two years at an Australian University and appeared not to have internalised strategies for implementing change
- his frustration added to the already big "brain drain" out of Nepalese Government organisations into non-government agencies
- if a management student has not learnt about change strategies what about students of other disciplines?
It is my belief that we need to prepare these students for going home in many different ways:
- a video of students talking to students about returning home
- a case study video of Prem Timsina
- an interactive workbook which is designed to act as a "friend" and confident through the last semester of life in Australia and into home life.
- we have a duty to take into account "going home" from the moment a student applies to study with us ie why does this student want to study in Australia and what is the best course for him/her?
- at induction and throughout our courses we need to stress the need for transfer of knowledge back to home environment
- where possible we need to acknowledge their cultural competencies rather than denial or continual criticism of the way things are done "over there"
- where possible we need to encourage students to undertake relevant research projects rather than "busy work" on Australian and non related case studies.
Preparation for going home
Preparation for "going home" requires:
- drawing attention of students to possible re-entry issues in a non threatening way (Appendix 1)
- drawing attention of students to the skills and knowledge required to make a successful re-entry (Appendix 2)
- involvement in experiential learning activities to enable students to prepare for coping with re-entry transitions (Hogan, 1996)
- teaching students appropriate change agent skills
- teaching students ways of increasing their skills as international people.
The aim of this workshop is to encourage discussion and a pooling of strategies that are already being used to enable students to make productive re-entry transitions to their homelands. These strategies may take place before, during and at the end of university courses.
Appendix 1: Inventory of possible Reentry Problems
Please note this is a list compiled by talking to many overseas students. Most only experience one or two of these issues. Some report they have no trouble at all re adapting to their own culture.
List adapted from "The American educated foreign student returns home" in Denney (1986)
- disorientation, isolation, inadequacy, fear, declining self esteem, overwhelming desire to sleep and/or retreat; unaccountable tiredness; unwillingness/fear to resume past home and/or work responsibilities
- difficulties in concentration for long periods of time
- feeling disconnected from your family and environment
- over confidence in own abilities
- technology shock: disorientation because of differences in levels of technology
- identity problems
- adjustments to changes in lifestyle
- family and/or pressure to conform
- adjustment to having friends and family near
- adjustment to changes in family and friends
- adjustment to a daily work routine
- adjustment to rigid or stereotyped male/female roles
- adjustment to change in use of time
- technology shock: disorientation because of differences in levels of technology
- adjustment from Australian individualism to a more "collective" family-centred lifestyle
- feelings of social alienation after living overseas
- feeling of superiority due to international experience and travel
- lack of amenities which were available in Australia
- dissatisfaction with ritualised pattern of social interaction
- frustration as a result of conflicting attitudes and values eg religious practice
- fear of difficulty in helping your children adjust and in finding a school place for them
Linguistic and communication adjustments
- adoption of speech patterns which may be misinterpreted by people at home
- adoption of verbal codes not familiar to people back home eg open feedback
- adoption of non verbal codes not familiar to people back home eg prolonged eye contact; sitting informally
- absence of friends/colleagues who understand that code
- fear of losing improved command of written/spoken English
- unfamiliarity with new forms of communication/expression back home
- adoption of strategies to "save face"
- changes in political conditions
- shifts in national priorities/policies/parties
- adoption of new political views
- a political climate not conducive to professional activity and/or advancement and/or freedom of speech
- dissatisfaction with the political climate
- changes in bureaucratic leadership
- observed lack of national goals, or lack of progress toward achieving goals
- office politics
- inability to reconcile aspects of Australian education to education at home
- relevance of Australian education with home country situation
- fulfilment of objectives (expectations) during stay in Australia
- absence of professional education programmes and support groups to keep up with new development and knowledge in you professional field
- inability to work in chosen field
- placement in inappropriate field/job
- facing a difficult job market
- inability to communicate what was learned
- resistance to change by colleagues
- feelings of superiority due to foreign education
- non recognition of Australian credentials
- jealousy of colleagues
- being perceived as a threat by managers/fellow workers
- high expectations
- concern with quick material success
- lack of necessary skills to carry our job responsibilities
- unwillingness/lack of skill to carry out job creatively when conditions are difficult
Appendix 2: List of Reentry Transition skills and knowledge
Below you will find a list of key skills which will help you in your re-entry and indeed any life transition. You will already have many of these skills and may use them automatically. Age, personality, culture and career stage variables will affect the appropriateness of these skills.
This list was generated by people who have lived and studied abroad from many different nationalities (Singapore, Nepal, Myanmar, Iran, Zimbabwe, Zambia, India, Australia). Contributions have been made from AusAid (Perth) and ideas included from Brammer and Abrego (1981).
Although for convenience the objectives have been clustered, please note that these categories are not discreet and some overlap is inevitable. For convenience the key headings have been placed in a sequence beginning with yourself, family, workplace, local community, whole country issues.
Before you return home, you should:
Keep updated with what is happening at home
- find out what is happening politically
- find out what is happening regarding employment market, friends, work colleagues
- use appropriate media: radio, newspapers, fax, E Mail while you are in Australia to catch up with the local scene
Prepare to answer questions and/or give talks about Australia
- collect information
- obtain appropriate pictures, artefacts to make a talk more interesting
- compare the pluses minuses and interesting points about your country and Australia so you can give a balanced perspective
Plan all your leaving activities in order to minimise stress
- prepare a "to do" list
- manage the stress from either wanting to or not wanting to return home
- end positively one stage of your life and commence a new one
When you return home, you should be able to:
Skills in perceiving and responding to transitions
- assess how your personal values and goals have changed since you came to Australia
- assess changes in your behaviour, confidence, personality
- identify the distancing effect of overseas experience
- develop a sense of coherence of self and come to terms with these changes and develop a sense of peace with these changes
- keep own identity and a sense of self recognition
- develop your own/family purpose, goals, "dreaming" to give coherence to your life (Victor Frankl 1959)
- cope with the fact that you may be regarded as a positive and/or negative role model by people back home
- know that home may or may not have changed during your absence
Skills for assessing emotions; developing, adapting and utilising external support systems
- identify your emotional needs during times of transition
- identify people who will provide personal support inside and outside of your family
- seek sources (groups, organisations) of potential support people
- develop strategies to spend time with support persons
- describe a personal support network in terms of physical and emotional proximity
Skills for assessing, developing, adapting and utilising internal support systems
- identify and affirm personal strengths
- convert negative self talk to positive statements eg reframe life transitions as personal growth opportunities
- practice self relaxation responses: walking, listening to music, meditating etc
- identify feelings and express verbally feelings associated with your experience of transitions
Skills for adapting to living and working in different space and time
- creatively adapt to use resources available
- tolerate and work within ambiguous situations eg a period without a job or changing your occupation
- develop a flexible attitude to your work
- adapt gradually and not rush things on return: go slowly slowly
- use self talk that "change takes time" or make up a phrase for yourself
- learn not to try to change everything at once
- adapt to change in the pace of life
- adapt to different meanings of time, appointments etc
Skills of communicating with empathy with others
- listen to the aims, objectives and motives of others
- work within your own cultural framework
- accept the advantages and disadvantages of your own culture
- accept that some people may be jealous of your achievements
- use "open communication" when and where appropriate
- use "indirect communication" when and where appropriate
- analyse and use culturally appropriate means of resolving conflicts
- use own skills and those of local people ie "going two-way"
- identify your behaviour if it is perceived that you are becoming an "overseas educated snob"
Skills to manage reverse culture shock in adapting to your home environment
- recall the memories of being disoriented when you came to Australia and what you did to manage that transition
- identify and accept that your feelings of disorientation are normal, natural responses to returning home
- manage associated tiredness and sense of anomie (alienation) and coping difficulties
- mange fear. "Fear not to go forward, fear only to stand still" source unknown
- anticipate and manage frustrations
- describe the stages of "reverse culture shock" which may affect you and methods to cope with these
- unlearn or know when to adapt inappropriate ways of behaving, speech patterns/vocabulary, dressing, body language, eating habits
Skills to continue your professional learning/networking
- take an active role to prevent education decay by accessing journals, books, keeping contact with colleagues overseas
- plan cooperative research projects with colleagues before you leave (if appropriate)
- develop and maintain contacts with other returnees ie establish a support group of "like people"
- keep in touch with lecturers, friends and colleagues in Australia
- establish a support/learning network including local people
Skill to reconnect with close family members
- use role reversal techniques in order for you to appreciate how you family and/or friends feel during your return
- support your immediate family who are also "in transition" adapting to your return
- obtain information on how you and they are perceived
- identify your needs to be treated differently because you have changed and are perhaps seeking to establish a changed identity
- manage their reactions of seeing you as you were in the past, remember they haven't witnessed your growth overseas
- make appropriate, small symbolic changes to personal appearance to signal that you have changed
- choose appropriate dress and change modes according to need for influence and/or acceptance
- make time to listen actively to the stories of people at home
- use story telling strategies to engage people at home into listening to your experiences
- tell short stories giving one or two main ideas about what you did overseas
- save longer discussions fro those who have also studied overseas or are applying to study overseas
- interpret body language to know when to stop your stories/videos/picture showings which people at home may find difficult to relate to
Skills in cross-cultural communication
- assess the advantages and disadvantages of going between many cultures
- act as a "cultural translator" ie appropriately explain and or categorise ideas in local terms and frameworks
Skills for facilitating, planning and implementing change
- assess the type of organisation you are working in ie hierarchical or matrix
- use "public performance" and "backstage activity" skills
- change modes of problem solving, working and thinking eg Zen approach versus the faster western approach
- plan and implement plans flexibly with contingency plans
- analyse discrepancies between existing and desired situations
- identify with other "key factors" that need to change ie often you change things alone
- review the past and move on
- analyse "what if" ideas and the consequences of the ideas before taking action
- facilitate "force-field" analysis processes alone and/or in groups to involve people actively in the change process
- facilitate the De Bono process of "pluses, minuses and interesting points" to enable groups to analyse all angles of new ideas
- asses your own attitudes and those of others to change management
- introduce and/or transfer knowledge and skills learnt in Australia appropriately to your homeland
- relate what has been learnt in Australia to appropriate development processes in your country
- develop a positive attitude to change yourself
- be able to change aspects of yourself
- help others appropriately in accepting and managing change
- use "power" and "soft revolution" skills appropriately
- identify when "power" and "soft revolution" skills are being used on you
- use empathy and active listening skills when people are fatalistic and believe there is "no choice"
- incorporate the main ideas of Freire into your work where appropriate
- determine perceived needs of home community in their terms
- find out the locally accepted modes of innovation (eg NGOs, women's' groups)
- develop ability to speak out or not speak out or use indirect methods as appropriate
- promote your ideas and use persuasion skills
- develop coping strategies to manage disappointment or failure when trying to instigate change
- work with groups/teams and observe and analyse processes
- use facilitative strategies in groups to facilitate change
- use processes to equalise participation
- use processes to manage dominating participants
Analyse both micro and macro social situations
- analyse the micro-climate of your work situation
- compare own and Australian culture and identify the advantages and disadvantages of each
- assess local resources of time, technology, expertise, personal power
Political skills/ power structure
- adapt to home culture, social situation and politics
- assess your role in the power structure within your family and your organisation
- learn who are the current "gatekeepers", "legitimators" "knowledge keepers" in your country
- identify persons of importance to legitimise change (eg grandmothers in rural Thailand and child rearing practises, it was the grandmothers who held the power)
- identify local "introducers" and "network nodes" (peoples who bring you in)
- identify local facilitators/entrepreneurs ex politicians, ex military, wise people
- handle your own power and influence appropriately
- join or develop your own networking and support groups
- be aware and manage situation of "afno manche" and "chakari"
- not be loyal to small causes: eg if you are good at bridge building do not build just because one person says it is necessary.
Professional skills, keeping up with your field
- manage a period of non work and difficulty in finding "appropriate work to incorporate new skills and knowledge learnt"
- manage locals who may claim you are out of touch with local issues
- keep updated on new developments for interviews and consulting purposes
- manage your own continuing education by accessing journals, newsletters; joining local/international networking organisations
- keep up to date with appropriate technology/techniques/equipment in your field
- analyse when and where highly theoretical research conducted elsewhere may/may not fit local objectives
- analyse your own limitations eg experience in certain areas. Formal qualifications are only a stage and do not provide everything needed for your career
Adler, N. (1981). Re-entry: Managing Cross-Cultural Transitions. Group and Organisation Studies. No 6 pp 341-356.
Adler, N. (1991). International Dimensions of Organisational Behaviour. 2nd edn. Wadsworth Publishing Co. Belmont California USA.
Brammer, L. M. and Abrego, P. J. (1981). Intervention Strategies for coping with transitions. The Counselling Psychologist. Vol 9 No 2 pp 19-36.
Denney, M. (1986). Going Home A Workbook- A Guide to Professional Integration. National Association for Foreign Student Affairs Washington, DC 20009, USA.
Frankl, V. E., (1959). Man's Search for Meaning. Beacon Press, Boston, U.S.A.
Gullahorn, J. T. and Gullahorn, J. E. (1962). An Extension of the U-Curve Hypothesis. Paper presented at "Human Factors in International Development Programs - Problems of Overseas Adjustment". American Psychological Association. St Louis, Missouri.
Hogan, C. F. (1996 in press). Going Home Workbook: Transition skills and processes to enable you to make growthful transitions back to your home country. School of Management. Curtin University of Technology. Perth Western, Australia.
|Please cite as: Hogan, Christine (1996). What is the extent of responsibilities of universities to prepare overseas students to return to their home countries? In Abbott, J. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Teaching and Learning Within and Across Disciplines, p83-91. Proceedings of the 5th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1996. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1996/hoganch.html|
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