Teaching and Learning Forum 96 [ Contents ]

What is the extent of responsibilities of universities to prepare overseas students to return to their home countries?

Christine Hogan
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.

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

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.

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.


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: It is my belief that we need to prepare these students for going home in many different ways:

Preparation for going home

Preparation for "going home" requires:


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)


Cultural adjustments

Social adjustments

Linguistic and communication adjustments

National/political adjustments

Educational adjustment

Professional Adjustments

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

Prepare to answer questions and/or give talks about Australia

Plan all your leaving activities in order to minimise stress

When you return home, you should be able to:

Skills in perceiving and responding to transitions

Skills for assessing emotions; developing, adapting and utilising external support systems

Skills for assessing, developing, adapting and utilising internal support systems

Skills for adapting to living and working in different space and time

Skills of communicating with empathy with others

Skills to manage reverse culture shock in adapting to your home environment

Skills to continue your professional learning/networking

Skill to reconnect with close family members

Skills in cross-cultural communication

Skills for facilitating, planning and implementing change

Group Skills

Analyse both micro and macro social situations

Political skills/ power structure

Professional skills, keeping up with your field


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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