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Coming home: University exchange students’ narratives of cultural re-entry


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Thomas, SL 2009 , 'Coming home: University exchange students’ narratives of cultural re-entry', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Cultural re-entry – the process of returning to one’s home culture after an overseas sojourn –
is ostensibly a return to the familiar: familiar places and familiar people. Yet, this simplistic
understanding of the phenomenon belies its multi-layered, complex nature. More
appropriately framed as a psychological process than one of physical relocation, re-entry is
characteristically challenging for sojourners, its impact being felt affectively, behaviourally
and cognitively. Despite being a focus of research for half a century, the challenges
associated with re-entry remain primarily unexpected, by both sojourners and those at home.
The cost –personal, social and financial – of such ignorance is great. As globalization and
concomitant increased travel becomes a reality, an increasing number of people world-wide
will experience the phenomenon of re-entry.
This longitudinal qualitative study sought to explore the experiences and perceptions of six
university students during the first six months of their return to their home culture from an
international exchange. Employing a narrative inquiry approach, this study sought openended
exploration, the purpose of which was to understand rather than explain the experience.
It was motivated by a desire to enhance multiple meanings as opposed to enhancing certainty.
In presenting six individual stories this study gave voice to experience, and in doing so,
traded generalisation for particularisation.
There are a number of provocative findings from this study. First, the study underscored the
inherently idiosyncratic nature of each person’s re-entry experience. Second, it reinforced the
notion of cultural adjustment as a process, the symbiotic relationship between the overseas
experience and re-entry clearly discernible. Third, affective and cognitive processes (internal)
– as opposed to behavioural processes (external) – were found to dominate the participants’
re-entry experiences. Finally, relationships emerged as the most significant and powerful
variable in the re-entry experience, a finding which positions re-entry as a social rather than a
personal phenomenon.
While students were the lens through which the phenomenon of re-entry was explored in this
study, these findings may be of interest to the myriad groups who undertake sojourns – not
only prospective sojourners, but also their families, friends and colleagues, and those
responsible for organizing and managing sojourner travel.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Thomas, SL
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