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NZ: Reintegrate int’l students to reduce reverse culture shock

Institutions have been called upon to provide international students with pre-departure information before they return home to reduce cases of depression and anxiety during the recent ISANA/ANZSSA joint conference on the Gold Coast, Australia.

Tim Lawther called upon institutions to provide their international students with reintegration training to reduce reverse culture shock. Photo: The PIETim Lawther called upon institutions to provide their international students with reintegration training to reduce reverse culture shock. Photo: The PIE News

A survey of returned Turkish students found 18% had clinical depression, 45% had problem anxiety, and 34% regretted returning home

The call, made by Victoria University of Wellington international development scholarships manager Tim Lawther, came during a presentation on the effects of reverse culture shock, the phenomenon in which a person struggles to readjust to their home country’s culture and values after extended travel.

“A student has two, three, up to four years in Australia or New Zealand and they’ve started to adopt different values, they’ve adopted parts of our respective cultures,” he said.

Speaking with The PIE News, he said it was common for many students to experience some level of shock when returning home, which was often exacerbated by those who returned to less-open societies and further compounded by additional barriers when returning home.

“We have a moral obligation to invest a nominal amount of time and resources… to address these alarming statistics”

“In most cases, they’ve moved home reluctantly, and they’ve got to deal with issues about a lack of jobs available. At the same time as dealing with family pressures and reverse culture shock.”

Pointing to a study of returned Turkish students, Lawther told delegates that unprepared students could have significant mental wellbeing concerns, with 18% found to suffer from clinical depression, 45% with problem anxiety, and 34% of those surveyed indicating they regretted returning home in the first place.

“While we need to be focused on what’s best for our institutions, its growth, its efficiency, I think we have a moral obligation to invest a nominal amount of time and resources… to address these alarming statistics,” he told delegates.

According to Lawther, providing information to students to ensure they are prepared for potential issues when they return home can be of significant benefit.

“It’s really about making departing students aware of that these will be barriers, that these will be issues, and to strategise now rather than later,” he said.

“Even make a list of all your professional contacts and getting back in touch with all of them. Friends of friends who are working in industries that you want to be a part of. Being very strategic and being very aggressive is some of the guidance we provide international students.”

Additional information and encouragement outside of employment were also crucial to reducing reverse culture shock, Lawther said, including unorthodox suggestions including collecting recipes from their study destination so they can cook them at home.

Lawther’s comments were welcomed by delegates, with several sharing their own experiences of returned students.

Mental wellbeing continues to increase a discussion point throughout many major international education destinations and will be covered in the upcoming PIE Review.

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