Irish American Scholars

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Irish American Scholars

Coping with Reverse Culture Shock

Returning home after studying abroad can sometimes feel a bit confusing. At first, you will probably be excited to be reunited with your friends and family, sleep in your own room and enjoy the various reassuring comforts of home. But after this excitement fades you may start to feel a bit out of place, maybe even similar to how you felt when you first began your study abroad program. This feeling is refereed to as Reverse Culture Shock and it is completely normal for students to feel this way after studying abroad. So here a few tips that will hopefully help you handle it;

1. Find a creative way to share your experience

You are going to want to tell everyone everything about your time studying in a foreign country. But unfortunately, not everyone really wants to hear your in-depth answer when they ask about your experience abroad. Don’t take it personally, most of the time this is just because they can’t really relate to what you’re telling them. A great way to counter this is by finding creative ways to share your experience with other people, not only does this make it easier to share your stories but it also helps you to document you experience in a fun way! A few good ways to do this are by; making a photo journal, cooking a dish from the country you studied in, posting your photos on social media, travel blogging or writing a review of your experience for the college newspaper.

2. Find other people who have studied abroad

Other students who have studied abroad are probably the only other people who will really understand what you’re feeling right now. So try to find other students at your college who have just returned from studying abroad. It can be comforting to talk about your reverse culture shock with people who are experiencing the same thing. This is also a great way to find interested listeners to tell about all your adventures (as long as you listen to their stories in return).

3. Keep in contact with the friends you made while studying abroad

Being back home does not mean you have to lose touch with the friends you made while studying abroad. Keeping in touch can be a little challenging, but it is definitely worth the effort! The friends you made were a key part of your experience and making a conscious effort to use Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype to keep in contact with them will help keep your study abroad memories alive.

4. Keep up your new habits

The chances are that you have probably discovered new hobbies or developed new habits. Maybe you joined a new club, began cooking for yourself, found a workout schedule you love or even just started getting up/going to bed at different times. If you found joy in these new habits, don’t just give them up. Find ways to continue including these habits and hobbies in your life. Just because your are back home does not mean that you have to live your life exactly as you did before.

5. Plan your next trip

Plan your next trip back to the county you studied in! Instead of allowing yourself to be sad that you aren’t there anymore, get yourself excited about when you’ll go back. You can start planning your next vacation or explore internship and summer job opportunities.


Dealing with Homesickness while Studying Abroad


Below are a few proactive tips from my experience of studying abroad on how to beat homesickness.

1. Make time to talk to people at home.

It’s completely normal to miss the people you care about at home. Leaving your loved ones can be challenging but talking to people at home can definitely help you deal with this challenge. Whether it is your family or friends, talking to the people you miss can help you to remember that they are still apart of your life and will still be there when you get home. Also, talking about your time abroad to people from home can help you realize how lucky you are to be in a completely new part of the world and what a different and exciting experience you’re having compared to your friends at home.

2. Keep busy

Keeping yourself busy can help you keep homesickness at bay. A great way to do this is by joining a new club (which is really easy to do at university). Not only can this help you to discover a new passion or relight an old one, but it can also help you make a bunch of new friends. You can also keep busy by sightseeing, going to the gym or focusing on school work. I found it helpful to make a plan at the start of each week, to help me use my time productively and make sure that I was making the most of my time abroad. The busier I made myself the more fun experiences I had ended up having and the less time I had to even think about feeling homesick. 

3. Give yourself a break

When I first began my study abroad experience, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to have a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. I felt guilty if I wasted a day without sightseeing or exploring the new country I was in. But eventually I realized that I had to take a few days here and there to relax. Studying abroad in a foreign country can be an exhausting (although definitely rewarding) experience and it is OK to give yourself a break. This can be going to the gym, reading a book or even taking nap, whatever it is that helps you to recharge and relax.

4. Ask for help

You are not the first study abroad student to be stressed out or confused by things in your new university. Even if you feel alone at times, the problems that you’re facing are probably the same problems that most students studying abroad have faced at some point during their experience. There are people at your university whose specific job is to help people like you and have probably helped other students deal with the same problems in the past. So ask for help! Whether this is asking for help from your university’s international office, your professors or your university’s counselling center, there is always someone willing to help.  

5. Make local Friends

If you end up at a university with a lot of other international student from the US it can be very tempting to stick with the familiar. You will be able to relate with each others’ experience in a way that local students probably won’t. But remember that a big part of studying abroad is learning about a new culture, which is done best when taught from a local perspective. So spread your wings, put yourself out there and try to befriend people from the country that you’re studying in. There are also many practical benefits to having local friends, including that they are more likely to have a car, they will have an already established friend group that you can join and they might let you stay with them over the holidays.


Academic Differences You Will Face While Studying in Northern Ireland

One of the less exciting things you will learn while studying abroad is that another country’s academic system can be very different, sometimes in ways you may not expect. This is a little (or maybe a lot) confusing at first. But don’t worry you WILL get used to it. Here we have complied a list of some of the biggest academic differences you will encounter as an American studying in Northern Ireland, plus some tips on how to deal with them.


  1. Different Class Structure – Lessons in Northern Irish Universities will typically take the form of lectures and tutorials/seminars. Lectures are formal presentations given by subject experts to large groups of students. Tutorials and seminars involve much smaller groups of students (typically 8-15) who discuss and apply topics introduced in lectures, under the guidance of a tutor. Typically, a student may have two lectures and one tutorial per week for each module taken.
  2. Different Workload – Generally, you will not be continually assessed, as you have been in the US, while studying in Northern Ireland. Greater weighting is put on final exams and it is rare to get homework that counts towards your final grade. For example, your grade may be made up of a final exam (70% of your grade) and a paper (30% of your grade).
  3. Extra Credit is Basically Unheard of in Northern Ireland – If students fail an exam they have to repeat it in the summer time. There are no options for extra credit to bring up your grade, so make sure you are fully prepared the first time you sit your exams!
  4. The Grading System is Really Different – In Northern Ireland exam results will usually be given as percentages rather than letter grades. You will also hear people talking about degree classifications (a 1st, a 2:1, a 2:2 etc) ;
    GPA Module Mark (%) Degree Classification
    4 70+ First class honours (First)
    3.7 65-69 Upper-second class honours (2:1)
    3.3 60-64 Upper-second class honours (2:1)
    3 55-59 Lower-second class honours (2:2)
    2.7 50-54 Lower-second class honours (2:2)
    2.3 45-49 Third class honours (Third)
    2 40-44 Third class honours (Third)
    1/0 0-39 Fail

    Therefore, a 70% is considered to be really excellent work and really difficult to achieve. So, if you are sitting on a 1st or a 2:1 well done! You are doing really well, so don’t be disappointed if you are used to getting higher percentages at home.

  5. Picking Classes – Universities in Northern Ireland focus on depth over breadth of study. Usually, there are compulsory classes students must take specific to their field of study. Students do not pick a major while studying at university, they decide what they want to study and apply for \a specific degree before they even arrive to university. Therefore, students’ classes will be very specific to their chosen degree and they cannot take more general, unrelated classes or change majors while at university.
  6. Don’t Skip Classes! – The size of your lectures might be a lot larger than what you are used to at home, depending on what classes you take. This sense of anonymity can make skipping lectures a lot more tempting, because who would notice if you’re only 1 of 100 students? Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you lecturer notices or not because in the long run it will be you not your lecturer who is suffering when you are failing exams.
  7. Independent Study – You may feel like you have less hours of class then what you are used to. This is because a bigger emphasis is placed on independent study. So even if you don’t have that much time scheduled for inside the classroom, you still need to organize yourself, making time for reviewing your lecture notes, additional reading and preparing for tutorials.
  8. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help – Sometimes bigger classes can leave students feeling more reluctant to ask questions or say if they don’t understand something. If you don’t want to ask a question in front of a large hall filled with people, don’t worry, you can arrange to met lecturers during their office hours.

IAS Guest Blogger #1: Preparing for Study Abroad

Becca Hankla is the first in a series of guest bloggers for IAS.
Read more about becca here.Becca Hankla Bio pic

All summer I’ve been hearing this from friends and family: “So when do you go back to school?”

And I’ve been so excited to say, “Well, actually, I leave for Ireland on September 14!”

Which is often accompanied by a look of puzzled excitement, and once I get past that, they begin to tell me what I have to do. From these wonderful people I have compiled a checklist approximately a mile long. For exemplary purposes, I provide page one, items 10-17.

  • Save money for travel.
  • Visit my school friends.
  • Get rain boots.
  • Get a good raincoat.
  • Spend time with my parents.
  • Hang out with my sister.
  • Catch up on my American Netflix before it goes away.

Some of these are simple things that I need to do, like buy a raincoat. I am not a fan of being soaked and cold. Some other things are not so simple, like hanging out with my sister when she’s busy, I’m working two jobs, and she starts school in three weeks. And of course, there’s the American comforts like a mini-marathon of “Melissa & Joey” on Netflix. (Seriously, check it out. It’s fantastic.)

I’ve also crossed some things off my list.

Get a passport. (That was a hairy encounter and if you ever want to die from laughter, I’d love to share).

Register for classes.

Figure out which suitcase to use.

Tell Queens University of Charlotte that I’m not going to be there this fall. (You cannot imagine how many different offices are worried that I haven’t registered for classes and have sent panicked e-mails to me.)

And the list continues. But it will all get done in the mere 50+ days I have left.

So why Ireland?

Most people don’t understand that this is my dream. On September 14, I will depart my beloved America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, for the Emerald Isle. My trip will be different from that of my eighth-generation ancestors May Ella and James Dougherty, who left Ireland on a ship in 1851, but no less monumental. I will finally see the places that I have been dreaming of since I was little. I will touch the history I have studied for years. I will finally see Ireland.

And I will get to travel. My best friend, who studied abroad in Florence, says that I just have to try the gelato in Rome. My history professor tells me that the Alhambra in Spain is truly an historical experience that I cannot forgo. My high school French teacher says I need to practice what she taught me and visit Nice or Paris. Plus, my love of “Downton Abbey” says a trip to Highclere Castle is a must.

Just writing that makes me want to get packed and go right now. But there is a flip side to this coin that is begging to be mentioned.

I’m scared.

I currently attend Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. It’s a tiny private school, boasting a mere 1,869 undergraduates on 95 of the most beautiful acres in the Myers Park neighborhood area of Charlotte. In addition, it is exactly 218.07 miles from my driveway in Atlanta, Georgia.

In September, I will be a fully enrolled student at Queens University Belfast in Northern Ireland. In contrast to my tiny private school, my new Irish University is just a tiny bit bigger, with an enrollment of 17,000 students. I guess the phrase is “little fish, big pond”? In addition, the distance between me and my driveway will no longer be a three and a half hour drive, but rather a distance of 3,888 miles, according to Google.

So it’s safe to say I’m scared. Although I am comfortable in my skin, I get homesick sometimes. I love to talk with my parents on the phone. My 13-year-old sister is one of my dearest friends. And I’m going 3,888 miles from them. I’ll be away from my university home where I have professors who know me, friends I’ve bonded with, and my campus tour job and worship leader position. Everything I know about college is about to change.

There are two sides to this adventure. I can be scared of all the change, the newness, the distance, and the culture difference. I could call and cancel my trip right now. But I think back to one thing that tells me I have to do this. I look at the picture of my 10-year-old self. I think about what she wants. She wants to go to Ireland. She wants to see the castles, eat the food, develop a slight accent, and sing the Irish music. Am I supposed to the let the fears of an almost 21-year-old destroy her dreams? Am I supposed to risk the adventure of a lifetime in order to have a semester of comfort? The answer to this question is no. The answer is heck no. The answer is “shut up insecurities!” I am going to Ireland. I’m a little scared. But that’s okay.

The Various Stages of Culture Shock, Homesickness, and Reverse Culture Shock

Great reflections on studying abroad!

Gilman Global Experience Blog

When I first arrived in Spain, it took a few weeks before I fully adjusted to everything: the bizarre eating schedule, the food tastes, the money, the unknown streets, not to mention the language barrier. However, I knew that if I threw myself into it, I could overcome the challenges and learn to enjoy myself. Initially, that worked. It was a new country with new people and places to see; I loved trying everything new and soaking up as much of it as quickly as I could. Eventually though, I couldn’t take it; I became overwhelmed with the differences, and the having to think in a foreign language constantly became mentally exhausting. I really started to miss home, and I’d only been abroad for a few short weeks. I missed late night Steak n Shake runs with my friends, peanut butter, mac n cheese, and going to the movies.


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19 Things You’ll Only Understand If You Studied Abroad

Such a good read!!

Canadian College for Higher Studies Blog

The Huffington Post  |  By Suzy StrutnerPosted: 12/23/2013 7:11 am EST  |  Updated: 07/06/2014 10:00 pm EDT

1. Contrary to every mother’s belief, you won’t even feel sick if you eat gelato for every meal.
Or pizza. Or crepes. Or empanadas. Or anything in the top, bad-for-you section of the food pyramid. We’re on a budget here, people.

2. Humans are inherently kind.
Strangers will go far, far out of their way to help you get around. All you must do is ask sincerely and thank copiously.

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