Date of Award

8-2003

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Charles L. Thompson

Committee Members

Howard Pollio, Joy DeSensi, P. Gary Klukken

Abstract

Two studies were conducted for this project. The goal of the first study was to describe the structure of the experience of individuals who have returned home after their stay abroad. The goal of the second study was to describe the structure of the experience of individuals who have returned to the country in which they studied, after having returned home. To accomplish these goals, phenomenological interviews were conducted with seventeen participants. In the first study, nine participants were interviewed in their own country after they had been abroad for their studies. In the second study, eight participants were interviewed; these individuals were back in the country in which they studied after going back home for a period of time. Participants in the first study responded to the question of “Please describe your experience of returning home after your study abroad.” Participants in the second study responded to the question: “Now that you are back in the U.S. after being at home, what are some specific experiences that stand out for you?” Questions were followed by probes as needed for the purpose of clarification. Interviews were audio-taped, transcribed, and the data analyzed. The analysis was done in the context of research groups. In these groups, members read the transcripts with the goal being to understand the participant’s re-entry experience. These groups provided a more varied interpretation of the data than if the researcher had read the transcripts alone.

By moving back and forth between parts of each transcript and the whole of the transcript, thematic meanings began to emerge. By comparing separate transcripts to each vi other, groups of meaning units began to emerge to become a theme. The name given to the theme conveys the essence of the entire group. Some themes have a sub-theme, and all taken together, describe the experience of the participant.

Themes that emerged were of a bipolar nature indicating that participants’ experience ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other. Themes that emerged in the first study were contextualized (grounded) by the theme of Cultural Comparison. From this ground, three bipolar themes emerged: Shock/Adjustment, Freedom/Restriction, and Changing/Static. Internal Change and External Change were sub-themes to the theme of Changing/Static.

The themes that emerged in the second study also were grounded by the theme of Cultural Comparison. From this ground, five bipolar themes emerged: Conflict/Peace, Reality/Idealization, Freedom/Restriction, Changing/Static, and Comfort/Discomfort. Frustration and Ambivalence were sub-themes for Conflict; Adjustment and Identity were sub-themes for Changing/Static. There were no sub-themes that emerged from any of the remaining themes.

The implication of the findings is that there is much to be learned of the experience of returning home after an extended stay abroad. The scarcity of research in this area leads to the conclusion that returning home has been underestimated and not typically seen as a difficult transition process. The findings of this study indicate otherwise, and illustrate the difficulties and frustrations experienced by many re-entering sojourners. This leads us to the famous question Thomas Wolf once asked – can you go home again?

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