Navigating Study Abroad Reentry: Family Experiences, Communication Practices, and Relational Changes of Returning Students and their Parents
AdvisorPitts, Margaret J.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThe purpose of this study was to gain a broader understanding of how returning students and their parents navigated the reentry home after a study abroad experience. For returning students, reentry is a time of transition that involves reestablishing relationships, readjusting to the home culture, and integrating aspects of their own identity that might have changed while abroad. Reentry is also a time of adjustment for the parents of returning students, who are among the first to notice and respond to changes that their child experienced abroad. Drawing from three open-systems frameworks (i.e., family systems theory, Berry’s acculturative framework, and the integrative theory of communication and cross-cultural adaptation), this study explored how returning students and their parents experienced and used communication to recalibrate and navigate the reentry after a study abroad experience. Data were collected using retrospective, in-depth, interviews with a total of 62 participants (i.e., 31 parent-child dyads) and analyzed using principles of thematic analysis, constructivist grounded theory, and the framework method. Throughout the analysis, I considered the perspectives of both returning students and their parents to investigate individual (RQ1) and family experiences (RQ2), reacculturative strategies (RQ3), communication practices (RQ4), and relational changes (RQ5) that shaped the reentry after a study abroad experience. At the most general level, findings suggest that indeed, reentry was a time of transition that affected not only the returning student, but their family as well. As returning students navigated this transition, they experienced multiple and contrasting emotions while simultaneously navigating identity shifts, and reestablishing relationships at home (RQ1a). For parents, reentry was simultaneously a time of temporary disruption and intentional preparation to welcome their child back home and witness their growth and change from abroad (RQ1b). At the family level, the child’s reentry initiated a process of recalibration where family members adjusted their schedules, acknowledged change, and reallocated resources to manage their temporary state of disruption and preserve their family identity (RQ2). Findings indicated that returning students and parents engaged in different reacculturative processes (RQ3) and communication practices (RQ4a) that facilitated (and sometimes) hindered the process of readjustment (RQ4b). Participants also experienced three relational changes upon reentry: stronger relationship, temporary disconnect, and increased distance. This study is among the first to provide a more accurate picture of reentry as a relational process (coordinated through communication) that affects not only the returner but also the family system. Returning students’ and parents’ (home) communication competence also emerged as a resource that facilitated recalibration, sensemaking, cross-cultural dialogue, and relational closeness. Theoretical and practical implications of this study, as well as limitations and future research directions, are discussed.
Degree ProgramGraduate College