3 Tips For Returning To College After Volunteering Abroad

Posted on: 7 March 2016


If you decided to volunteer abroad for a long-term project, you may find yourself returning to the United States with new perspectives and a desire to return to college to develop the skills you learned while abroad. Before you sign up for classes, there are some things that you should consider. 

Select One Or Two Courses That Focus On The Area Where You Volunteered

Returning to the United States after a long term volunteer project can be difficult. Many volunteers who stay abroad for a long time experience reverse culture shock when they return. This can include feeling anxious because things are not how you remember them, missing the country where you were volunteering, or feeling frustrated because people do not want to listen to your experiences. Taking a course or two that focuses on the area where you were volunteering allows you to remain connected to that area and gives you an outlet to express yourself. 

Unless you want to return to the country where you were volunteering, you should limit yourself to one or two courses that focus on it. This way, you can start to shift your focus to other areas of your life and education. 

Consider Options With Smaller Class Sizes 

Many international volunteers spend time in rural areas and small cities or villages. If you had this type of experience, you may want to find a college that offers small class sizes. This can keep you from feeling overwhelmed by being surrounded by a large number of people throughout the day. 

Small class sizes also give you more chances to express yourself and connect one-on-one with your classmates, which will help with any reverse culture shock you may be experiencing. This can be helpful even if you volunteered in a major metropolis.  

Don't Be Afraid to Sample Several Majors

It is common to return to colleges in the U.S. after spending time abroad and not know exactly what you want to do next. If you think you may want to change your area of study and pursue a new field, you should take a semester of different introductory courses before committing to a full program. This can give you time to decide how to integrate your international experience and new educational experience into a career path. But you shouldn't feel too discouraged if you want to change majors. One site says that there are many reasons why your "gap year(s)" can actually be beneficial to your college experience: you likely have a better idea of what you are good at and what you want to pursue, so you won't waste tuition money; you may have learned a foreign language that can supplement your career; you may have saved more money for a certain college program, etc. 

As you can see, returning to college after finishing a long-term international volunteer position can be a good way to reintegrate yourself into American society while changing your career path.