Professor Rick Malleus first arrived in the United States from Zimbabwe as an 18-year-old international student. Now a professor in the Communication Department, he recently conducted research on the challenges facing Seattle University students when they return home from studying abroad.
“The reentry experience is universal,” Malleus said. “Most international students don’t stay in their host cultures, and American students who study abroad often experience a difficult transition when they come back to campus. A lot has been written about culture shock, but there is very little research on the reentry experience.”
As an undergraduate international student at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Malleus became interested in communication studies, a discipline not offered in Zimbabwe. Communication studies encompass a range of topics, including interpersonal, small-group, and organizational communication. Because of his personal experiences, he focused his research on intercultural communication and, more recently, on the reentry experience.
“When people have a significant experience in a different culture and return home, they go through a transition that is complex and multi-faceted. It’s a fuzzy, in-between time,” he said.
Seattle University places strong emphasis on preparing students for today’s global economy. American students are encouraged to study abroad and participate in international internships. International students, approximately 10 percent of the student body, usually return home when they complete their education. Malleus explored the Seattle University student experience of reentry. Working with the Education Abroad office, he analyzed data from more than 100 student surveys. International student Tooba Dilshad, a senior Strategic Communication major class of 2014, assisted on the project.
Last October, Malleus presented his initial findings before a packed audience of students and faculty. He shared with them his first reentry experience, returning to Zimbabwe after two years of living in Minnesota. He emphasized that the transition of reentry has both challenges and opportunities:
“Students generally return home more engaged and more globally aware. They may go through a period of discernment that leads to a change in course of study or career plans. Personal growth, increased confidence, and a new worldview often result.”
“Having this transitional period of adjustment when they go home is normal, but it can be difficult; they are not alone in this experience,” he was quick to add. “There are ways though that we can help them manage the transition.”
Malleus plans to develop tools for both students and educators to ease the reentry transition. He hopes to finalize his research and present his findings next year at the International Academy for Intercultural Research Conference in Norway.
Regardless of whether a student goes abroad or is an international student studying in the United States, Malleus encourages all students to take classes in communication:
“Communication is foundational for living in our global economy. An intercultural communication course is vital to understand the fundamentals of communication and build relationships. In almost every job communication is required, from presentation skills to running teams effectively. A communication course rounds out any student’s education.”
Watch the video: