Location: Bowdoin / Off-Campus Study / Returning

Off-Campus Study

When You Return

Sadhus Rainstorm

Welcome back to returning students!

We hope that you found your off-campus study to be not just educationally rewarding but also very enjoyable. The experience is not yet over: during your "re-entry" to the U.S. and Bowdoin, you will continue to come to grips with how your intellectual and personal life has changed. Below you will find advice on what to expect in the various stages of that process, how you can continue to learn about the culture and topics that you have been exploring, and how you might pass on some of your knowledge and experience to the campus as a whole. Some activities will be facilitated by the OCS Office; some will need you to take the initiative to meet your own individual needs and goals. You will find a summary of our general advice in the Ten Tips for Re-Entry to Bowdoin with which this page concludes.

Welcome Back Dinner

First of all, all students returning from off-campus study are cordially invited to an international buffet dinner. For students returning this fall, the dinner will be in Daggett Lounge, Thorne Hall at 5:45 PM on Thursday, 1 September (the first day of classes). OCS and other Bowdoin staff will be there to welcome you back, hear about your experiences, answer your questions, and say a very few words about the re-entry process. The dinner is always a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to enjoy some delicious food while catching up with friends who have been away all over the world. RSVP (regrets only).

Do you have a favorite recipe from your time abroad? Something that your host family introduced you to, or that you learned to cook yourself? If so, Dining Service would love to test it for possible use at Bowdoin! Recipes should be for meals made from scratch, without any prepared ingredients. If you have something you think would be suitable, please write it out as with as much detail as possible and email it to us in OCS. If we receive it in good time, there is a chance that Dining Service will be able to include it in the Welcome Back dinner menu. We would also love to post any recipes, whether or not we can use them, on our revamped website, along with your blogs, photos, and other thoughts about your OCS experience.

Re-Entry Adjustment

As you have heard before from us, and probably from your program, students commonly go through an adjustment phase upon return to the U.S. and their home campus. This should be viewed as a positive part of the learning process. Nevertheless, you may find that what was once familiar now feels strange or flat, compared with the environment you came to know so well; it can also be hard to convey to family and friends how your experiences affected you, and they might not seem to have time to listen. The location, type and duration of your study away are not reliable predictors of the nature of your transition, though some temporary disorientation is often a sign of how thoroughly you adjusted to your new environment. Most people readjust in a few weeks at most. You probably went through a similar phase in your first few weeks away, and you might find it useful to recall the techniques you used to cope then. Remember that if you find yourself in a rocky patch the staff of the Counseling Service, who are very experienced in dealing with this, are available to assist you. You might also find useful the Reentry Toolkit (PDF) that SIT Study Abroad and World Learning have kindly made generally available.

This small sampling of quotations from past students shows you some of the range of experiences:

  • I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to re-acclimate to the States and to Bowdoin after returning. 'Reverse culture shock' definitely happened to me.
  • It took about a month [to settle in], and it could have taken longer if I didn't have a lot of support from my [major]department. Students should be encouraged to take courses that tie back into your experience off campus. I took two that, for the first half of the semester, focused on both the language I learned and, to a lesser extent, the city I studied in. Talking about familiar places and ideas — and seeing them through the perspectives of people here — were a great help in bringing me "back to earth."
  • While abroad there was constant stimulation from the surrounding environment and people. Returning to Bowdoin took some adjustment because things seemed to be the same as they were before I had left. There was nothing new and exciting to look forward to.
  • In some ways I'm still settling in! The biggest thing that helped me was keeping in touch with the British friends that I made during my time abroad. It allowed me to stay connected with the country.
  • It helps to have a place where you know it's okay to talk about being uncomfortable with the transition, and it's nice knowing other people feel the same way. However, I think the transition is already pretty close to being as good as it can be. It's just tough, because Bowdoin is such a hectic place in general, and it's always going to be a culture shock coming back into that.
  • Some of the things I need to do here feel like "busy work" now, and the environment seems unnecessarily demanding a lot of the time. The use of technology and computers is part of that for me. It didn't bother me as much before I went away, but I can't stand being constantly plugged in to professors and friends. When I was in Africa, things were slower paced, and yet I felt more productive. I had time to process my experiences, and therefore I learned more.
  • Also difficult: the cold New England winters; feeling isolated living in a single in the Tower; having a lot of my best friends abroad in the spring semester. It took a long time, and the semester directly following my semester abroad was by far the toughest one I have had at Bowdoin.

Program Evaluation

Please use the online evaluation form to assess the value of your experience, offer constructive advice, and provide a useful summary of your experience for students and faculty. As noted in the Bowdoin participation agreement that all OCS students complete, submission of an evaluation is one of Bowdoin's requirements for participation in off-campus study. Completing the on-line evaluation will take you about twenty minutes; before you start, you might want to remind yourself of details such as instructors' names and course titles. We encourage you to complete the form as soon as you can after your return to the US, and certainly before the semester begins to get busy for you; the deadline for receipt of evaluations is 23 September 2011.

Debriefing Meetings

Sometimes it is useful to have a conversation that goes beyond the general questions on the evaluation form. We will arrange to have a debriefing meeting with several of you who have participated in programs that we do not know especially well, or that Bowdoin students have not been using very much in recent years. We might also contact you if your written evaluation raises issues that we think should be discussed in detail or privately. If you are not contacted by us but feel that there are questions that you would like to pursue with us, by all means let us know.

Credit Transfer

Programs return sealed transcripts to Bowdoin's Office of the Registrar. In most cases students receive their own copy, but the sealed copy is needed for credit transfer. At the Registrar's counter in Moulton, you can find out if yours has been received. As long as you met the program's requirements for release of your transcript (especially that all coursework is completed, and all bills are paid), everything should go smoothly. Do not be surprised, however, if your transcript does not arrive until well into the Bowdoin semester, especially if you took university courses or studied in the southern hemisphere, from where grades can take longer to be reported. Contact your program directly if there is urgency about receiving a transcript for graduation or a scholarship application. Once transcripts are received, the Registrar's Office will generally process them in batches every two weeks, so do not automatically assume that your transcript has not been received if you do not see your OCS courses on Bearings. The associate registrar will email you to inform you that your general credit has been posted. For credit toward the major (or minor), check with the academic department about courses that they have already provisionally approved. Hold on to all assignments, syllabi, reading lists, etc., in case they are needed for the final decision on credit.

Integration of Your Study Away into Your Learning at Bowdoin

Maintain an active interest in what you learned while away. Make an effort to apply it to coursework at Bowdoin, or perhaps in an honors project or independent study. Look out for related lectures, exhibits, and performances. Search out international films, TV programming, and publications in Bowdoin's Library and Language Media Center. If you kept a blog or a journal, continue to use it to articulate your changing perspectives. Meet students from where you studied, or gain other international viewpoints, through the International Club.

Speaking and peer-advising opportunities. Talking to others about your experience in a variety of formal and informal contexts can be a surprisingly valuable way for you to formulate what was most important for your academic and personal growth in your program. The opportunities include predeparture meetings, and, in the fall, the Introduction to Off-Campus Study for sophomores, the OCS Fair, and Parents Weekend. As you will probably remember, we also regularly give individual sophomores the names of students who have already studied on particular programs or for particular majors; thank you in advance for any advice you may give about your experience.

Share your experience with the rest of campus. Find outlets to discuss your experience with others; many students report that this was an excellent way to process what they learned and deepen their understanding of its complexity. On our website, we welcome your blogs, photos, recipes and other thoughts on your experience. You can expect invitations from us to participate in discussion and information meetings, in the residential houses and elsewhere, for returning students and those considering study away in various programs and countries. In the fall semester, we will be especially grateful for volunteers for our Parents Weekend Panel. And of course there are several language tables that you may want to join or rejoin.

Putting your OCS experience to work. Whatever your career plans, an articulate description of your off-campus study can enhance your CV. But you should also think hard about the international opportunities opened up by your experience. This could be employment in business or a non-profit overseas, the Peace Corps, scholarships such as the Watson, Fulbright, Marshall or Rhodes, Bowdoin-facilitated summer research opportunities, and much more. Most scholarships have deadlines early in the fall semester and benefit from preparation in the spring. Be sure to make an appointment to learn about opportunities and resources available at Career Planning, the Office of Student Fellowships and Research, and the McKeen Center for the Common Good.

Forum on Education Abroad Undergraduate Research Award. Two students each year from among the Forum's member institutions (including Bowdoin) receive an award for research completed during study abroad. The winners present a summary of their research and international experience at the Forum annual conference, and their research papers are published in Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad. Bowdoin may nominate up to two applicants, in June. Contact the OCS office if you are interested.

Local community service. Bowdoin students often make time for volunteer work while they are studying off campus and many students find it quite fulfilling to get involved in local community service projects once they return to Brunswick. To learn more about what options are available, contact the McKeen Center for the Common Good in Banister Hall.

OCS Fair. We will hold our annual Off-Campus Study Fair on Tuesday, 4 October 2011 (3:00 to 5:30 PM). If your program will be represented (we will have an attendance list in August), the representative would be delighted to hear from alumni/ae, and might well be interested in having you spend some time at the table to describe your experience to interested students.

Photos. We are also extremely interested in pictures that show Bowdoin students in the learning context of study abroad. Send us your favorites for our website. A few lines of explanatory text will help viewers understand your experience.

Ten Tips for Re-Entry to Bowdoin

  1. Complete Your Program Evaluation. It's a requirement! -- but your thoughtful formulation of your responses will help you understand the nature of the changes that you underwent, as well as give prospective students a detailed picture of different program options.
  2. Write about your Experience. Write a piece for the Orient, or a publication on study abroad such as Glimpse, Abroad View, or Cafe Abroad. If you kept a blog or personal journal while away, don't stop now; track the way your perspectives have changed and will continue to change.
  3. Keep up with Host-Country Contacts. They can remind you of what was valuable about your experience, keep you up to date with events, and help with resources for further work or study.
  4. Talk to Faculty. Articulate clearly how your program contributed to your academic development. Discuss the possibility of an independent study or other coursework to incorporate what you have learned into your studies at Bowdoin.
  5. Speak about your Experience. At language tables, departmental meetings, the Off-Campus Study Fair in October, Parents Weekend in the fall, and other opportunities, share what you learned with students and members of the Bowdoin community.
  6. Update your Resume. Make clear to potential employers or graduate schools what was valuable and distinctive about your study away.
  7. Organize an International Event around your Host Country. Get together with others for food, music, magazines, videos...
  8. Find International and Foreign-Language Resources. Use the Bowdoin Library and Language Media Center as well as the Internet.
  9. Send us your blogs, photos, international recipes and other reflections on your OCS experience.
  10. If you're having a rough time, make an appointment with Bowdoin's Counseling Service (x3145)