“Our failure to account for how researchers leave the field–how they can responsibly extricate themselves from an ethnographic situation that binds researcher and researched through ongoing processes of ‘colonialism, imperialism, missionization, multinational capital, global cultural flows, and travel’–is a troubling area of silence” (Figueroa, 2014, p.129).

This week I choose to reflect on the above quote from Paris and Winn’s (2014) Humanizing Research because of the applicability to my own area of research.  In education abroad, reentry, or reverse culture shock, “is the process of readjusting, reacculturating, and reassimilating into one’s own home culture after living in a different culture for a significant period of time” (Gaw, 2000, p.83).   In Figueroa’s poignant essay, she implores social researchers to pay more attention to the ‘exit’ phase of the research process, whereby the researchers depart their communities that they have been studying to return to their regular communities of practice. This part of the research process can be overlooked and instead, Figueroa suggests that researchers should ask, “have we acknowledged and fulfilled our responsibility to the communities who have welcomed us?  Have we–in both our own opinion and the opinion of participants–fulfilled the commitments we made at the beginning of the study?” (p.129).  

Just as researchers must leave a community that at once may have seemed foreign and personal to them, so to do our students leave their host cultures only to return to a home that is perhaps less familiar where they must then make sense of all that they encountered and learned while abroad.  Consider this #ReEntryProblem tweet from Twitter user @DanielleSleeper:

The sad fact is, that as Figueroa asserts is the case in research, often times, not much attention is paid to the critical exit and reentry period.  Aside from a myriad of psychological issues that might affect returning students, such as depression, loneliness, and general anxiety (Gaw, 2000), having an intervention during the reentry process can be important for meaning-making as part of the students overall transformational experience. Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus  (2011) echo this sentiment, stating, “as institutions provide these short-term experiences, it is also important for follow-up to occur after the experience is over. This follow-up presents opportunities for students to build on their experiences rather than letting them fade” (p. 225).

Therefore, as I consider the goals international educators often have for their study abroad participants it is intriguing to apply this education abroad lens to support Figueroa’s plea for researchers to “move beyond outdated notions of researcher neutrality,” (p.130).  Rather than merely being passive bystanders observing the host culture from a bubble, we tend to want to see our students engaging in thoughtful, reciprocal interaction with their hosts.  That is where intercultural learning and understanding can occur.  Why, then, do we expect that this would be any different for social researchers?

While I still struggle with the concept of forgoing objectivity in research, when I think about this dilemma from my education abroad lens, I begin to see logic in what Figueroa and others are advocating for in terms of humanizing research.  In order to maximize the learning opportunity, shouldn’t researchers seek to understand their subjects by injecting themselves in the middle of their daily lives?  The problem is, if this is done, then care must be taken when it comes time to leave the community.  It is a question of humans interacting with humans–a science wholly different from that of a researcher breaking down enzymes in a lab or an engineer working with software on a computer.  When we relegate our human research participants to data in a spreadsheet, what do we lose in the knowledge-making process?  What about ethics?  These questions are similar to those questions I have about our American students studying abroad.  When we fail to assist our students in reflecting in order to derive meaning and to be able to articulate their abroad experiences, when we turn a group of American college students loose in a foreign town without teaching them about humility and cultural relativism, do we not do more harm than good?



Gaw, K. (2000). Reverse culture shock in students returning from overseas. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 83-104.

Paris, D., & Winn, M. (Eds.). (2014). Humanizing research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., & Niehaus, E. K. (2011). One year later: The influence of short-term study abroad experiences on students. The Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 213-228.



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