Planning for reintegration – when international students return home

Mr Timothy Lawther1

1Victoria University Of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

After an extended period studying abroad, many international students depart promptly, with little preparation, few farewells, and great short-term uncertainty. On a Friday, they are celebrating their last exam or final submission. On a Sunday, they are unemployed, sweating, and bartering for a tuk-tuk. Students benefit from proper post-study departure preparation, and planning for cultural reintegration.

On planning for departure, guidance can be extended to students on making culturally appropriate farewells, which will contribute to strong long-term links with faculty and peers. As many international students will be unable to attend graduation, an international student ‘completion ceremony’ can be organised, to thank them for their unique contributions to academic discourse and university diversity. Students should be prompted to acquire local keepsakes to remind them of positive times. Logistical aspects can be organised efficiently, such as paying down outstanding debts, and affordable shipping of personal items.

On arrival home, many students are ill prepared for the inevitable cultural, interpersonal, and professional challenges. They may have grown accustom to a certain quality of life, western gender norms (particularly those from the LGBTQ community), democratic processes, and collegial relationships with high-level individuals. Reintegration planning will equip international students with tools to navigate the different stages of reverse culture shock, and to do so while establishing/re-establishing their career after study.

Good practice models, developed by Victoria University of Wellington in managing the New Zealand Scholarship Programme, may assist education institutions to better support international students in their departure preparations and cultural reintegration post-study.


Tim Lawther is originally from Sydney. He did his undergraduate study at University of New England, and his Masters at Macquarie. He joined Victoria University of Wellington from the international development sector. His background is in aid projects advancing the rights of disadvantaged and minority groups. He started working with youth at Oxfam Australia, then spent five years in Timor-Leste – three years with NGOs for disability advocacy, and the last two years with the United Nations as a gender and disability technical adviser to The Ministry of Public Works. He then moved into refugee advocacy work in Wellington, and now manages the New Zealand Government-funded Scholarship Programme at Victoria University of Wellington.


The Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association Inc. (ANZSSA) is a professional association for people with an interest in the role of support services in post secondary education.

For more information, please visit ANZSSA website by


ISANA International Education Association is the representative body for professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in international student services, advocacy, teaching and policy development in international education.

For more information, please visit the ISANA website at

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