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Preparing to return home during the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted: 29 July 2020

Scholar's Platform,

Graduation is an occasion for celebration, as it marks the end of all the hard work, time and dedication that a student puts in to achieve their educational qualification.

However, graduating can also be a stressful event. This is especially true during a global health crisis that has created additional challenges. Following state-specific bans on large gatherings, Australian universities have been postponing mid-year graduation ceremonies since March. Students across Australia will be graduating ‘in absentia’, meaning that they receive their qualification without attending a ceremony.

Many Australia Awards scholars will graduate this semester and are preparing to leave Australia to head back home. If you are part of the graduating cohort, congratulations. Even though being unable to celebrate alongside your classmates, teachers and other support networks might make this milestone seem bittersweet, remember: you have achieved something great.

As your time in Australia draws to a close and you begin thinking about your return home, there is a lot to consider, both personally and professionally. You may be wondering what you will be doing when you go home. You might be considering the need to adapt and change your plans unexpectedly. If you are feeling challenged, please remember that you are not in this alone.

Your institution will offer resources to guide you through some aspects of your return. Talk to your Student Contact Officer for more information on the support provided by your specific university or institution. You will also receive support from Australia Awards regarding the professional aspects of returning home.

Scholar Meenas Shaugy from the Maldives at an Australia Awards Welcome and Farewell event that took place in Canberra.

Scholar Meenas Shaugy from the Maldives at an Australia Awards Welcome and Farewell event that took place in Canberra

Planning and packing

Plan carefully to ensure you are prepared for your return home. The returning home guidebook for Australia Awards scholars contains practical advice, including checklists that you can follow to ensure your affairs in Australia are finalised before you depart.

Although many travel restrictions are in place due to COVID-19, returning to your home country is usually possible, despite the situation being more changeable than usual. Whatever the current situation is in your country, keep in mind that this can change quickly. We strongly recommend that you plan your return in as much detail as possible and with support from your institution and the Australia Awards team.

The Australian Government will assist you in your return home by paying for your airfare. This airfare will be selected based on what is available and will be arranged by your Student Contact Officer.

Please make sure you have all the documentation needed to travel, including a valid passport for yourself and any family members travelling with you. Some destinations require proof of a negative COVID-19 test, and many have mandatory 14-day quarantines. Read up on the travel and quarantine requirements for your country and make sure you have everything you need to enter.

En route and arrival

Your primary concern en route home should be keeping yourself and any accompanying family members safe. Airports and airlines are trying to minimise the risks of contagion in their often-crowded environments. You can help by being vigilant in taking precautions.

As you’re likely aware by now, the World Health Organization recommends some simple precautions to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19. These include washing your hands often (for at least 20 seconds), avoiding touching your face, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. You can also carry your own antimicrobial product to wipe down your armrest and other surfaces you cannot avoid touching.

Once you arrive home, you will probably have to spend some time in quarantine and therefore will need to wait to see your relatives and friends. Just remember that this quarantine period is for the benefit of you and your loved ones. It may be hard, but please be patient and follow the directions of the relevant authorities.

The Australia Awards team in your country will contact you once you have arrived back home. They may also assist you with quarantine requirements. If you do not hear from the Australia Awards team within 24 hours of your return and you would like assistance, please send an email to alumni@australiaawards[yourcountry].org

Australia Awards scholars from the Maldives at a Welcome and Farewell event that took place in Canberra

Emotional preparedness

Many international students are hit by reverse culture shock when they return home. The returning home guidebook contains some ways in which you can manage reverse culture shock. This includes catching up on developments at home and reconnecting with family and friends before you leave Australia.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, this reverse culture shock is likely to include considerations that did not exist before you left your home country to study in Australia. This means that returning home is likely to be an even bigger change than your initial transition to living in Australia.

Here are some tactics that may help you to cope with the change:

1) Work out what is in your control and what is not

If you focus on what is not in your control (for example, COVID-19, the government, other people), you are likely to feel powerless. Focusing your efforts instead on things that you have control over is likely to be more fruitful. Distinguishing between aspects of the change you can control and those you can’t will better equip you to handle the change positively.

2) Start the day with a positivity routine

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques can decrease stress levels, relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, and boost your overall feeling of wellbeing. Another activity you could try is using affirmations, or positive statements. Advocates believe that repeating affirmations often, and believing in them, helps challenge and overcome negative thoughts.

3) Appreciate the small things

Try to enjoy things that you missed while being away, such as seeing family or preparing a favourite dish. Remember that such activities might not feel normal immediately; allow yourself time to settle into this new yet familiar life. Some people focus on the positive by keeping a gratitude journal and noting the things in their life that they are thankful for.

4) Embrace change one step at a time

You don’t have to feel comfortable with everything immediately. As a scholar, you have probably learned how to break large tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces. You can use similar tools to break down the change happening in your life so it feels less overwhelming. This can help reduce any resistance you feel towards the change.

5) Help others

Consider how you could help others at this difficult time, at home or at work. Even the smallest act can count, such as saying ‘thank you’. Helping others can improve your psychological, emotional and even physical wellbeing. It can also help you rebuild connections with the community to ease you through the change.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for flexibility, responsiveness and innovation across all sectors, as well as the importance of connectivity, and the interdependence of nations. As Australia Awards scholars and future alumni, you are ambassadors of change. Your resilience and dedication to development may be exactly what your country needs most during these unprecedented and unpredictable times.

Image at top of page: Alumnus Wan Nie from Bangladesh graduated with a Master of International Business and Sustainability from University of New South Wales in 2019.