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UW-Eau Claire student to receive top recognition at research conference

February 4, 2013
Britta Cusick

EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student's research paper is truly "shocking."

Britta Cusick, a senior French and organizational communication double major from Amery, has had her paper selected for the "top paper award" at the Western States Communication Association's Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference Feb. 15-19 in Reno, Nev. The paper, titled "Reentry Experiences of Study Abroad Sojourners," focuses on data related to re-entry culture shock.

Re-entry shock can occur when individuals find difficulty readjusting to their previous lifestyles after spending time abroad. Cusick herself experienced this shock following her return from a semester abroad in Pau, France, in 2010.

"It was this experience that spurred my interest in researching other students' experiences with re-entry culture shock and the field of intercultural communication," she said.

The research paper is based on a faculty-student collaborative research project conducted from 2011-12, titled "Cultivating Cultural Intelligence Through Study Abroad: Mindful Communication, Knowledge of Cultural Values and Sojourner Adaptation Skills." UW-Eau Claire alumna Chelsea Jacobson, originally from Sartell, Minn., also contributed to the research. Dr. Judy Sims, professor of communication and journalism, served as the faculty mentor for the study.

An online questionnaire was used to collect data from 374 students who had studied abroad during summer 2011, spring 2011 and fall 2010 semesters. The overall response rate was 61 percent with a completion rate of 71 percent.

The findings of the paper indicated that a strong majority of UW-Eau Claire study abroad students had not prepared for re-entry shock. A majority of the students reported they had experienced more than just normal maturation while abroad. They indicated they had even experienced a change of identity during the experience.

As one student expressed, "This, for me, was much worse than anything I experienced while I was studying abroad … It's been almost a year since I got back, and I am still feeling some of these things."

The results suggest it is imperative that study abroad programs provide re-entry training. In September 2012, Cusick began working with the UW-Eau Claire Center for International Education to help with the re-entry training program for returning UW-Eau Claire study abroad students.

"As study abroad has become an important and integral part of many university educational programs, research concerning the re-entry experience is critical," Sims said. "The fact that a strong majority of UW-Eau Claire study abroad students reported they had experienced difficulty adapting or adjusting upon re-entry to their home culture is significant."

Cusick will present the research findings on a panel with other undergraduate students at the conference. She said this end result makes all of the work worthwhile.

"The many hours I spent working on this paper were challenging, but being honored at this conference makes the time and energy well worth the effort," Cusick said.

Sims indicated that there are several factors for Cusick's research success.

"I think Britta's accomplishments are a reflection of her hard work and passion for the research," she said. "The tremendous support the university provided for Britta also contributed to her accomplishments."

Cusick is a McNair Scholar, under the direction of Sims as a faculty mentor, as well as a teaching assistant for Sims' intercultural communication class.

"Britta is a curious young woman, who respects and values education," Sims said. "I think there was a lot of positive family communication happening in her world when she was a child. She learned to love learning; she learned to be disciplined."

After graduating from UW-Eau Claire in May 2013, Cusick plans to pursue graduate study in a program with a strong international and intercultural communication focus.

In the future, she would like to follow her passion outside the United States.

"I am passionate about foreign languages and learning about other cultures, so the opportunity to live and work abroad would be ideal," she said.



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