Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Transitioning from Africa to home & from students to alumnae

Hello TTS24 Fans~

As the semester comes to an end, we are busy grading finals, enjoying our time together, and thinking about what is to come at the end of the week. A critical step in the semester is preparing students for their transition home. Each day focuses on a different aspect of transitioning, allowing students the time and space to think on what might be relevant to them. What are their intentions in the last week of the program? How do they want to be remembered by their classmates and teachers? What are their anxieties and concerns about returning home? How will they respond to the inevitable question, “So, how was your trip?” How can they get involved in their local communities to remain engaged and connect their learning from the semester to their life at home?

For the past week and a half, we have been conducting various transition activities to help everyone accept the fact that TTS24 is wrapping up and we will soon say goodbye to this tight knit community. Here is a little taste of various pieces of our transitions. Enjoy - and get ready to see your lil'lady!

Zenith Project - The group will continue to meet about their Zenith Project, an action-plan to create change post-semester. Last week Ava was elected Class President. Her role is liaison, the main point of communication between TTS24 and the home office in terms of their project plan and follow-through. Though the group brainstormed ideas and narrowed down to their final idea, they will meet a few more times to hammer out details such as the goal, timeline, and specific roles for each student in the months to come. One of the more exciting aspects of the Zenith process is that it is completely student-run. The group is actively practicing their facilitation skills, making sure each voice is heard. The Zenith is also a great way to stay in touch with TTS friends and become involved at home.

Thanksgiving - In the last shopping trip students paired up to prepare and shop for necessary ingredients to cook their favorite Thanksgiving dishes. While everyone is missing their family traditions, they are excited to create their own. The group is pulling together to create side dishes such as apple salad, potato frittatas, sweet potatoes and marshmallows, no-bake peanut butter pie, no-bake pecan and apple pie, and a dessert called Pilgrim Hats. They are getting creative and, with no pie crusts in the store, and no oven, will mash Marie Biscuits together with butter to create the necessary bottom layer of the pies! Samkange is in charge of the main protein of the evening, and will cook Turkey! The Thanksgiving Chieflet will be in charge of the dinner ritual, pulling from student input.

Global Presentation Practice - Thanksgiving kicked off with the final math exams. What a way to start the morning! Each student  then wrote an outline for her Global Presentation and practiced oral speaking within their mentor groups to prepare for their presentations at home. They received feedback from their peers to aid in developing their ideas. After lunch we gathered for the ‘River of Life’ activity, a fun visioning session on their short and long-term goals and dreams to help provide direction to transition from this unique 15 week semester to returning home.

Warm & Fuzzies - Another TTS favorite and long-standing tradition – envelopes for warm & fuzzies. First each of us drew another student's or teacher's name from a hat. Then each of us created an amazing envelope with personal touches for our "secret person". During the graduation ceremony each student will present their envelop to the person for whom they created it, saying something they love about them. Later that night the envelopes will be spread on a table and the stuffing will commence. One of the most time-consuming activities is writing ‘warm & fuzzies’ (personal notes) to each person. These are the notes of love and appreciation that end up in the hand-crafted envelopes. The only rule is that no one is allowed to open their envelope to read their warm & fuzzies until they are away from the group, whether that be alone on a flight home, in their room, or a month later when they need support. Little do they know that the letter they wrote to themselves in the first week of the semester will be in their envelope!

Memory Collection - Thanksgiving was also a day when whiteboards adorned the campsite, one for each country we have visited. Throughout the afternoon (in between cooking) students wrote their favorite memories. Little did they know, they were creating the ground work for another visualization activity on the beaches of South Africa.

Fears - We talk about transitions, moving from one experience to another, and with that we must recognize the associated fears. And we have to acknowledge that having fear is normal, and also that we probably share common fears. Therefore, an important session during the final days is opening up a space to voice concerns about returning home. Common fears include: Will my friends still be my friends? Will they want to hang out with me? Will I want to hang out with them? How do I open up my friend group if I appreciate my old friends but want to branch out to look for more like-minded people? How do I transfer my TTS learning to my home community? What does that look like? How do I share my experiences with my family? I want to shift the relationship I have with my parents but don’t know how. I’m scared my parents won’t understand. I’m excited to learn and go to college, but am afraid to step back into an environment of pressure around a certain type of success. I’m worried that I’ll get bored in the traditional classroom when I return to school. How can I remain engaged in learning?

The Question - After hearing their concerns, students will engage in a practical session about how to sum up their thoughts and emotions. How do they respond to someone who wants to know: “how was your trip?” Students  understand there is a range of responses, depending on the audience. Rather than feeling flummoxed in the moment by the breadth of the question, students will learn how to take charge of the situation. They practice coming up with a few adjectives to respond to people in passing and create an elevator speech for those who might want to know a bit more. Students may invite people to tea to share photos, stories, and speak about those who impacted them.

Letters to TTS25 - TTS24 began their semester at orientation in Malawi. While there, when they were anxious about the upcoming experience, and didn’t know their peers or teachers. They opened and read letters from TTS23. The previous group gave all sorts of advice: although a TTS semester is challenging and a lot of work, it is worth it to experience the journey and end the semester with 20 new sisters. So now is the time for our group to write their most precious advice to the incoming group (TTS25), to pass on their well-earned wisdom as soon-to-be alums.

Other Fun Stuff – A TTS Scavenger Hunt is on the way. The teachers are organizing a fun evening full of laughter and inside jokes to reminisce on the moments that stood out, through ridiculous tasks carried out in mentor groups. Another end of the semester activity is a visualization, where all will lie in a circle on the ground with eyes closed as teachers guide the group through memories gathered over the entire semester (including the Thanksgiving whiteboard sentiments). There will also be time for silent acknowledgements, a meditative and beautiful activity in which each person understands their impact on others. People receive a touch on the shoulder from their peers depending on the prompt: “Tap someone who…made you laugh/ …was a shoulder to cry on/ ...offered good advice/ ...inspired you”. The last night we will enjoy a fancy dinner, have the graduation ceremony, and our final circle.

Family Support - Thank you for the continuous support and love during your daughter's preparation for TTS and throughout the semester. With the semester wrapping up, family support is critical in the transition back home. What TTS has seen over the years, and we as teachers and mentors understand, is that students may need time, patience, and a lot of listening from their loved ones. We know they will find ways to apply their learning to their home communities, and beyond in college. Along the way, however, they may experience a range of emotions: shock and sadness upon separation from a tight-knit community, discomfort about how to relate/re-integrate to family and friends, consideration of how to approach their lives slightly differently, striving to live with more intention, and thriving in a multitude of ways. Often students experience “reverse culture shock,” particularly in relation to the consumerism of the U.S. After sharing a tent and living out of a single bag for four months, home life can be challenging. What is most fascinating is the many feelings students may experience simultaneously post-semester. They might love the hot shower waiting for them in a private bathroom, the smell of their sheets on their own bed, meals and rituals with their family, eating or sleeping or relaxing whenever they choose. Yet sometimes the ease of living and lack of structure calls for nostalgia rather than application. How can each student begin to think of ways they want to live TTS at home? What was important to them from the semester? How can they begin to embody those things in their daily lives, no matter where they live? We encourage you (parents, relatives, friends) to listen without judgment and to ask questions in the upcoming months as this is an essential part of their success post-TTS. 

Thank you all for an amazing semester!

Sarah, Beth, Mary Reid, Kaite and Quinnie

1 comment:

  1. I continue to be in awe of all of you and the TTS program... every aspect is done so beautifully with thought and intention... and the commitment to helping each one evolve into her highest self well after they depart Bright Africa. Thank you.