From Community Service: Re-entry—Just Part of the Process
"Ok, I am home from far away. At least, I am 'kind of home.' The world here is very similar to when I left it; my friends are gearing up for sports seasons and social events, my family missed me and wants to hear all about my experiences and still, I feel strange. I keep thinking about the conditions I saw when I was serving in (New Orleans, South Africa, Romania, India), and I find myself feeling sort of out of place or time. Classes are starting new units, and I know I should have my head in the game, but I am having a sense of moving in slow motion. What is happening to me?"
It is not unusual for young people to experience re-entry issues getting back into school after experiences that broadened and deepened their view of life. As Linda and I talk with returning service participants, we hear the mature and responsible voices of kids who connected to the world they saw. They tell of new understandings about how difficult life can be for people (especially children) of poverty, disaster or disability. They have seen much, and reached out to who and what they saw. We are not hearing questions about whether or not they made a difference. Whether they planted a garden or carted much needed medicine halfway around the world, your sons and daughters feel a great deal of efficacy about the days they spent in service. What they wonder now is what to do about these complex, difficult issues now that they are home, and the pressing urgency of academics, college searches and relationships here have reasserted themselves.
While it is true that memories from a week or so of focus on the plight of those we meet while serving will indeed fade with time, in our experience for many young people, commitment to getting involved in being part of the solution does not fade. These "mountaintop experiences" which give one the sense of seeing wider vistas or into shadowed places can alter a young person's sense of what matters to them. It can help to shape a life of public purpose, or deepen one's understanding of who we are and how rewarding it can be to feel useful in the world.
So this time of returning to Nobles, returning to home, is a transition that is important to pay attention to as friends, teachers and parents. Everyone asks the question "How was your trip?" Young people do need to talk through what they saw, show you the photos, remember and process the events. And they need to move, too, into the new experiences here at home that follow normal routines.
For some kids, this leaves a gap. They experience both loss and even guilt at moments for having seen some of the extremities of life, and coming home to comfort and safety. This is perfectly reasonable, but call to us, the adults, to listen carefully, and aid in the bridging of these disparate worlds. The process of "coming home" takes time for some students. It helps to process aloud, and to find ways to stay connected to areas of need in more realistic ways than revisiting the country they just left. Can your son or daughter help the issues they discovered by helping to fundraise? Aiding the NGO in some way? Working to make the Nobles community more aware of the issue? Finding like-minded agencies working on similar issues that exist here in Boston? (Kids are often surprised to learn of orphanages right here at home, for instance.)
We know your kids are talking to you about all this. It is just part of the process of doing this kind of service. It is the reason we ask for journals from our kids; reflection through writing is key to sorting through the events and placing them in proper perspective for later action. And we know they are working on reorganizing themselves to be here in the moment, in Boston. Welcome back to all travelers.
Sandi MacQuinn and Linda Hurley