TTS22 Group photo

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"So, how was Africa?"

(This is a copy of the email I sent out yesterday to parents. As the larger community of TTS22 cohorts, we encourage you to think about how to support these amazing girls as they experience one of life's many transitions. The group is now en route to DC. Thank you all for making this the most followed blog in TTS history!)

Dear TTS22 Parents and Friends,

Wow! It’s hard to believe the semester is wrapping up, fifteen weeks came and went and your daughter will start her journey home in roughly 12 hours. Little do some of them know they are about to go through a 60-100 degree temperature difference less than in 48 hours. Here in the Bozeman office we love the snow covered streets and are bundling up (less enthusiastically) for the daily walk to the post office. Over in Zambia, TTS22 spent a day on the Zambezi – initially enjoying the calm upper waters on a leisurely cruise; they saw a tiny croc which the guide surmised was less than 5 days old. Then, they changed gears and rafted the lower section of the river, crashing through class 2 and 3 waves on rafts. Sarah was impressed with the support the group offered to one another and was thrilled to see each girl recognize her inner strength as she paddled and swam through rapids. By the end of the half day trip, Brenna reported every girl had jumped out and swam through at least one rapid. (The guides know which rapids to let clients swim and which to stay in the raft through.) And after a hot and thrilling river day, they enjoyed a pizza party dinner. They continue to pack in activities and transition talks during the final days. Brenna, Heather, Sarah and Sylvia will share the specific details about the transitions shortly after they land in D.C, but I can give you a few details about the transitions and help you prepare to welcome your daughter back home.

The group arrived in Zambia on Saturday afternoon and settled into a hostel on the outskirts of Livingstone. They cleaned out their truck lockers, swept out the tents and moved into dorm rooms. They said their first big goodbyes to Ngwyena, Benson and Big Blue. Since finishing finals, the group focused on being together and embracing the final days as a unit. Each teacher led a different transition activity to help students think about what going home means. They talked about the fear of transformation, the power of experiential education, how to be a humble global citizen and how to engage in conversations about the semester with friends, family and acquaintances. Each girl trusts that you will be there to listen about the whole journey, but doesn’t know how her friends will react. Teachers helped each student think about how to respond to the very big (and very common) question, “So, how was Africa?” The group talked about how to gauge who wants the 30 second response, the 5 minute response and the in depth response.

For those of us back home, it's also time to focus on the girls’ transition home. The teachers have given each student time to plan and practice her final Global Studies presentation she will give when she gets home. The girls planned their Zenith Project as a way to share their experiences and to find a way to give back to groups and people they’ve met during their travels. The group spent their final days working through transition activities, beginning with reflection and working their way through what it will be like when they actually get home. The girls are excited and nervous to see everyone and can’t wait to walk through their front doors.  They had an amazing semester, and we are all excited for them to share it with you at home in the coming weeks. When your daughter arrives home on Thursday, here are some things to consider in helping her adjust:

1) The girls are often nervous for the first impression when they get off of the plane.  They may have already planned their "flight clothes" and are anxious about what everyone will say.  Despite the fact that they are strong and beautiful as ever, they are scared to hear they are "different" somehow. The girls can be fragile to your comments, and we think parents often don’t give themselves enough credit for how much their words influence and affect their daughters. We're sure you are all very excited to see them.  What we see compared with the girls who joined us three and a half months ago is immeasurable - they are confident, proud, strong, and happy - we're sure you'll find the same.

2) It is often difficult for students to find the words to talk about their semester.  It has been a very full 15 weeks with highs and lows and everything in between.  The stories will come out slowly, perhaps over dinner or during a long car ride. When they download their pictures, it is a perfect chance to sit down and spend a few hours hearing about their adventures.  It will help them if you ask specific questions – What were your Top Ten highlights of the semester? What word would you use to describe each girl? What was your favorite class? Talk about the people who influenced you during the semester. What outdoor activities did you like? Which parts of the semester were most challenging? It may be helpful for them to pick out special photos to create a book from the semester.

3) The girls are very excited for their first meal, to sleep in their beds for the first time, and to see their friends and family.  It is not unusual for them to struggle a bit following all of the excitement of coming home. They have talked about this together, and please let them know that we (at the Traveling School office and their teachers) are all here for them if they have a low point after their return.  They've learned how to take the skills and experiences they had in South-West Africa and transfer them back to their lives at home, and we've given them the tools to help make this happen.  They should have very successful re-entries, and we want to help if they experience any bumps along the way. They may want to seek out opportunities in their home communities for service or continue to study the region or to find ways to talk about their experiences. They might want to find a club or team to continue with a sport they learned throughout the semester.

4) The girls have been working on their final presentations for Global Studies class. This is a crucial piece for the girls to help with the transition home. They have all developed outlines of their presentations and have already practiced several times in class before they return home. The girls are prepared to give the presentation as soon as possible.  As I mentioned, this final activity is an important part of the transition home.  It is designed to give your daughter a formal presentation to share her experience with her peers. The sooner she does it, the easier her transition home will be. Students know the deadline for this presentation and many of you helped solidify presentation dates with their schools. This presentation should be videotaped, uploaded and emailed to the teachers for their final Global Studies grade. If your daughter has any difficulties she should feel free to contact the teachers or our office.

We recognize your daughter’s adjustment to coming home is a significant change. For many of the girls, this is the first (of many) major life transition. She had an experience which will forever be part of who she is. As each girl returns home she will react differently; she might go through a period of quiet mourning and grieving for the end of her Traveling School experience, before she transitions into her next life phase or adventure. As parents, you can support your daughter by helping her to understand transition is a part of life. Right now, she is leaving her Traveling School semester and her TTS22 sisterhood. Soon, she will leave high school. And the love and support from your family will be what helps your daughter work through these transitions successfully.

As sad as it is for us to say goodbye to these 16 amazing young ladies, we know you are all excited to see them back home.  On Thursday morning, one of the teachers will accompany your daughter to her gate in the DC airport. Your daughter will give you a call from the teacher’s cell phone to let you know she is in DC and all set to make her connections. For many parents, this will be an early phone call. The teachers will stay in DC until every student has departed and will then begin their journey back to Bozeman for debrief.  If you remember, we love to hear from you once your daughter has made it home. After you have caught up with her and she has settled back in, please let us know how things are going. We love to hear your reports and updates. 

What the group experienced and learned this semester is priceless, and each of your daughters knows she is lucky you have given her this opportunity. We also feel lucky to have gotten to share the semester with all of you. Thank you for entrusting The Traveling School with your daughters; we look forward to being in their lives for years to come.

Best wishes,

Jennifer, Aunge, Price & Jim

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