You know how sometimes when a big change is coming you understand it academically and logistically, but you don’t really “get it”? I have exactly one week (well, okay, one week plus about 8 hours) left with Volunteer Maryland and it’s just now hitting home.
I started writing this last night while sitting on the floor of my largely vacated apartment. This month is full of transitions: VISTA members graduating while others settle in, my VISTA leader year ending, classes starting, beginning a new position at Camp Fire USA and moving into a new apartment. It’s sitting in that nearly-empty apartment by myself packing up the last few things that made everything a reality, though. I moved in a couple of weeks before beginning my VISTA Leader year and now I’ve been moving out as my term comes to a close. The connectedness between the two is undeniable; as I’ve been sorting through the last few things Volunteer Maryland stuff is omnipresent. My VM polo shirt under the bed (oops), name badges from conferences strewn about the closet, binders from VISTA Pre-Service Orientation, VMC Pre-Service Training and VISTA Leader Training on my teeny tiny bookshelf that can’t hold my books. And let me tell you, there are lapel pins everywhere. Sorting it all into boxes was a very strange physical reminder that yes, this is really ending. And soon.
I recently created my final VM VISTA webinar about transitioning into the VISTA role at a sponsor site, and mentioned that culture shock is a normal and real part of the process. Culture shock is generally described as having four steps:
- Excitement- The “honeymoon” phase where the new situation or place is seen as wonderful and almost romantic.
- Withdrawal or Negotiation– where anxiety and doubt kick in. Anger, sadness, mood swings and self-doubt or doubt in the new situation or place is common.
- Adjustment– things begin to feel normal again and one begins focusing again on their own basic daily lives. Things are still a bit new and different but it’s manageable.
- Enthusiasm or Mastery– where one enjoys and functions well in their new culture
I believe that these stages apply well to any transition, not just moving from one locale to another. I am trying to stress to our members that it’s okay to be experiencing culture shock or transition shock and that it’s normal and that just recognizing it can be a huge help. Ironically enough though, it wasn’t until last night that I realized I myself am in stage two in a big bad way. Just like when I was too busy making sure our members had “Life After AmeriCorps” plans to be working on my own, I had sudden realization that I wasn’t taking my own advice.
Anxiety? Yup. Sadness? Yup. Mood swings? Let’s just say that my friends are amazing for listening to me blubber and that the thin line between laughing and crying doesn’t currently exist.I do inf act take solace in the fact that it’s a process caused by a series of situations, though. And that it’s not just me.