Disposable-Consumerism

Small phone

“I just have this phone because I like small phones. It’s not really a good symbol of conservation. Conservation isn’t some huge sacrifice. It doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things. I’ve got a nice flat screen TV at home, great furniture, a sauna, sporting goods, and all the clothes I can wear. Conservation just means that you aren’t constantly getting rid of perfectly good stuff to replace it with stuff that you don’t need. A perfect table is perfect for hundreds of years. You don’t need a new one every couple years. Our culture is called ‘materialistic,’ but that’s not even correct, because ‘materialism’ implies that we value our possessions. And we don’t. We get rid of them, then we destroy Africa to get more shit that nobody needs. There’s no more pressing problem right now than the depletion of the earth. The earth can tolerate a lot of punishment, but if there isn’t a change in the way we consume, there is no way it can survive. We will gladly give money help people in need. But we can’t equate the act of conservation with helping billions of people for generations to come.” –Humans of New York

When I came across this post the other day I was particularly struck by the truth in the statement about materialism. We live in the strange dissonance of a culture that is both materialistic and disposable. Our country is built on consumerism. We are taught to be consumers from childhood. Everywhere we turn there is stuff. Tempting us with the lie that we need it. We love stuff. But we also don’t. We love stuff for a time and then happily toss it aside when different stuff comes along. I could get into materialism but I think today I will lean more toward the problem of disposable consumerism, which goes hand-in-hand with materialism.

We no longer buy things to last. In fact, we often can’t, due to a market swamped with items produced for planned obsolescence. We buy stuff for a buck at the dollar store with the idea that when the poorly (probably unethically) produced object inevitably gives out way before it should we can just buy another! We line our pans with foil so we can throw it away instead of just cleaning the pan. As I sit in a coffee shop writing this I see dozens of people who are drinking in but have disposable cups anyway, containers that will spend 40 minutes in use and then sit in a landfill for hundreds of years. We spend $5 on a plastic laundry basket that we will need to replace in 2 years instead of $20 on a canvas one that will last 10 years.

We want stuff: we want it cheap: and we want to be able to replace it with more stuff whenever we feel like it. We care more about the price we pay than the price the workers and environment pay.

We like our stuff, but not enough to keep it, to fix it, to upcycle it when it is no longer functional. All too often it is cheaper to fully replace something than to have it fixed, even more often we don’t even consider fixing it.

There is no away

“Our culture is called ‘materialistic,’ but that’s not even correct, because ‘materialism’ implies that we value our possessions. And we don’t. We get rid of them”

Why should you care about your consumption?

  1. We are depleting our resources and developing countries and the poor are disproportionally paying the price.
  2. We are harming nature and animals.
  3. We are wasting money, time, and energy.
  4. We are creating excessive demand that leads to unethical working conditions for millions of people around the world.
  5. We are called to be stewards of the Earth and we are doing a poor, poor job.

Everyone has heard “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” but have you heard “Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle”? We think the pinnacle of conservation is recycling but how about not buying the object that will have to be recycled? Or demanding our goods are packaged responsibly. What about having less and borrowing more? Sharing what you have so that others can own less.

Buyerarchy of Needs

I love this more alternative list: use what you have, borrow, swap, thrift, make, buy. In that order!

 

Many people have written about this and done so far better than I. I follow a few pages and blogs that give practical advice on how to consume more ethically and responsibly. However, my experience is that most people aren’t out looking for this information because we think we are doing enough. Most people need a more basic introduction to conservation because they are happy enough to have a recyclable coffee cup and haven’t thought about where it with go after they recycle or throw it away (the ocean: harming plants and animals, parks: littering our green spaces, the landfill: spending up to 700 years before they even begin to degrade, or a recycling center if you’re lucky: being down-cycled into another object that still will not degrade.) Did you know that very little that is recycled actually ends up being recycled? Only 2 in 10 plastic bottles are actually recycled even if you put them in the recycling. Did you know that companies like Nestle and Coke are depleting water sources in impoverished areas to meet our demand for bottled water and pop?

If any of this is disturbing to you try these 5 things this week:

  1. Bring your own cup or ask for a mug at the coffee shop. If you are not a coffee person, buy a reusable water bottle.
  2. Take your own bags when you are shopping, plastic bags are a huge problem in terms of pollution throughout their entire life-cycle. And they are completely unnecessary!
  3. Borrow something this week instead of buying it.
  4. Buy something second-hand instead of new.
  5. Research a product before buying it to see if it is made ethically.

Advanced:

  1. Start composting; food that would degrade in the compost can last hundreds of years in a landfill and emits far more greenhouse gases. (Before composting- eat your leftovers! Americans throw out 40% of the food we buy! 60% of the food produced is not eaten.)
  2. Grow some of your own food and look for package-free alternatives to what you usually buy (Check out bulk stores in your area where you can take your own container for the food you buy.)
  3. Make your own cleaning products (baking soda and vinegar cleans pretty much everything)
  4. Never buy bottled water again! It is energy and water intensive and completely unnecessary (in most developed nations).
  5. Support local efforts to make businesses accountable for their consumption practices.

12717690_10154639479715884_1599234575287460864_n

For practical advice and better explanations on the importance of rejecting our disposable culture check out:

  • The Story of Stuff on Facebook
  • The Art of Simple website and/or Facebook
  • Trash if for Tossers website and/or Facebook

One… is the loneliest number

All by myself

So I was very hopeful (Naïve?) that upon graduating I would beat the odds and be the minority graduate who was able to work together with other conductors soon after graduating. I was adamant that I did not want to be on my own at the beginning. I wanted support from, mentoring by, and practice around more experienced conductors. I wanted to work on professional development straight away. Ah, the optimism (a product of the sheltered Uni environment?)

I spent my first two months as a qualified conductor in, for me, an exceptionally idealistic environment. Not only was I working with incredibly capable and experienced conductors, I was working in an interdisciplinary team that included OTs and PTs. I loved it.

But then my summer job ended. Sigh…

So here I am now. Alone. In precisely the position I had hoped to avoid. Obviously I have time to get to where I want to be, no one’s first job is their dream job right? But still, it is tough going.

I am currently working full-time at a group home and part-time 1-to-1 with my little brother, JZ. My role in the group home is minimal, because I work nights. So I only have a few hours each shift with the guys and my time with them is mostly just making sure every gets their meds, their breakfast, and their shoes on the right feet before leaving for their day-programme. My work with my brother is more suited to my qualification, but is still not quite the environment I would like. I am not thrilled to be working 1-on-1, the group is one of my favorite principles in CE.

Generally, I am lacking the structured support that I feel I need as a newly qualified conductor. You can’t even do this as a physio or OT, where one is required to be supervised initially. There is stuff in the works at the moment, headed up by NICE, to help get NQCs, and conductors in general, more support and organized professional development. The gap is being addressed but we’re not there yet.

There is one other conductor in my state. One other conductor in a space that is equivalent to the entire UK.

I feel so alone (woe is me).

Anyway, onto the constructive complaining.

{As this blog shows fairly regularly, I am a lover of lists (and parenthetical statements, it’s even worse before my first 3 rounds of editing…). I have therefore organized my difficulties in a handy, bullet-pointed list. This should make is easier both for me to organize my problems and for you to solve them!}

So here are my NQC issues:

  1. Lack of Support

I’ve already kind of beaten this one to death, but to be more specific; sometimes I just don’t know what to do. I come to the end of my knowledge and experience and need someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, to debate with. I need someone else to lead a program, to make me articulate why I am doing something, to offer a different perspective. JZ recently got a new style of *brace that I do not actually know how to put on, I am at a loss when it comes to potty training with him, and I need more ideas to teach reading.

I feel I have a decent understanding- obviously to be hugely deepened- of the principles of CE, but they do not always seem to be helping me get past these practical areas.

I would like to flesh out some of these difficulties a bit more in a future post, because I genuinely would like to get some advice.

*Theratogs, thoughts? I am cautiously a fan when used with CE principles in mind. I have managed to use them a few times with him since writing this, hello Velcro!

**Also, I must mention that since my previous post, an experienced conductor, whom I respect hugely, has reached out to me to offer her support, and I have taken it gladly. Perhaps I need to be more active in looking for more support from experienced conductors, even if it’s long-distance.

  1. Working 1-to-1

There are just SO MANY advantages to working in a group. Many of the things I struggle with I feel would be solved by a group environment. A couple of areas that I am having to learn to adjust for working 1-to-1 are:

Planning: I find it difficult to find a practical way to plan for 1-to-1 sessions. JZ is quite susceptible to illness, if he is not well the entire day needs to be adjusted. If he were just one in a group, the plan would still work, and just be adjusted a bit for him. I swing between varying levels of planning for our day-to-day work. Some days I plan out exactly what I want to work on throughout the 3-4 hours. Some days, I just keep in mind his goals, see how he is feeling and reacting that day, and go from there. I think the answer lies somewhere between these approaches.

Rhythmic Intention: It can feel a bit forced to use RI with one person. I generally use a mixture of RI and normal speech. I use it consistently for areas I know he really benefits, like walking, and then maybe less often for tasks he has a fairly good grasp of. Would he benefit more from using it all the time as would be the case in a group?

Programs: In 1st year we would be glad if we had a small group, by 2nd year we were always hoping for big groups! Similar to RI, it just seems harder to do programs with one person than with a group. For example, if JZ cannot complete a task, I feel I should always wait for him to finish it. But should I always hold him to such a high standard? In a group, he would inevitably not complete each task to the best of his ability every time. Also, a group would force more independence from him, etc.

Motivation: It’s hard to keep things interesting, mix them up, create an atmosphere, etc, when working 1-to-1 (maybe I’m just a boring person..). The group is a highly motivating force that I am finding difficult to replace (or that I rely on to make up for being boring). CE groups are like teams, with each person fulfilling a role of some sort, contributing to the team. I am struggling to find ways to instill the desire to contribute without peers for JZ.

  1. Putting knowledge of principles into practice in completely different contexts

In our 3rd year we had several lectures and countless discussions on the difference between CE philosophy and CE methodology. We discussed how important it is to try to identify and maintain the philosophies when adapting the methodology to suit your context. I am very grateful that there was a strong emphasis on this. I find that I have to frequently determine ways to stay in line with philosophy when working without a group and on a sessional basis rather than in a school.

  1. Transitioning to being a ‘professional.’

One day you are a student, the lowest on the totem pole. You are allowed (and expected) to make mistakes, to not know all the answers, to question yourself.

The next day you are a professional out in the big bad world and people expect you to be a professional. Which, obviously, is completely fair. However, it is kind of an abrupt shift and it takes some getting used to.

I am very grateful, however, to have had my final placement where I had it. While on placement at CYP I felt like part of the team. My ideas and opinions where always considered, my perspectives respected and seen as valid. I not only felt accepted but necessary, which is brilliant for confidence as a student. I believe my time at CYP was very helpful in moving me out of the student mentality and into a professional mindset, but I still have a way to go.

  1. The realities of moving away, again

Three and a half years ago I uprooted my life and moved to another continent. Six months ago I did it again. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. I am NOT ready to do it again just yet.

Unfortunately, all prospective CE jobs are a minimum of 7 hours away, with most being over 12 hours from where I currently am. I want to work in CE, but at the moment I’m still getting over the last move and the thought of another is overwhelming.

*****

I do want to point out that it’s not all problems all the time! I am really enjoying my work at the moment, despite these challenges. In future posts, I am going to discuss some of the aspects that are different but enjoyable, what I am learning, and ways I have found to overcome some of the difficulties I’m facing (does this make me an ‘Orthofunctional Conductor’? 🙂

As always, please let me know your thoughts! I am craving good CE interaction.

Disability, Communication, and the role of Conductive Education

During my last week in placement one of my students asked me if I was nervous about my exam. I said I was (always!). She wished me luck and told me it would all be fine, not to worry.

And she said all of this without a word. Without a communication device. Without any traditional signing, and without any conversational context. She communicated all of this to me through body language, personal signs, and facial expression. There was a bit of guessing on my end and some explaining and re-explaining on hers. All-in-all the conversation that would have taken about 20 seconds verbally took us about 2 minutes. But we got there in the end, and that’s what mattered.

Around New Year’s I wrote a post about my experience of being voiceless for a day. The experience challenged me to renew my efforts to communicate with the students with whom communication was particularly difficult. It hugely paid off, my relationship with those students became much stronger when I became committed to spending the time and energy to let them express themselves.

Communication varies hugely from one individual to the next. For example, I have seen countless ways of saying yes and no. I had a student who said ‘aba’ for yes and pursed his lips to the side for no (think Maroney, “not impressed” meme).

Maroney Meme

One student looked up and to the left for yes and down and to the left for no. I currently work with a child who says ‘huh’ for yes and arches his back for no. One girl I worked with would stare at you without moving for no and would stare at you and nod her head down about a centimetre for yes. And that is just the beginning! That is just the most basic of communication.

Communication devices frustrate me. Why do we have bulky, heavy, clunky, complicated devices that people have to rely on for one of the most basic of human needs whilst we have paper-thin iPads for entertainment?? Moreover, I have come across many, many AACs that simply do not have appropriate vocabulary for the individual. I once sat down with a student and tried to have a conversation with her using solely her AAC. After a few minutes I became exasperated and said to her (verbally, cheating): “there’s nothing on here to say!” She shook her head emphatically and then pulled a “tell me about it!” face. I think this is changing, it is going the right direction, but certainly not fast enough.

The other day I was discussing with an OT on my team some of the communication barriers we are having with certain students at the moment. She mentioned that she thought it was an area we (the team) should do more in. I wholeheartedly agreed. Communication is emphasised in CE in theory/philosophy, but truthfully, I don’t think that it always is, practically. It seems to come down to the individual conductor or organisation whether or not communication is emphasized. There were a few talks in Munich on finding a place for communication devices in CE and I very much appreciated them.

Of course there are many ways to communicate, it is not simply through communication devices. I think that CE does equip individuals to communicate in many way. We teach movement; which allows for signing and body language, spontaneity; a vital part of true communication, self-efficacy; which can increase confidence and desire for communication, problem solving; which allows for more creative communication, etc. So, in the broad concept of communication, CE does a great job. However, I wonder if there is room to grow when it comes to communication devices, this is what I want to focus on here.

It is great if someone can get themselves to a restaurant by themselves, eat independently, and has the fine manipulation and math skills to pay. But if they cannot communicate their order, what is the point? If a child can walk across a room to get into class but cannot tell their friends what they did that weekend, have we accomplished what we are looking to accomplish? Can we be orthofunctional without communication? (Honest question, please throw in your thoughts!)

I think there are many difficulties to implementing good communication practices. A few that come to mind:

Time: CE that is forced into a sessional time frame of just a few hours will struggle to have the time necessary for proper communication emphasis. If a student is in a CE sessions for 2 hours we want to pack in as much input as we can in that time. That means that it may be a struggle to spend the time it takes to encourage legitimate communication.

Situation: Along the same lines, if we are only with a student in one environment, for a few hours at a time, we are not in the contexts and situations conducive to spontaneous, practical conversation. Across a school day there are many natural opportunities for legitimate communication, but in 2 hours of structured CE we have to be more intentional.

Equipment: As I mentioned above, a lot of communication devices are pretty crap. Some are just horrendously impractical. My brother has a device that weighs about half as much as he does! I think just as we advocate for appropriate walkers and braces, we should advocate for appropriate, practical communication aids.

Physical barriers: Generally, not a lot of time in a CE session is spent sitting at a table, or in a chair, etc. We move around, a lot. Many AACs do not lend themselves to use when the individual is lying on the ground, on a scooter, etc. So the actual physical positions we use can make access difficult.

(I am just pointing out some problems, I don’t have solutions! As always, would love to hear thoughts from the CE community.)

When it comes to communication devices, I try to have them available as often as humanly possible. It takes a bit of extra effort, but I try to keep aids in reach. I may ask that a conversation wait for a more appropriate time, but I do not determine when and where my students can communicate by giving them their devices only at certain times. How can we encourage spontaneity without giving them the tools to be spontaneous?

Comm Board

 

*As a slight aside: I have seen people take communication aids from children because they are “talking” when they should not be. This makes me furious! It would be like duct taping a verbal child’s mouth closed. They need to be taught to communicate appropriately, just as all children need to be taught. Taking away a communication device should never be a consequence for behaviour. (My exception to this rule is if the student is going to damage the device, or damage something with the device, through their actions).

Communication is a basic human right. I want to do everything in my power to create the appropriate conditions for my students to have that right. If CE is to be holistic, we cannot be dismissive of this. I don’t have all the answers, I just want to make sure I am actively seeking them.

I have mainly focused on communication devices but of course that is not the only form of communication. More on that later. But for now: How do you incorporate AACs into CE? How do you think we can improve in this area?

10 things Conductive Education has taught me

  1. How to see the bigger picture

“Holistic” is a bit of a buzzword in Conductive Education. Despite appearing heavily motor-based, CE is actually an integrated, holistic system that aims to facilitate cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. When I work with a student I am not just looking at what they can do physically, I am thinking about what they have done to get to this point, how it is impacting their confidence, how they are reacting to what we are doing, what they are learning from the task, how it will impact their daily life, etc. It is also holistic in that it goes beyond the child and the disability, taking into considering the family and community environment, culture, and social structures around them.

  1. How to aim high

As I have mentioned, expectation is massive. Across the board conductors that I have worked with just expect more. It will be hard, it will take time, but progress will be made. If you don’t shoot high you have nowhere to go. Humans have incredible abilities to adapt to difficult situations, often we just need someone else to expect it from us, to believe in us.

  1. How to be outrageously positive

Like, seriously positive. In our training we would at times have to reword sentences if they were written in the ‘negative’. For example, “John can’t stand for more than 30 seconds” would be phrased as “John can stand for up to 30 seconds.” Call it semantics, but I call it a more positive outlook. We are also taught to be realistic but extremely positive with the kids. Again, impacting our language. I once heard a parent lamenting that their child was suddenly being very picky about how they did things when the conductor commented on how “great” it was that they were communicating so well what they did and didn’t want. If there is a positive angle to find, a conductor will find it.

  1. How to look for small victories

Today one of my kids zipped her lunchbox independently. And it. Was. Great! I spent three summers teaching a kid to put toothpaste on his toothbrush. (It’s amazing how many steps it can be broken down into). The day he did it by himself we went out for ice-cream. Because… it matters! It may look small, but it’s a big deal. Huge moments sometimes look pretty average.

  1. How to be careful with my language

When trying to complete a task, we do not process negatives as well as positives. So, for example, if you are stretching your leg out, your brain will more easily process “stretch it out” than “don’t bend it.” Little details in language matter. When giving feedback we are taught to be very specific to help the participants make the link between what a movement is and what it feels like. So instead of saying “Good job, you’ve done that well” which takes their attention away from what their body is feeling at that moment, we say, “Well done, you’ve stretched your leg very well, can you feel that?” to draw their attention back to what they are doing and how it feels.

  1. How to see ability and potential

Again, I thought for quite a while that this was semantics. Is there really a difference between noticing that a child can’t fully open their hand or can initiate the movement necessary for opening their hand to grasp something? Yes, I believe so. This past week I worked with a 7 year old boy. My first impressions were excitement about all of the potential he has. I was excited because he could grasp the plinth well to keep himself from wobbling, he could take nice, controlled steps, he could aim his fork well enough to stab his food. This child has cerebral ataxia. He grasped the plinth because his muscles are weak and his balance is poor, his steps were methodical because he needs at least 3 points of contact at all times to maintain a standing position, and his aiming took twice as long because he has an intention tremor. CE understands that these are the areas that need to be developed, but chooses to concentrate on the cans; building off of ability, no matter how small. Rather than the cants; trying to overcome a deficit. So it’s not, A can’t stand without something to support him, it’s, A can overcome his balance difficulties by holding onto the plinth, can we try him holding with just one hand next time?

  1. How to see everything

Or at least how to convince participants that you have seen everything. CE teaches you to use the other professionals or assistants facilitating the program to know how everyone is doing with regard to their specific goals. When you first come into a group it feels like the conductors are telepathic. Eventually, you get the hang of it. It is amazing how much information you can get from a few moments of eye contact with someone on your team. Along the same lines of being holistic mentioned early, CE helps you to see what is important. When I watch a child I am considering what they are doing in relation to their goals and needs as well as the groups’. I am watching their posture when they are playing a game of hangman, thinking about their speech development when they are passing a ball, watching their reactions to their peer’s success. Conductors don’t compartmentalize, it’s about everything, all the time. But you’ve got to look for it.

  1. How to not care

Obviously I care about those I work with, but I am not there to care for them. Instead, I enable. When they are struggling I offer encouragement, I don’t offer to do it for them. When they drop something and it would be faster for me to pick it up, I give them the time and support they need to do it for themselves. It is my responsibility to give them the opportunity have responsibility for their own lives.

  1. How to plan

Every. Tiny. Detail. Walking into class: 7 minutes. Taking shoes, afo’s and socks off: 10 minutes. Conversation with communication devices: 5 minutes. Who needs a wedge on their stool? Who needs a ladderback chair to sit on? Who needs a stool? Who needs help to take their shoes off? What will S, who leaves her shoes on, do during this time? Who will help S with her task? How much help should I ask them to give? Will T need the activity words enlarged? What is the difference between R and J’s reading levels? How can I challenge both of them? How can I keep everyone busy when I have 7 kids and 4 facilitators? What task do I need to include for N? What tasks do I need to differentiate for B? Etc, etc, etc. We are trained to think through every detail. We heard countless times that “success is 90% planning.” Being forced to put that level of detail down on paper helps you start to think in that kind of detail. Thinking in that kind of detail helps you focus and makes you a more effective educator. (e.g. Today I spent several minutes deciding what kind of scissors each child would use, and what the backup would be if they needed more support!).

    10. How to manage time

Along the lines of planning, CE teaches you time-management skills. It takes a while to get the hang of, but I can now very quickly decide how many tasks I can include in a 25 minute standing programme for a group of 7 year olds, or a 40 minute walking program for a group of teens. In placement we sometimes found it annoying that we were “told off” if we went over or under time. But because of that we can now create programs with very specific time requirements. We can also use the time we have to its full potential, not wasting a minute.

***

I am sure 5 years from now this list will look very different. (–>newly<– qualified conductor.) But this is where I am now. I hope I continue to develop these areas more and more as the years go by.

What has CE taught you?

Made it!

So that’s that then! I am a fully qualified conductor!

Still weird to say it. But I am enjoying being introduced to the kids’ parents as a conductor. I am proud to hold that title, I have such respect for conductive education and what conductors do.

It is apparently something of a novelty that I am an American conductor. Although most people seem to think I am English (silly hybrid accent).

My past few months have been … something.

We handed in our dissertations in April. I wrote on the benefits of heterogeneity in conductive groups. I enjoyed the project overall, though it was tough getting it all together there at the end.

dis w han

Just after finishing off my dissertation my mom and sisters came to visit! Which was amazing! I loved being able to show them my UK home and introduce them to friends and James’ family. It was a whirlwind trip with 9 days spread across Birmingham, Cardiff, London, and Stratford.

big ben

Early morning getting to the airport

Early morning getting to the airport

The Villa match was definitely a highlight :)

The Villa match was definitely a highlight 🙂

Whilst they were around we had an engagement/going away party for James and me, which was great. We got lucky and had a beautiful day and loads of lovely friends and family came out.

engagement party

After my family left and I had finished my dissertation I quickly got bored so went back to Cardiff for an extra week in placement at Craig y Parc. Love, love, love Craig y Park (or as Hannah and I affectionately call it, Craggers).

The scenic commute to the school

The scenic commute to the school

After I got back I was soon off again, with James’ family to Devon. We spent several days in a cabin on the coast. So, so nice to get away and relax a bit and spend time with family.

An intense game of pooh sticks. I won :P

An intense game of pooh sticks. I won 😛

Devon

After we got back I headed back to Cardiff for my hen do (bachelorette party) which my amazing housemate threw for me. Was really good fun. We conquered the high ropes course on Go Ape (some of us conquered, some of us faltered a bit :P), enjoyed afternoon tea at Waterloo Tea Rooms (highly recommend!), had dinner and games and hung out for the evening.

The Go Apers.

The Go Apers

hen do

I officially graduated at the end of May. I was able to attend the ceremony which was great! Initially I was going to miss it because I had to be in Chicago for work but fortunately they moved the ceremony up so all of us international students could be there. I am missing my group, we got through a lot together over the past three years. It was certainly always interesting. We have gone our separate ways, one of us to Canada, one to the US, a couple in the UK, and a couple in transition.

Grad

After graduation it was a flurry of seeing people and saying really horrible gut-wrenching goodbyes to close friends who feel more like family. James and I spent the week between graduation and me leaving seeing people every evening. I’m not going to think about it, cause it makes me sick.

Between saying goodbyes and finishing some coursework for my psych degree I packed up all of my worldly belongings into a couple suitcases and a backpack. I flew out on May 30th. A non-eventful trip, which is generally good!

Quite a lot of my life revolves around packing and unpacking

Quite a lot of my life revolves around packing and unpacking

Canada!

Canada!

Upon landing, having traveled for nearly 24 hours, I changed in the airport bathroom and headed straight to a friend’s wedding with my sister. It was a beautiful wedding between two amazing people and I was so, so happy to be there with them. (We were a few minutes late so when we walked in my friend and her dad were standing at the end of the hall across from us ready to walk in! My friend laughed, she knew I was coming straight from England, and motioned for me to get into the sanctuary quick before they walked in!)

ash wedding

Caught the bouquet! Appropriate.. :)

Caught the bouquet! Appropriate.. 🙂

Got home that evening pretty shattered but excited to see my family! Some of whom I had not seen in over 9 months. I got to spend about a week with them. They are just great. While I was home I renewed everything that had expired while I was gone (license, debit card, phone, etc) and sorted some wedding stuff. (I went out once and tried to pay when the waiter ran my card and told me, “Sorry, this card is expired … 8 months expired.” Oops..)

My brother got taller than me while I was gone!! :/

My brother got taller than me while I was gone!! :/

 

Seriously too cute

Seriously too cute

All too quickly it was time to pack up again, this time for Chicago, where I am currently. I am working here for 2 months (living in a hotel!), doing the summer program at the Center for Independence through Conductive Education. So far I’ve done a week and a day and am loving it!

#thesuitelife

#thesuitelife

Yesterday I turned in my final assignment towards my bachelor’s degree in psychology and counseling. So I have officially completed that degree as well. It’s been pretty difficult this year juggling 2 degrees, practical placement, wedding planning, visa applications, and a cross-continental move. I am glad that I am on this side of the transition for a lot of those things at this point.

In the coming months I will be working here in Chicago, sneaking in a few visits home, doing more wedding planning, waiting impatiently for James’ visa to process, learning Spanish (trying..), and hopefully doing a bit more blogging now that things are at a more reasonable pace!

Thanks to all of you who have supported me in so many ways across these three years. Excited to see what the next three hold!

 

Coming soon: 10 Things Conductive Education Has Taught Me.

Surviving transition (part 2)

This is part 2 of my thoughts on transitions. If you haven’t read the first part you can do. here: https://jjzapf.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/surviving-transition-part-1/

This second set are more thoughts for once you get where you are going.

6. Consider reverse culture shock (for those re-entering their ‘home’ culture)

As I was preparing to move to Birmingham a friend of mine gave me loads of great advice. What has stuck with me the most was what she said about reverse culture shock.

“Culture shock is real. Reverse culture shock? Probably even harder. Google both shocks. Study them. Accept them. If you have anyone to talk to, do it. Leaving and being away is hard, but sometimes coming home is harder.”

This was definitely the case for me. I was expecting differences when I moved abroad, not when I moved home! The first summer I went back to the US it was like seeing my culture for the first time. The roads were big and the cars were bigger. There were painfully few eco/ethical alternatives. Many people did not have a clue what was going on in the rest of the world. I was so frustrated with my own culture. Aspects of British and European culture that I had embraced were absent. I felt misunderstood. I did not fit in. It didn’t bother me that I didn’t always fit in in England; that was to be expected. It did bother me when I went ‘home’ and didn’t fit in there! I had changed and sometimes it was a struggle to find common ground.

You judge your own country more harshly when you’ve seen alternatives that you prefer.

As far as constructive advice, I second what my friend suggested. Realize it might happen (particularly if you have embraced a new culture). Study up on it and talk about it. Vent a bit when you need to. But also try to remember that not that long ago you probably had a similar perspective to the ones you are now annoyed by. Just as you have been shaped by a new culture people back home have been shaped by theirs. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, but be patient and gracious.

7. Embrace your new environment (without always making comparisons)

So you get to your new environment and it is weird. They drive on the wrong side of the road, say things funny, spell things differently, don’t believe in talking to strangers, and never go more than about 20 minutes without a cuppa tea. You can fight it or you can embrace it. The more you embrace differences the less you will feel like an outsider and the easier the transition will be. So eat the funny things they eat (beans on toast? New favourite!) and honestly try to understand why they think taxes should be so high.

It is natural to compare things, I do it regularly on this blog. Because I find culture so interesting I do tend to notice even small differences. But if you are always comparing it can get in the way of accepting (as highlighted in number 6). When I am in England its pavement, in America sidewalk. There isn’t a right or wrong. (Except basil. It really is meant to be pronounced bay-zel).

It is important however to find a balance you are happy with. Do not feel you need to maintain all of your cultural identity but at the same time do not think you should completely lose it. Take the pieces you like from your ‘home’ culture but also embrace different ways of living and thinking.

8. Get involved quickly

I struggled in [read: hated] Minnesota until I found a gym (gymnastics gym) and a small-group (at church). Once I started making connections in those environments I felt included and as though I could be happy there. When I came to England finding a church was instrumental in beginning to feel at home. I forced myself to do things with people I didn’t know very well. At times it was awkward, at times I longed to speak to someone who actually knew me. But taking those steps to get involved were vital in beginning to form relationships and feel more at home. To do this you may need to break away from just hanging out with other internationals. Don’t think skype friendships will cut it.

I also tried to do things. I visited museums, walked in parks, had Sunday Roasts, spent my Saturdays at local markets. I threw myself in fully and do not regret a second of it. I soaked in a lot of information quickly because I put myself in situations where I was immersed in the culture. When you move to that new city find out what it has to offer. Even if it feels forced at first, get involved.

9. Be intentional about relationships you have left behind

Relationships naturally change over time. Some grow closer whilst others drift apart. These natural changes in relationships are exaggerated when you move to another country. A good place to start is to assume that the majority of your relationships will change significantly.

Friendships that you wish to keep strong will require a bit of effort. For some people this feels “forced” but I think of it as intentional. Your relationship won’t be as spontaneous as it was when you were in the same house, country, time zone, etc. When I left MN there were a few close friends I was determined to stay in touch with beyond “How are you? How’s work? Let’s catch up sometime!” Some have worked, some haven’t. Some friends have stayed in closer contact than I anticipated whilst others, who I fully expected to communicate with regularly, have not mastered the art that is long distance communication. You can only keep up a friendship with one-way communication for so long. It is frustrating and hurtful. I have found it helpful to identify the friends who are willing to make the effort to stay in closer than average contact and focus my long-distance-communication-energy on them.

Try to accept that some people you will remain in regular contact with but most you will not. Any relationships that you want to keep closer than “where are you living these days?” will take some work. So set up skype dates, send letters, make the effort to visit at some point, etc. Some people will find this harder than others, there is definitely a learning curve so give it time and effort.

10. Be willing to laugh at your mistakes

You’ve caught the wrong bus. Or you’ve caught the right bus, but you’ve caught it going the wrong way. Or you’ve caught the right bus going the correct way but you’ve missed the stop.  Or you’ve caught the right bus going the correct way, know your stop, but made the mistake of sitting in the back very awkwardly by the guy who is smoking.

None of these were particularly funny at the time, but they are now.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Risk getting lost on public transport, order in a second language, take chances! Lots of fun discoveries come out of mistakes.

Just a few of my thoughts. What helps you get through a move?

[Special thanks to Jessica S]

Surviving transition (part 1)

In 3 months I will be leaving a country that has come to feel like home.  I will be leaving behind friends who feel more like family as well as soon-to-be family that has welcomed me into their lives from the week I stepped onto English soil (soppy as it was on that minging day!). Not only am I leaving people but I am leaving a culture that has had a bigger impact on who I am than I ever considered it could. A city that many of my friends in the US will never have heard of but has been a part of such a significant time in my life.  A placement that has taught me more than my uni course required. And a fantastic public transport system 🙂

It’s a strange thing to leave home to go home. It is simultaneously exciting and devastating.  I have always said I love to go but I hate to leave. Unfortunately, I have found that in order to grab onto something new you have to let go of something old.

And that is terrifying.

Yet exhilarating.

So with the clock ticking down on my time here I am beginning to prepare myself for what will undoubtedly be a difficult transition. I have compiled a list of 10 things that I have found helpful over the years. They come from personal experience as well as wise advice from family and friends. I am splitting them up into 2 parts, the first set are important in preparing to go, the second set are more related to what to do once you get there (but relate to both situations).

First and foremost:

1. Don’t ignore it!

It is there. That fear in the back of your mind. That conflict in your heart. Don’t pretend it’s not, don’t think it will go away if you ignore it. Face it head on, deal with it! This doesn’t mean you should constantly be processing and tapping into your difficult emotions, but you should allow yourself to feel them occasionally.

Talk about it. Read about it (blogs are an incredible resource on this topic). Write about it (if that helps you process, as it does for me). If someone brings it up do not dismiss it so quickly. Sometimes something will trigger it unexpectedly. For James recently, it was packing away some of his books to give away. For me, renewing my rail card for the last time. Nine times out of ten you might joke to cope but allow yourself that tenth time to be vulnerable and real. To say honestly how you are feeling (I know this is especially hard for Brits!) Try to find a way to deal with it constructively rather than pretending it’s not there.

2. Recognize that you are not the only one this impacts

When I was preparing to leave the US I spent a lot of time talking through it with one of my professors at Crown. She pointed out something that has stuck with me over the past three years and that is influencing the way I am thinking about my coming move.

When you are leaving, though it is hard, it is an exciting time. You will be moving on to new opportunities and friendships. There will be points that, wrapped up in your new environment, you will not always think about the people you have left behind. The other side of this looks very different. Those who are close to you will carry on with their lives without much change. They will not necessarily have new exciting opportunities. They will not be distracted by an adventure. They will be going through their day-to-day life but with a significant hole. You will not be there. You are not the only one grieving changes in relationships, the people on the other side of those relationships will also be going through a difficult time. It is important not to underestimate the stress this puts on them. It is not arrogant to recognize that you are an important part of people’s lives and that losing you in this way will not be easy. And though it’s not easy; talk about it. Show them you know it will impact them. That in itself can go a long way.

3. As much as possible, focus on the positives

While it is important to not ignore the difficult emotions, it is also not healthy to dwell on them. You are not just leaving; you are going. And that is exciting! I sometimes get too wrapped up in the disappointment of leaving people and places that I forget I would never have had those relationships in the first place had I not left before. There will be people where you are going! Places to explore, culture to experience. If you don’t go you will never have the opportunity to meet those people, explore those places, and experience that culture!  Don’t feel guilty for being excited. You can be gutted to leave and eager to go at the same time. Try to talk to people who are genuinely excited for you. Allow yourself to be sad, but try to continually refocus on the positives. I think there is a lot of truth in the statement ‘life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

4. Do your best to not pull away

You get upset with your friend over small things that never used to matter. You are hanging out less. You come off as disinterested to your friends. You don’t even realize you’re doing it but you are pulling away. It is easier to leave someone you feel less attached to. This does not happen to everyone, but I have experienced it enough to know that it does happen. It’s not always the one leaving. It can be those staying behind. If you feel this happening, try to gently confront it. Chances are they do not even realize they are doing it. Knowing that this is what is happening can make a huge difference. The first time this happened to me I stressed myself out trying to figure out what I had done to make my friend so distant. I was hurt and confused. I was leaving soon and couldn’t bear the thought of parting on such negative terms. So I summoned my courage and ‘confronted’ my friend. We talked it through, realized what was going on (what do you expect from two psych majors!) and made peace! The next time I recognized it much more quickly and was spared a lot of hurt. For some people this is just a natural way of coping. And the first step in dealing with it is simply having the awareness that it is happening and having the courage to talk about the elephant in the room.

5. Find someone who understands what you are going through

Mine is a ‘third culture kid’ (German mom, American dad, grew up in Asia) and she is an absolute lifeline. On my last night in the US I called her up at midnight crying, saying I changed my mind, what was I getting myself into? I was leaving a place I loved. A place that was finally home. Within 20 minutes she was at my door, comforter (duvet) in hand. We laughed, cried, processed, prayed, and ate a lot of chocolate. It was exactly what I needed.

She is always there to listen when I need to rant about changing relationships, culture confusion, amusing missteps, transition, fear, homesickness, culture shock, reverse culture shock, etc. She gets it. She’s been working through these things her whole life. Sympathy is nice, but empathy is better. She points out things in me I don’t even recognize myself. She gives me a heads up on difficulties I am likely to face. She keeps me grounded; listening to my frustrated outbursts without judgement and then helping me refocus.

Yours may be a missionary or MK, may be a military brat, may just be someone with an itch to travel who has moved around a lot. They will be someone who doesn’t just understand why you feel sick booking your first single rather than return ticket, they will have felt that pang of anxiety themselves. For support in the process of transition they are invaluable. And on the flip side, you are now able to support them with a bit more understanding.

 

I am still writing part 2, it focuses more on what to do once you have relocated, but I think is still helpful in preparing.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts.

Jalyss x

 

Special thanks to Carissa and Dr G.