Returning From Abroad? An Activity To Help Returnees Bloom

Guest Post by Bayta

Note from Cate: Today’s post is from Bayta, one of our Re-entry Roadmap Facebook group admins! (If you’re not part of our free Facebook group yet, come over and join us.) Bayta has not only gone through re-entry herself, she helps others navigate the ups and downs of returning “home” after being abroad. In this article, Bayta shares a wonderful experiential activity that you can use to get your students, family or any other group reflecting on the re-entry transition.

Any gardeners among us? 

I’m definitely not one! But I’ve got a fun and meaningful gardening and transition related activity that I think you’ll enjoy – whether or not you enjoy gardening!

Why don’t we go ahead and do this activity together right now? 

As I explain how to facilitate the activity, I’ll share a few snippets of my own reflections in italics.

A small cactus being plated in a ceramic pot.

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About this re-entry activity

Have you ever considered how repotting a plant is a lot like the transitions we go through as we uproot our lives? Repotting our plant today will help us reflect on our own experiences.

As we go through this exercise, we’ll reflect on three different aspects of our own transition:

  • Context: Where we fit in our world; our position in our world.
  • Relationships: How we feel in relation to others.
  • Emotions: How we feel emotionally in each stage.

Here’s what you need for this activity:

  1. A plant in its original pot.
  2. A slightly larger plant pot.
  3. Potting soil.
Ceramic posts stacked on top of each other.

OK, let’s get started!

Have a look at the plant and the pot it’s currently in.

What do you observe?

Now think about the most recent time you felt settled in a place. Most likely… 

1. Context. You were part of different groups, through sports, hobbies, neighbourhood, work, faith groups, etc.
2. Relationships. You were committed to and responsible for others, and you had friends and/or family around you.
3. Emotions. You were emotionally connected to others and your surroundings, and felt reasonably secure.

Bayta’s personal reflection >> I was comfortable where I was. I had a large network of friends and was involved in many activities I loved.

A group of people planting succulents into glass terrariums.

Now take the plant out of its pot. What do you observe? The plant is probably still holding its shape but the roots are exposed and it looks a lot more vulnerable, doesn’t it?

Reflect back on the leaving (or “pulling up roots”) stage of your latest transition (which incidentally starts when you decide to leave a place, or even as you start seriously considering leaving). 

In what ways did those three aspects look different than before? Here are some general ideas.

  1. Context: You’ll be separating from previous roles and will become “that person who is leaving.”
  2. Relationships: You will constantly be saying goodbye and will participate in many “lasts.” You and those around you will start separating emotionally.
  3. Emotions: These tend to be all over the place – denial, rejection, resentment, grief/sadness, excitement, anticipation, expectation.

Bayta’s personal reflection >> Oh yes! I remember well the huge sense of loss when plans for the following year were being made without me. For years, I had been involved in shaping certain events. Now, I was no longer part of the planning. Suddenly, the fact that life there would continue without me, that no one would hit a pause button, became very very real. Months before I actually left.

pink flowers in a ceramic pot sitting next to a small bird house.

Next, shake off some of the old dirt from the plant. As you do that, inevitably some roots will come off as well. The plant can no longer stand on its own and looks extremely fragile. It has reached the chaos or “roots loose” stage of transition.

As you think back to your own experience of this stage (mostly a couple of months or so on either side of your move, though that can vary depending on circumstances), how did you experience the three aspects we’ve been thinking about? Do you recognise any of these descriptions?

  1. Context:  Unknown, without status, without structure, clueless, special knowledge is useless.
  2. Relationships: Chaos, exaggerated problems, misunderstanding, self-centred, isolated.
  3. Emotion:  Anxiety, loss of self-esteem, emotional, buzz, excitement.

Bayta’s personal reflection >> I have two photos from my transition to Berlin that for me sum up this stage really well. One shows a big pile of boxes, the other one a room in my new apartment, completely empty. So symbolic – my old life, everything I knew, was stored away and invisible, and my new life did not yet exist.

One large potted plant surrounded by two smaller ones on either side.

Next, put your poor little plant in a new pot, with some fresh soil. Our own re-planting stage describes the season of establishing our new life in a new place. These are a few things that often characterise this stage:

  1. Context: You feel marginal/on the fringes; tentative acceptance by those around you; you feel uncertain of your identity and place; you easily misinterpret behaviour/signals; you have many temporary relationships (those you meet first might not be the ones who become your best friends);
  2. Relationships: Lots of introductions; you observe a lot; you take risks and make mistakes; you might display exaggerated behaviour (particularly if you enter a new culture and try to figure out cultural cues); you might have trust issues; you feel welcomed by certain people around you
  3. Emotion: You feel vulnerable, easily offended, fearful, doubtful, anxious. You might have vivid dreams. There are victories and achievements.

Bayta’s personal reflection >> As a strong introvert, this was quite a hard season for me. Every relationship being new, having to take the initiative again and again – that was tough. Yet I knew I needed to do that, to establish the network that would sustain me in this place.

yellow and pink potted flowers against a windsill.

It will take time for your plant to take root in its new home. For a little while, it can even look worse than before. But with a bit of extra care and watering, it will re-establish itself. And it now has so much more opportunity to grow than in the old pot! Some of the old roots and soil are still there but in time, there will be new growth as well.

Likewise, be prepared to give yourself grace. Take time to rest, to be good to yourself. In time, you will see new growth and will live your new life in your new soil. You might even thrive in ways that would not have been possible in your previous location!

Life still has its ups and downs but things no longer revolve around transition! You have been replanted!

Hopefully as you went through the different stages, you reflected/journaled on or talked about your own transition (and it really doesn’t matter whether that transition was recent or a bit further back).

I wonder how you experienced this exercise. For myself, I find that doing something tangible like this brings up feelings that just sitting and reflecting does not.

This is a fun exercise to do with kids as well, and can help them express how they are experiencing transition.

About Bayta Schwarz

Bayta has spent most of her adult life overseas, in the UK, France, and Russia. A few years in, re-entry to her “passport country” of Germany is still a bit rocky at times but life in the very international city of Berlin is certainly never dull! She is involved in equipping and coaching people as they live and work cross-culturally. Check out Bayta’s website here.