Former YAGM-Mexico Country Coordinator, Rev. Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, originally wrote these tips in 2009. It has become a popular post in the YAGM community and is shared again for all those getting ready to receive someone they care about back home in the U.S. These tips are used with permission.  

10 Suggestions for Helping your Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) Return Home:
1. Don’t ask the question, “So how was it?” Your YAGM cannot function in one-word answers right now, especially ones intended to sum up their entire year’s experience, and being asked to do so may cause them to start laughing or crying uncontrollably. Ask more specific questions, like “Who was your closest friend?” or “What did you do in your free time?” or “What as the food like?” or “Tell me about your typical day.”
2. If you wish to spend time with your YAGM, let them take the lead on where to go and what to do. Recognize that seemingly mundane rituals, like grocery shopping or going to the movies, may be extremely difficult for someone who has just spent a year living without a wide array of material goods. One former YAGM, for example, faced with the daunting task of choosing a tube of toothpaste from the 70-odd kinds available, simply threw up in the middle of the drugstore.
3.  Expect some feelings of jealousy and resentment, especially if your YAGM lived with a host family. Relationships that form during periods of uncertainty and vulnerability (the first few months in a foreign country, for example) form quickly and deeply. The fact that your YAGM talks non-stop about their friends and family from their country of service doesn’t mean that they don’t love you, too. It simply means that they’re mourning the loss (at least in part) of the deep, meaningful, important relationships that helped them to survive and to thrive during this last year. In this regard, treat them as you would anyone else mourning a loss.
4. You may be horrified by the way your YAGM dresses; both because their clothes are old and raggedy and because they insist on wearing the same outfit three days ina row. Upon encountering their closet at home, returning YAGMs tend to experience two different emotions: (1) jubilation at the fact that they can stop rotating the same 2 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts, and (2) dismay at the amount of clothing they own, and yet clearly lived without for an entire year. Some YAGMs may deal with this by giving away entire car loads of clothing and other items to people in need. Do not “save them from themselves” by offering to drive the items to the donation center, only to hide them away in your garage. Let your YAGM do what they need to do. Once they realize, after the fact, that you do indeed need more than 2 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts to function in professional American society, offer to take them shopping. Start with the Goodwill and the Salvation Army; your YAGM may never be able to handle Macy’s again.
5. Asking to see photos of your YAGM’s year in service is highly recommended, providing you have an entire day off from work. Multiply the number of photos you take during a week’s vacation, multiply that by 52, and you understand the predicament. If you have an entire day, fine. If not, take a cue from number 1 above, and ask to see specific things, like photos of your YAGM’s host family, or photos from holiday celebrations. Better yet, set up a number of “photo dates,” and delve into a different section each time. Given the high percentage of people whose eyes glaze over after the first page of someone else’s photos, and the frustration that can cause for someone bursting with stories to tell, this would be an incredible gift.
6. At least half the things that come out of your YAGM’s mouth for the first few months will begin with, “In Mexico/Slovakia/South Africa/etc…” This will undoubtedly begin to annoy the crap out of you after the first few weeks. Actually saying so, however, will prove far less effective than listening and asking interested questions. Besides, you can bet that someone else will let slip exactly what you’re thinking, letting you off the hook.
7. That said, speak up when you need to! Returning YAGMs commonly assume that almost nothing has changed in your lives since they left. (This happens, in part, because you let them, figuring that their experiences are so much more exciting than yours, and therefore not sharing your own.) Be assertive enough to create the space to share what has happened in your life during the last year.
8. Recognize that living in a very simple environment with very few material belongings changes people. Don’t take it personally if your YAGM seems horrified by certain aspects of the way you live – that you shower every day, for example, or that you buy a new radio instead of duct-taping the broken one back together. Recognize that there probably are certain things you could or should change (you don’t really need to leave the water running while you brush your teeth, do you?), but also that adjusting to what may now feel incredibly extravagant will simply take awhile. Most YAGMs make permanent changes toward a simpler lifestyle. Recognize this as a good thing.
9. Perhaps you had hopes, dreams, and aspirations for your YAGM that were interrupted by their year of service. If so, you may as well throw them out the window. A large percentage of returning YAGMs make significant changes to their long-term goals and plans. Some of them have spent a year doing something they never thought they’d enjoy, only to find themselves drawn to it as a career. Others have spent a year doing exactly what they envisioned doing for the rest of their lives, only to find that they hate it. Regardless of the direction your YAGM takes when they return…rejoice! This year hasn’t changed who they are; it has simply made them better at discerning God’s call on their lives. (Note: Some YAGMs spend their year of service teaching English, some are involved in human rights advocacy, others work with the elderly or disabled, and at least one spent his year teaching British youth to shoot with bows and arrows. The rest of this phenomenon, therefore, can vary widely.)

10. Go easy on yourself, and go easy on your YAGM. Understand that reverse culture shock is not an exact science, and manifests itself differently in each person. Expect good days and bad days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (including of the pharmaceutical variety) if necessary. Pray. Laugh. Cry. This too shall pass, and in the end, you’ll both be the richer for it.

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End of the Year

Well, it has happened again. Another YAGM group has left. Watch for an upcoming post about the Close of Service Retreat. And please keep in your prayers Adwoa, Brett, Brittani, Caity, Dave, Emmeline, Hannah, John, and Mae Helen as they make their way back to their sending communities, friends, and family. Hambe Kahle (“go well”), friends.

A last group photo at the airport

A last group photo at the airport

 

 

10 Suggestions for Helping Your Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) Return Home

Former YAGM-Mexico Country Coordinator, Rev. Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, originally wrote these tips in 2009. It has become a popular post in the YAGM community and is shared again for all those getting ready to receive someone they care about back home in the U.S. These tips are used with permission.  

10 Suggestions for Helping your Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) Return Home:
1. Don’t ask the question, “So how was it?” Your YAGM cannot function in one-word answers right now, especially ones intended to sum up their entire year’s experience, and being asked to do so may cause them to start laughing or crying uncontrollably. Ask more specific questions, like “Who was your closest friend?” or “What did you do in your free time?” or “What as the food like?” or “Tell me about your typical day.”
2. If you wish to spend time with your YAGM, let them take the lead on where to go and what to do. Recognize that seemingly mundane rituals, like grocery shopping or going to the movies, may be extremely difficult for someone who has just spent a year living without a wide array of material goods. One former YAGM, for example, faced with the daunting task of choosing a tube of toothpaste from the 70-odd kinds available, simply threw up in the middle of the drugstore.
3.  Expect some feelings of jealousy and resentment, especially if your YAGM lived with a host family. Relationships that form during periods of uncertainty and vulnerability (the first few months in a foreign country, for example) form quickly and deeply. The fact that your YAGM talks non-stop about their friends and family from their country of service doesn’t mean that they don’t love you, too. It simply means that they’re mourning the loss (at least in part) of the deep, meaningful, important relationships that helped them to survive and to thrive during this last year. In this regard, treat them as you would anyone else mourning a loss.
4. You may be horrified by the way your YAGM dresses; both because their clothes are old and raggedy and because they insist on wearing the same outfit three days ina row. Upon encountering their closet at home, returning YAGMs tend to experience two different emotions: (1) jubilation at the fact that they can stop rotating the same 2 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts, and (2) dismay at the amount of clothing they own, and yet clearly lived without for an entire year. Some YAGMs may deal with this by giving away entire car loads of clothing and other items to people in need. Do not “save them from themselves” by offering to drive the items to the donation center, only to hid them away in your garage. Let your YAGM do what they need to do. Once they realize, after the fact, that you do indeed need more than 2 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts to function in professional American society, offer to take them shopping. Start with the Goodwill and the Salvation Army; your YAGM may never be able to handle Macy’s again.
5. Asking to see photos of your YAGM’s year in service is highly recommended, providing you have an entire day off from work. Multiply the number of photos you take during a week’s vacation, multiply that by 52, and you understand the predicament. If you have an entire day, fine. If not, take a cue from number 1 above, and ask to see specific things, like photos of your YAGM’s host family, or photos from holiday celebrations. Better yet, set up a number of “photo dates,” and delve into a different section each time. Given the high percentage of people whose eyes glaze over after the first page of someone else’s photos, and the frustration that can cause for someone bursting with stories to tell, this would be an incredible gift.
6. At least half the things that come out of your YAGM’s mouth for the first few months will begin with, “In Mexico/Slovakia/South Africa/etc…” This will undoubtedly begin to annoy the crap out of you after the first few weeks. Actually saying so, however, will prove far less effective than listening and asking interested questions. Besides, you can bet that someone else will let slip exactly what you’re thinking, letting you off the hook.
7. That said, speak up when you need to! Returning YAGMs commonly assume that almost nothing has changed in your lives since they left. (This happens, in part, because you let them, figuring that their experiences are so much more exciting than yours, and therefore not sharing your own.) Be assertive enough to create the space to share what has happened in your life during the last year.
8. Recognize that living in a very simple environment with very few material belongings changes people. Don’t take it personally if your YAGM seems horrified by certain aspects of the way you live – that you shower every day, for example, or that you buy a new radio instead of duct-taping the broken one back together. Recognize that there probably are certain things you could or should change (you don’t really need to leave the water running while you brush your teeth, do you?), but also that adjusting to what may now feel incredibly extravagant will simply take awhile. Most YAGMs make permanent changes toward a simpler lifestyle. Recognize this as a good thing.
9. Perhaps you had hopes, dreams, and aspirations for your YAGM that were interrupted by their year of service. If so, you may as well throw them out the window. A large percentage of returning YAGMs make significant changes to their long-term goals and plans. Some of them have spent a year doing something they never thought they’d enjoy, only to find themselves drawn to it as a career. Others have spent a year doing exactly what they envisioned doing for the rest of their lives, only to find that they hate it. Regardless of the direction your YAGM takes when they return…rejoice! This year hasn’t changed who they are; it has simply made them better at discerning God’s call on their lives. (Note: Some YAGMs spend their year of service teaching English, some are involved in human rights advocacy, others work with the elderly or disabled, and at least one spent his year teaching British youth to shoot with bows and arrows. The rest of this phenomenon, therefore, can vary widely.)
10. Go easy on yourself, and go easy on your YAGM. Understand that reverse culture shock is not an exact science, and manifests itself differently in each person. Expect good days and bad days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (including of the pharmaceutical variety) if necessary. Pray. Laugh. Cry. This too shall pass, and in the end, you’ll both be the richer for it.

Beginnings and Endings

The current YAGM group is in their last week at their placement sites and are deep into the good-bye’s. It will be tough a week from now. And on the other end of the spectrum, the next group of YAGM are just finding out about their placement communities and are imagining where they will be next year.  In honor of that, here’s a picture of the new crew. Keep everybody in your prayers!

Front row (L to R): Tessa (Country Coordinator), Rachel, Emily, Elle; Back row (L to R): Hannah, Joe, Keenan, Kelly, Abby, Brent; not pictured - Luke

Front row (L to R): Tessa (Country Coordinator), Rachel, Emily, Elle; Back row (L to R): Hannah, Joe, Keenan, Kelly, Abby, Brent; not pictured – Luke

How Does One Say Goodbye?

Country Coordinator, Tessa, recently wrote about her own goodbyes of a year ago and the upcoming goodbyes of the YAGM crew in South Africa:

When saying last goodbyes, Tessa's daughter tried hiding under her aunt's deck so as to stay.

When saying last goodbyes, Tessa’s daughter tried hiding under her aunt’s deck so as to stay.

A year ago, we were saying our last goodbye’s to family and friends. Friends hosted farewell parties for us so we could see lots of people at one time. We were frantically packing and storing remaining items. And we were finishing the really hard goodbyes to family. At each place, we each cried in our own ways and were filled with love and well-wishes. Oof. It was hard. It brings tears to my eyes just to remember.

I just got an email from one of the young adult volunteers. She is in the midst of her own goodbyes at her site. She will still be there for a few more weeks. And yet, soon it will be time for her to leave her community for the final time. She lamented to me tonight that it is so hard to leave. It is.

I am really thankful that these young adults are struggling with their last weeks. No, I’m not actually thankful they are struggling. But I’m thankful that they have become so immersed in their communities that they are finding it painful to prepare to leave. That is how it should be.

A big part of this Young Adults in Global Mission program is that it happens through relationships. Each young adult has formed many relationships. They now see South Africa in general and their communities in specific completely differently than when they arrived. They now understand issues in new ways. They see and understand God in new ways. Frankly, they see life differently than when they arrived. This is because of the real people that they have been sharing life with over the last year.

In a month, these beautiful young adults will be landing on their home soil or on their way there. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. This is not an easy journey. But thankfully, it is a journey of love.

Mentoring Communities

Country Coordinator Rev. Tessa Moon Leiseth recently wrote on the Leiseth family blog about retreats and the value of mentoring communities:

I have an incredibly interesting call. Maybe you’re thinking it is because I am living overseas and am continually doing new things. True. But I actually say it is interesting because I get to do two very different yet related things at the same time. I am in South Africa as a representative of the ELCA. I engage with the partner church here, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa (ELCSA). And, at the same time, I am working closely with and providing global and faith formation opportunity and mentorship for young adults from the United States. It seems pretty unique to be able to do both of those things at once.

I have just returned from a week that was solely about the young adults. Two times during the program year we meet up somewhere in the country for the sake of a “retreat.” We did this just two weeks ago in Coffee Bay, a backpackers village in the midst of seaside Xhosa villages in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. We stayed at a backpackers accommodation (a bit like a hostel) and spent the week together. Jon, Isaac, and Sophia joined us for the second half of the week when the kids had a 4-day weekend on school break.

If you look at our family pictures, it will look like we just went to the beach. And do look at the pictures because the landscape was stunning. And, while the sand and the ocean were a fabulous treat, our stay at Coffee Bay was not the same as a vacation.

In her book, Big Questions Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith, Sharon Daloz Parks writes something that puts language to much of why retreats are an essential component of the YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) program:

“To travel [or, to live a YAGM-year] is to find oneself part of a larger commons, and it can serve the formation of a more spacious faith. Mentoring communities on the road and back at home can create contexts in which young adults can tell their stories, surface their questions, debrief, and thus repattern their sense of meaning and faith on behalf of adequate knowing of self and world. If this happens well, young adults become more adequately prepared for leadership in an increasingly diverse and complex world”

When we get together for retreats, we have soooooo much to talk about and so I wonder how we are doing on the above. But I think that Daloz Parks is right on about the important roles of community, reflection, and mentoring. And, if we don’t get together for those times of reflection, we ended up skipping right past this really important processing time. Sometimes it happens formally. Sometimes it happens informally. Regardless, it is incredibly important that space is created for a mentoring community to come alongside young adults in the midst of their journeys.

So what do we do when we are together for retreats? Here are some of the things we do: worship, reflection, conversation, physical activity (hiking, etc.), rest time, one-on-one conversations with me, cultural learning (highlight this time was drumming lessons), eating, theological conversation, etc. At this retreat, I led some reflection and learning around power and privilege, an important aspect of our experience in South Africa. At each retreat, Jon has led a half-day session on vocation and identity. This, too, is an important component for these young adults.

After you’re done reading this, take a look at the Flickr photos linked from the sidebar on this page.  Take a look at the young adults. Do they look like they’re having fun? You bet. But if you look closely, you will also see some others things happening: life-long friendships, global-formation, justice-awareness and advocacy, accompaniment, and faith-formation. And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.