Hello everyone!! My name is Ainslie Leitao and I traveled with Global Routes to Hawaii this past summer. I also traveled with Global Routes to Costa Rica in February 2020. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in two amazing Global Routes journeys. I can say, without a doubt, that this past July was the best month of my life. If you are looking into a GR program, I would encourage anyone and everyone to participate! If you would like to learn more about what the Hawaii 2021 program was like, read the blog posts from the program here! I’m biased because I was a part of the blog/journal team, but I would argue that they are worth reading!!
Students returning from programs often share with friends and family about the trip; but what they don’t talk about is the reentry process. This makes the process feel lonely and isolating. As someone who has now been through the reentry process twice, I hope I can share some wisdom with you all. If you are either interested in signing up for a program or already have, I would recommend continuing reading; hopefully, I can share some valuable information!
What is reentry?
Reentry is the process one goes through after spending time abroad, often referred to as reverse culture shock. When first looking into Global Routes’ programs, the reentry period had never crossed my mind. In hindsight, I wish it had because it can be filled with lots (and lots) of emotions. I didn’t realize how much I would quickly miss my Hawaii Ohana (family). I found myself feeling incredibly lonely as I had been spending time with the other students and leaders 24/7. The shift to being completely alone was very uncomfortable for me. Other things like realizing how much electricity we consumed at home alarmed me and is also a part of the reentry process. My “normal” life was much different than my Hawaii life and it was hard to reconcile the two lives.
Phase 1: The Honeymoon Stage
For some, this first phase may last from a few days to a week. This phase included all the hugs and screams at the airport while reuniting, the ride home, and my hot shower! As happy as I was to see my parents, sisters, dog, and friends, I almost immediately wanted to go back to Hawaii.
Phase 2: Reverse Cultural Shock
Reverse culture shock will arrive once reality sets in that you are home and no longer on your program with your new friends having the time of your life. In my experience, getting used to my old “normal” was tough. I missed waking up in tents, I missed seeing all the stars in the sky, I missed the weather, the nature, cooking together, and being in such a fun and energetic environment. Another thing I immediately missed was the absence of our phones. I hated seeing everyone staring at their screens. So many great benefits come from technology, but also so many disadvantages. Having people ignore me by just staring at their phones was extremely difficult for me. I wished while leaving Hawaii, and still do, that I could live in a world where we don’t “need” phones and computers. Unfortunately, it is 2021 and this is the world we live in. If you are looking into participating in a GR summer program and are worried about not having your phone, I can tell you that not one person wanted their phone back. After just one or two days into the program, we only thought about them when we wanted to play music during van rides and one of our leaders (cough cough, Adam), wouldn’t play Pitch Perfect for us.
Phase 3: Adjustment and Adaptation
This is the final stage! Arriving at this stage means that you have begun the process of integrating what you have learned about yourself and the world into your everyday life. For me, this was integrating the most important things I wanted to take away from my time in Hawaii into my college life. For example, one of my biggest takeaways from Hawaii was to spread “Aloha culture” everywhere I go. In other words, spread kindness. All of the Hawaiians I met cared so much about just being a good person and impacting others in a positive way. An anklet I have from Hawaii and wear every day is a constant reminder to do this. Another takeaway I try to incorporate into my daily life is having respect for the earth, land, and environment. Thinking about things like sustainability, but also things like where my water comes from. Water and electricity are things most people take for granted, but after living off the grid for a month, I have learned to appreciate every drop of water that flows out of the faucet.
Why does it seem like nobody cares?
As much as our family members and friends love and support us, it’s hard for them, as it would be for anyone, to be interested in every little detail of a trip they were not a part of. When they ask you “how was it,” many will expect just the word “good” for an answer. Similar to when people ask you, “how are you” and only expect “good, how are you?” as a response. I found the best way to deal with this was to talk about all the amazing memories with other students from the program. Also, take advantage of the people who do want to hear about it! Sharing stories with those people felt very nourishing for me. If you would like to share and have the opportunity, but don’t know where to start, try sharing a specific memory. This definitely was beneficial for my reentry process.
Travelling this past summer made me realize how much I appreciate learning about new cultures and getting used to being comfortable with discomfort. Although the reentry process has been difficult and not always fun, it has all been worth it. Honestly, I would do it all over again if I had to.
Now, I’m at college—not living in a tent anymore, but a dorm room! My twin XL bed is definitely an upgrade from my sleeping pad so that’s a plus! One part of reentry that I have really loved is keeping in touch with my Hawaii family. Hearing about some people’s start to senior year in New York City to the beginning of new jobs for some has been great. It’s nice to see that we all came together for something amazing, yet all live very different lives. Even though we all live very different lives, all over the US, I love that we were able to form such real and deep connections through our shared experience. It is also very nice that we are able to keep in touch. Whether it’s a FaceTime or Netflix party, I love hearing everyone’s voices and re-connecting. As we are all at various stages in our lives, it is very nice that we are able to come together again and pick up right where we left off.
I hope by sharing my experience with you, I was able to share some helpful information! Good luck wherever you go and remember to spread kindness!