By Shanna Tempel, Middle and Secondary School Counselor, Tirana International School (QSI), ISCA Task Force Member
It's that bittersweet time of year again. We are looking forward to graduation and summer vacation, and students and staff from our school communities are wrapping up their time with us and preparing to move to their home country or next posting. It's one of the hardships of international education, the revolving door of humans we have the privilege to know and love. We feel all the things for them; excitement, joy, worry, and fear. We also experience a range of personal emotions associated with the loss.
As school counselors, we can assist with these community members' transitions. However, most of us enter international education unprepared to offer this unique support. Below is an approach that school counselors can implement to assist our students in preparing for their transition.
Building a R.A.F.T.
Pollock et al. (2017) introduced the R.A.F.T. concept in the book Third Culture Kids. Students planning a move are often overwhelmed with all too many thoughts and feelings. Helping them to untangle these and focus on each step of the R.A.F.T.-building process can reduce anxiety and increase their ability to have a healthy transition. This can be done in four sessions using the R.A.F.T. model as the theme.
R is for Reconciliation
The goal of reconciliation is for students to fight the urge to ignore their feelings about saying goodbye and moving on to the next step in their journey. "Reconciliation includes the need to both forgive and be forgiven" (Pollock et al., 2017, p.241).
The psychoeducational component of this meeting includes teaching the student(s), at an age-appropriate level, about the harms of carrying negative feelings and the benefits of resolving any outstanding conflicts. In the session, students can identify any people they need to forgive or ask for forgiveness. The final step is to develop a plan they can implement between meetings.
A is for Affirmation
Each of the following sessions should begin with a processing opportunity where students can discuss the implementation of the previous week's plan and their emotional response.
In the affirmation session, the goal is to help the student(s) recognize that their relationships in this place have had value. "[Affirmation] not only solidifies our relationships for future contact, but in expressing what they have meant to us, we are reminded of what we have gained from living in this place" (Pollock et al., 2017, p. 242).
Following the formula from the first session, school counselors can assist students in understanding this concept at an age-appropriate level through a psychoeducational approach. Students often need direct permission to both celebrate the relationships they have formed and to mourn the conclusion of this phase. The practice of affirmation can be modeled in the session by preparing a statement of affirmation from the school counselor to the student(s). Students can create a list of the people, such as staff, students, and outside community members, that have impacted them in this place. Students can identify a time, place, and the words they want to say to each person on their list, then implement this plan between sessions.
F is for Farewells
Farewells aren't just for the people in the lives of our transitioning student(s). It's also important to recognize the places and possessions that will be left behind. Knowing it's the last time they will see someone or something and saying an intentional goodbye can assist with closure.
After teaching the student(s) about the importance of farewells, the student or group should make a list of the most important goodbyes for them to say before they leave. With student consent, this list is a great one to share with parents, as they often hold the power to ensure important places can be visited one last time. Students can develop a plan for saying goodbye to people and possessions, and parents can be invited to partner in developing a schedule for saying goodbye to their special places.
T is for Think Destination
In this session, the student(s) can be the teacher(s). Students can share and, in a group, ask questions to one another about their destinations. Students can be prompted to share their hopes, fears, thoughts, and feelings about their next home. There are many creative ways school counselors can allow students to inform about the location and share their thoughts and feelings.
There are many factors involved in designing the final session. While some students may have an exciting opportunity and positive feelings about their destination, others may feel a sense of fear or dread. However, offering students the chance to verbalize these thoughts and feelings in a safe space will ultimately assist in their transition process.
Tips for Parents
As families prepare for a transition, parents can also use some guidance in assisting their children. Whether it is their first or fifth move, children may respond to the transition differently each time. Offering tips to parents in a newsletter or other format can help them to help their kids. Here is a sample newsletter entry that you are welcome to use or modify: Tips for Transitioning with Children
School Counselors and the Gentle Goodbye
R.A.F.Ts are for more than just students. Intentionally building your own R.A.F.T. before a personal transition or those of beloved colleagues, friends, and students is an essential part of your self-care. You must also recognize and fulfill your needs to offer your best support to your community. Take care of yourself so you can care for others.
Pollock, D. C., Van Reken, R. E., & Pollock, M. V. (2017). Third culture kids: Growing up
among worlds (3rd ed.). Nicholas Brealey.