We just got back from what can only be described as the experience of a lifetime – a trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar with dear friends that are like family, literally. My husband and his friend Rich met the first week of college over 40 years ago and his children have called us “Auntie and Uncle” for as long as we can remember. So when his oldest daughter Amy married a wonderful guy from Tanzania a few years ago and they announced that at one point they wanted to take the "entire" family to Tanzania to meet Tony’s family, they took it for granted that we would be included. How could we pass up such an amazing adventure? The answer was, we couldn't!
I’m not gonna lie, I had many sleepless nights of anxiety mixed with anticipation at the thought of traveling halfway around the world. I’ve traveled before, but never to such a far away place with so much that I had never before experienced.
Rather than “what if” myself into a frenzy, I decided to concentrate on researching and learning all I could up front, planning for what I learned and preparing accordingly. More, I could not do.
As with any and all new experiences, we are not the exact same person we were when we began the journey. One of the many benefits is the opportunity to expand our knowledge and take what we learn and apply it to future events. That definitely was a huge part of this trip and I can’t help but notice the parallels to what I experienced and learned in preparing for my travels and how it can be applied to graduating seniors as they prepare to embark on their journey to a new land: COLLEGE! So, of course, I am sharing what I learned with you!
1. Use all resources available to plan and prepare
We were extremely fortunate to have someone like Tony who had grown up in Tanzania. His firsthand knowledge helped us to prepare for what we knew and brainstorm scenarios to anticipate. As such, our group was pretty proud of ourselves when between the ten of us we were able to navigate most situations and come up with whatever we needed.
There are a tremendous amount of resources and information out there to help students and parents prepare for college. Articles or websites such as these are just a few of the many available that talk about preparation and transition. And the colleges themselves host orientation events that provide students the opportunity to do everything from register for classes and meet fellow classmates to know how far the dorm is to the dining hall. You’re able to know your roommate in advance and plan your room together. There are many resources to plan and prepare.
But, even with all of that, it’s still a new experience, as we found, and that’s why an important part of the process is to:
2. Expect the unexpected
As perfectly planned as the trip was, there were tons of little things that happened that we could not have anticipated. Rather than let this derail us, we embraced it as part of the experience. Each of those instances provided the opportunity to learn something new and use what we learned to help us throughout the trip.
You can definitely expect that there will be much that is unexpected as your teen enters college. Let them know that there will definitely be transition time as they begin this new journey while also reminding them of how they successfully navigated all of the other "firsts" in their lives: first day of high school, first job, first time completing their college application. All of these things that feel second nature to them now, were new to them at one point. Remind them to be patient with themselves and to "expect the unexpected" and know that the experience of doing so will not only add to the adventure, it will equip them with skills and tools they can use throughout the journey.
3. Ask for help!
Geographically, as well as culturally, we were navigating new territory so whether it was asking how to say something in Swahili or checking to see if we needed to cover our shoulders in a restaurant we made it a rule to ask for help, rather than assume we knew or go it on our own. At one point, a few of us asked for a “rest day” instead of driving an hour and a half to tour a spice market. We didn’t want to spoil plans for anyone else, but we knew that we needed that downtime to process all we had experienced and gather energy for the following day. It turned out our speaking up was a great thing as the rest of the group felt the exact same way!
The ability to ask for help and find the support for what you need is a key skill that will make a huge difference in how your teen transitions to college life, and to life in general. It is amazing, as we found, how often others feel the way you do and the key is speaking up and asking for what you need. It also helps colleges properly know and prepare for the needs of their current and future students. There are a tremendous amount of resources available and as great a job as colleges do to share that information; it is impossible to communicate all that is available to everyone. A successful transition is not measured by your student having NO problems or challenges, but in recognizing when they do and asking for support to find the answers and resources for what they need, when they need it.
College, like our travels, is a mixture of navigating new experiences, exploring new ideas and learning about one's true self. It is certainly amazing and wonderful but not without some stress and anxiety.
The awareness that the bumps in the road are part of the journey, combined with the ability to utilize these tools will help in making college the “experience of a lifetime”.