The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition

The Transition Experience

This is a preview to the chapter The Transition Experience from the book The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition by Tina L. Quick.
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Your upcoming transition from high school to college or university may seem like a journey into the deep unknown, but over the next few chapters you will come to know what you can expect to feel over the next year and beyond. As William D. Taylor’s quote indicates, transitions can be keenly anticipated rather than feared. Our largest fears in life are based on the fact that we don’t know what to expect – fear of the unknown. Knowing in advance what lies ahead prepares you for the challenges and allows for fewer unwanted surprises. Once you understand what takes place throughout transition you will know that your reactions are completely normal and that you will get through it.

The Cycle of Transition

Any transition is a cycle. The Encarta Dictionary describes a transition as “a process or period in which something undergoes a change and passes from one state, stage, form, or activity to another.” Transitions take place when a family member is added or lost, a job is lost, a marriage or divorce takes place or a serious illness strikes. We witness transitions as “stepping stones to maturity” when children pass from infants to toddlers to adolescents to young adults. Transitions surround us without our even realizing it. They are a normal and expected part of life.

Ever since I was introduced to Dave Pollock’s five stages of the transition cycle, I have seen it evidenced in so many aspects of life. I watched as my parents went through it from involvement to re-involvement when they moved out of their home and into an assisted living community. A good friend who survived breast cancer explained to me how she experienced the five stages as she withdrew from friends and responsibilities to undergo chemo and radiation therapy and then came back “to the land of the living” when she realized she had it beaten.

The five stages of transition as Dr. Pollock outlines them are:
1. Involvement Stage
2. Leaving Stage
3. Transition Stage
4. Entering Stage
5. Re-involvement Stage

If you were to attempt to draw a diagram of the transition cycle, it might look something like this:

While transitions are never easy, understanding that you can expect to pass through these five predictable stages is reassuring. Everyone is different and will pass through each stage in varying degrees. Some will breeze through them and others may get stuck in one particular stage or another. Some will even bounce around between the stages until they reach adjustment.

Figure 2.1 is fairly autocratic in that it implies you have moved from one place of belonging to another place of belonging or gone from one “home” to another “home.” Any TCK can tell you that is not always necessarily the reality of relocations. Some would argue that TCKs are forever in transition, never truly able to commit to one particular place before they have to pack up again and move to yet another, even if it is just going from host country to passport country for the summer and back again. Which one truly is “home”? This is part of what leads to the rootlessness and restlessness TCKs often experience.

Everyone Goes Through It

Understanding the five stages of transition will help you to anticipate and manage the change that goes along with them. For the purposes of your upcoming career at college or university, we will use the word ‘transition’ to refer to the change you are about to undergo. Keep in mind that these stages are not unique to TCKs or international students. Every first-year college student is going through the same cycle. In fact, after giving a Transition/Re-entry Seminar at a Swiss international school, the coordinator who arranged for me to come and speak was approached by local Swiss students and asked if there could be a seminar to prepare them for attending university in their own country. Maureen Tillman, author of “College With Confidence,” is a licensed clinical social worker who understands well what it takes even for domestic students to make successful university transitions. She has a comprehensive psychotherapy service that supports American students and parents through the college experience, and I can tell you that she stays very busy.

On the other hand TCKs are always telling me about home-country peers at their universities who struggle with the cultural transition as well. When someone moves from one area to another of a sizeable country such as the U.S. or Canada, it can be equally disorienting because they have, for all intents and purposes, entered another culture. Some TCKs have been able to relate the experiences of their struggling peers to their own which resulted in helpful bonding.

Schools also have their own cultures. I recently had a conversation with a father whose daughter had been born and raised in the U.S. and was struggling in her first year of university. Since she had spent her high school years away at a boarding school, he felt she would be better prepared for the transition than her hometown peers who attended all four years at the local high school. Her struggle was in leaving the very democratic and egalitarian culture of her boarding school for the highly competitive and elitist culture that pervaded her university. Culture is everywhere.

The Five Stages

Following are the five stages as adapted from Pollock and Van Reken’s Third Culture Kids and Jean Larsen’s Transitions and TCKs:

Stage 1 – Involvement

This is the state of normalcy as you know it. It may be where you are right now. You are settled, involved in your community, school, etc. This stage is characterized by a sense of belonging and participation. It’s really the last place you can call “home.”

Stage 2 – Leaving

Leaving begins the moment you are aware of an upcoming change. It can begin as early as 3-6 months before actually leaving. This is a time characterized by a loosening of emotional ties, distancing from others and relinquishing responsibilities.

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What else is in the chapter 'The Transition Experience'?

Stage 3 – Transition

The transition stage begins the moment you leave one place and ends once you decide, consciously or unconsciously, to settle in and truly become a part of your new place. ...

Stage 4 – Entering

Things are no longer chaotic but you are still feeling marginal and uncertain during entering. You are looking for mentors and friends in this stage to help fulfill your desire ...

Stage 5 – Re-involvement

Re-involvement is a position of feeling settled again. You feel a sense of belonging and participation in your new surroundings. You can now call this new place “home.” ...

How to Have a Positive Experience

While transitions are never easy, and they can be quite uncomfortable as you can see from Figure 2.2 above, there is good news. Research has shown that people who receive ...

The Involvement Stage

Take a minute to think back on the last place you truly felt was home – a place that felt secure, intimate and where you were affirmed as a person. ...


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