Returning Home

Returning home can be the most stressful experience for FTC team members, especially if such a trip is their first one. Culture shock upon return may even be greater than what the team members experienced abroad. While abroad, team members logically would expect their experiences to be different. But if they return home, a place of familiarity and sameness, and they may find that they themselves have changed, others may not be as receptive to their desires to talk about their surgical experiences abroad. The people they knew before they left, their loved ones and colleagues, will have continued in their lives without such significant personal changes. Effective "processing" after such a trip depends upon the team members' own preparations for this period and how much those they love and trust express their concern. All of a sudden the Western lifestyle may be distasteful to the team members.

Perhaps anything symbolizing wastefulness will have lost its appeal. These team members will have seen poverty at its worst and will have emotionally connected with these people whose lives hold little hope.

It is very natural for the FTC team members to want to talk about these experiences and emotions. Team members may discover that their friends will not be as interested in hearing the details of the trip, only the cursory highlights. But what the team members may really need to share has to do with economic depression, poor health conditions, malnutrition, pollution, illiteracy, and social inequity.

All people cope with such conditions at some point as they are exposed to them through various media. But they may opt to employ such defense mechanisms as denial, for example. Thus, such a numbing reaction may limit friends' and colleagues' abilities to empathize with the FTC team members who return.

Sometimes conflicts between these groups arise as differing values are confronted. Some team members may then choose not to talk about their experiences, or at least limit their responses to just a few superficial thoughts. FTC team members may next feel lonely and depressed since they may not be able adequately to share about their foreign experiences.

On the other hand, those team members who succeed in coping with their re-entry usually do so when they can integrate their experience into their home lives. FTC, therefore, recommends that team members communicate with other FTC team members or others who have had or will soon have similar experiences. Keeping a journal of thoughts have helped some members as well. Some other team members gain from the re-entry strategy of presenting to groups interested in learning about their travel experiences. This way they can channel their excitement for surgical and medical missions abroad to those who share common interests.

FTC encourages team members to contact the team leader, its Executive or Assistant Executive Directors, or Board members upon their trips' return to express anything they desire regarding their experiences. FTC appreciates such information, especially since it alerts the organization of any concerns and can help FTC make any necessary changes. If team members recognize that they are having more serious problems in the re-entry process, FTC encourages them to seek the help of mental health professionals or those trained in dealing with stressful life experiences.

General Reference: Cobey, MD, MPH, James C., Author, and Nancy A. Kelly, MHS, Editor, A Guide to Volunteering Overseas, Health Volunteers Overseas, 3rd. ed., pp. 3, 11-18.

Face the Challenge (FTC) was founded by Randolph (Randy) C. Robinson, MD, DDS, cranio-maxillo-facial surgeon, and his wife, Ginger Holmes Robinson, BSN, RN (cardiac and critical care). Since the late 1970's, they shared a dream to offer their medical services to the world's needy.
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