Every year at Camp, experiences are shared, eyes are opened, lives are transformed, and then the hard work really begins.
“After coming back from Seeds [of Peace], I felt torn and unsettled. I had questions—doubts about reflections that I constantly struggled with,” Ananya, a 2019 Indian Seed, recently shared at a program for Seeds in India. Camp, she said, “gives you things in a twisted riddle, and it’s up to you to untangle yourself and sort it out.”
It’s not uncommon for Seeds to return from Camp bursting with energy, only to go through a temporary slump: maybe they feel misunderstood by family and friends, isolated in their society because they spent time with someone who is considered an enemy, or overwhelmed by the amount of work it might take to make change in their communities.
“One of the things that comes up again and again is how the Seeds have climbed mountains in these three weeks at Camp, and everyone back at home is just standing still,” said Hana Tariq, head of curriculum at Beyond the Classroom, which works with Seeds in Pakistan. “So when Seeds come back, they feel like they’re a completely new person, and their friends and family are not able to understand how you can change in three weeks.”
“I always say it’s a little like trying to describe an ice cream flavor,” explained Mostafa (Moose) Ismail, Middle East Programs Coordinator in Cairo and a 2006 Egyptian Seed. “It’s really hard for them to understand what vanilla tastes like without having tasted vanilla ice cream.”
On the flip side, parents might also be wondering what happened to the child they used to know.
“When the kids come back, they have a voice. Now they say their opinions and their thoughts in environments where they might not have before, and sometimes that takes parents by surprise,” Moose added.
School can pose another challenge, especially for Seeds in parts of the world where the work of Seeds of Peace and the necessity of meeting across lines of conflict and difference are not always understood.
“Meeting with your enemy can be a great challenge, especially if this encounter is seen as a normalizing act by many around you,” said Bashar Iraqi, Director of Programs-Palestine, and a 1999 Palestinian Seed. “Both in schools or with childhood friends, our Seeds need to explain what they did at Camp, how this meeting with your historical enemy felt, and how they actually didn’t ‘normalize,’ but worked hard to represent their people and their suffering.”
Bashar said the door is always open for Seeds seeking support or advice—and this is true for all programming staff.
“We are a family in that case,” he said. “We as staff and as graduates of this program know very well how to deal with these topics, and with time and more work, the post-Camp programs can empower them and equip them with answers to the challenges they face.”
We spoke with several staff members (many of them Seeds) and alumni about the process of readjusting to life after Camp—for both Seeds and parents. Every situation is different for every camper, but here are a few pieces of advice they shared:
1. Don’t underestimate the importance of reflection. Spend some time alone each day for quiet writing, thinking, or reflecting. Note down what you’re noticing about your perspective shifts, on yourself, or on the people in your life who you’re getting reacquainted with—your family, your friends, members of your community. Do your interactions feel different? How? — Eliza O’Neil, US/UK Programs Manager
2. Ask more questions. If you’re trying to describe an experience from Camp or a new thought to someone who might not understand, try posing your thought as a question and see how that thought is received. — Moose
3. Speak from the personal. If people ask about why you attended Camp, speak from your personal experiences: Did it help you better understand your history, your surroundings, your battle, your fight? Talk about things honestly, and bring your friends to programs so they can see for themselves the truth of what you are experiencing. — Bashar
4. Consider how you might carve out spaces in your life back home for meaningful conversations. It might not resemble Camp dialogue, but it could have bits and pieces that feel familiar. Are you leading with questions rather than assumptions? Are you thinking through what sorts of experiences, perspectives, values are contributing to the way people are expressing themselves? — Eliza
5. It is alright to be sad, grieving, frustrated, angry, or however you are feeling right now. You are coming back to a familiar place with new eyes, new words, new ways of seeing. The world might feel like it has been knocked off its axis. Allow yourself to sit in the complex bitter-sweetness of everything gained, lost, and changed. The goal is not to somehow not be sad, but to find support and companionship in whatever you feel. — Tooba Fatima, South Asia Dialogue Facilitator and 2006 Pakistani Seed
6. Reach out to your Seeds networks for support. Creating lasting change in your community and world can be lonely work—it’s so important to carve out community and connection no matter what sort of change you’re working toward. In addition to talking to your fellow Campers who can understand what you’re going through, email us, call us, or message us through social media. We’re here for you. — Eliza
7. Take the “Camp version of you” back home. Returning home is an opportunity to practice the aspects you liked about yourself while at Camp, in a way that allows those aspects to exist in your everyday life and not just in Maine. If it’s being able to have deep and meaningful conversations, start initiating those with the people you love; if it’s being involved in politics and having an opinion about what is happening, start reading more and ask more questions; if it’s being part of a community of people, keep meeting and talking with your Seeds friends and consider introducing them to your other friends from before Camp. Whatever it is that you liked about yourself at Camp, remember that you have the power to bring that into your day-to-day life. — Maayan Poleg, Director of Programs-Israel and 2000 Israeli Seed
8. People are probably right: you have changed. But my hope is that you have also become more yourself. That the person you are becoming and discovering now is closer to your authentic self, full of contradiction and doubt and complexity, more human and more humane. Change (even good change) can feel scary. We can prefer what is familiar even when it is painful or dysfunctional. Think of all the times you felt resistant before Camp, at Camp, in dialogue. Maybe this helps you empathize with people who are struggling to meet you where you are.
9. Be patient with others. The same openness you gave to your fellow campers can also be given to the people around you when you return home. Offering the same listening skills, empathy, and respect to people who haven’t gone through what you’ve gone through is really important. — Alexa, 2012 American Seed
10. Remember that you have a right to change. After all, you were not some passive recipient to this process. You worked for and towards this; you made choices. You have a right to own this emerging self, even if others don’t fully understand it. Even if it baffles and disappoints others. — Tooba
11. Don’t give up. People might not understand you or why you chose to go to Camp, but I never tell anyone to disconnect with anyone, but to always go back and try to change. This is one of the responsibilities that you now have: If you know better than your friend, then it’s up to you to wake him up. — Bashar
Do you have advice to share with campers for returning to their homes, schools, and communities? Let us know in the comments!