People who enjoy travelling are excellent at the ‘travel’ aspect. Most people are good at preparation, though much of that has to do with your personality: some people love detailed itineraries whereas others are more of the “go with the flow kind.”
In either case, most travellers, especially travellers seeking for ‘experience’, do manage to perform the necessary activities to ensure that their trip is well-prepared and well-executed.
But there’s one aspect, a quintessential aspect, that is so quickly forgotten in the experiential travel process:
THE POST-TRIP DEBRIEF.
As an international experience educator, I’ve seen the effects of missing this critical step first-hand. The first time I led my newly-developed internship programme, my students returned to Canada during the time of the year when everyone was on the university campus. We had a successful debrief on campus, and these students had the time, opportunities, and motivation to process through their experiences abroad. Six months and even one year later, when asked about their travel, they recalled life-changing events, memorable moments, and unforgettable relationships without hesitation.
The next year, the scenario wasn’t so fortunate. The students returned to Canada during a time when there were no classes operating. In effect, they had no “reason” to come to campus and, consequently, I had no option to run a real ‘debrief’ apart from a couple email questions I sent them to process through (which they may or may not have answered through journalling).
The result? Unlike my first year group, the second year group “moved on” with life quickly. Although they had amazing times overseas, the learning I wanted them to experience as an educator: perceptions of poverty, relationships developed, their role in society upon return…
It seemed many of their moments were fleeting…so many experiences forgotten.
If you want to LOSE THE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE AND FORGET ALL MOMENTS AND LIFE LESSONS learned while travelling, do NOT do a debrief. But if you DO care to process through your journey so that it becomes a lasting legacy, or if you’re an educator and want your students to do the same, may I entice you, please, to do a debrief.
If you’re conducting a debrief for others, the style should be a focus group discussion. You facilitate the discussion through pre-written questions, but the clients/students are the real leaders, answering questions and bringing up other questions, ideas, and engaging as they feel led.
If you want to debrief yourself, my advice is to prepare a list of questions BEFORE you leave for your travels. Think about what you want to ‘get out’ of the experience. Upon return, within the first week, sit down, look at the questions, and journal about them. If you process better by speaking, make a video or voice recording. Or even have a friend take notes on your answers. But make some sort of documentation. You can add new questions. You can always write new ideas. But the important thing is to THINK THROUGH the process, ENGAGE with your understanding of your experiences and RECALL those memorable moments to ensure that the journey lasts a lifetime.
In addition, you want to write things that aren’t as comfortable. What didn’t go well? What angered you? What made you sad? Processing the negative will help you to either a) understand potential prejudices that you have, b) help you learn something about your own tolerance levels or c) think about what your place can be in the world for overcoming these challenges. In “experiential education” we are often looking for the positive…but let’s be honest – there’s a lot of horrible injustice in the world. Call a spade a spade. If there’s something you disagree with, why is it and what could you possibly do about that?
POSSIBLE IDEAS FOR DEBRIEFING QUESTIONS:
1. Describe the person you met that had the most influence on you. What type of influence? What made them so influential?
2. In what moments during your trip did you feel vulnerable? In what moments did you feel powerful? What made these emotions?
3. What new things did you learn about yourself during this trip? List at least 1 strength, 1 weakness, and 1 cognitive ability.
4. How would you prepare for this journey differently in the future?
5. Close your eyes and think back to a moment on the journey when you were extremely happy. What was the moment and why did you feel this emotion? Do the same for: angry, sad, frustrated.
6. What disappointed you about this culture or country? Does that tell you anything about what you need to work through?
7. Has your self-defined cultural identity changed because of this trip?
8. What is now going to change in your life because of this trip?
The debrief is critical. Whether you’re a student, part of a tour group, or an individual travel, may I encourage you to work through these and other questions to make the most out of your experience. This is a HUGE topic, so this will definitely be discussed again in the future.
For now, happy experiencing, happy travelling…and happy debriefing!