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  • Writer's pictureAleka Bilan

What is "settled" anyway?

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

Last week, I finally felt “settled” here. I don’t know what it was -- the pink and violet blooms on the trees, the snow-capped peaks in the distance, running by a gurgling river under a clear blue sky, or my son (who has “hated American school” every day of the pandemic) finally saying to me as he walked out the door: “I think I’m a pro at school, Mom.” Who knows?

Today, I walked out of the grocery store, lugging a gallon milk jug (almost 4 liters!), wearing workout clothes, carrying a Starbucks coffee and then got into my minivan. Sheesh! I chuckled - well, it seems I’ve certainly assimilated into the “white middle class woman” mini-culture of America. It only took 8 months. That’s how long it’s been since I landed in this country and began the process of repatriation after a sudden and unexpected Covid-19 move.

Feeling “settled” is a bit like other emotions that are hard to pin down or accurately describe: love, happiness, grief. Like beauty, you can’t really explain it, but you’ll know it when you see and feel it. As the last phase of a transition, it’s also impossible to mark on a calendar. Like all the stages of transitions, there is no fixed time for passing through or arriving at a particular point, nor any imaginary finish line.

I’m thinking about that ultimate “settled” feeling this month, as we watch members of the Class of 2021 (in the northern hemisphere) begin their transition on the other end: disentangling themselves from their current state of “settled.” Bidding good-bye to routines of schooling (whether online or hybrid), celebrating the rituals of completion (such as graduation), feeling suddenly as if this ending is all very real.

They have entered the “transition zone” -- the “in between” state from one state of feeling “settled” to another, like this graphic (based on William Bridges’ transition model) shows.

There’s a lot of shakiness between “here” and “there,” members of the Class of 2021, but you’ll make it. As Dr. Seuss says, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.” You’ve made it this far, with your internal strengths, your talents, and most importantly, your resilience and adaptability these past many months. You’ve been tested and you’ve been supported -- by your family, your friends, your teachers and counselors.

To you, the students (and your parents), I give an optimistic prediction. The future path over this bridge can be shaky, uncertain, as well as exciting and interesting. These next steps you will take into independent adulthood can feel both liberating and frightening. Please know that the upheaval of emotions you and your family members are going through are normal. Transition, by its very nature, is unsettling. We’ve all learned that during this global pandemic.

But do take heart. Somewhere, out there in the future, at some unspecified time, you will feel settled in your new environment. You will look around and be amazed at the normalcy of your daily life. Your return to socializing with friends without a mask on, to sitting in a professor’s classroom live and in person. It may sneak up on you, this feeling, or it may not occur to you until after your first year at college or university, when you go home for a holiday and return to campus again, to realize that this is ‘home’ after all.

I wish you safe travels on these next steps of your journey, and congratulations!

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