Transition – Building a RAFT

RAFT Reconciliation  •  Affirmation  •  Farewell  •  Think Destination

In their landmark book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, the authors Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken have a chapter devoted to transition and dealing with leaving one place and starting in a new one. The chapter is a constructive and practical look at leaving well, at closure, at saying our goodbyes in peace. While transitions are never easy there are concrete steps we can take to make them as smooth as possible, always bearing in mind that no matter how well we prepare some situations will arise that are completely out of our control. The authors suggest four steps that make up the acronym RAFT. They are these:  reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination. 

Reconciliation is the first step in building a RAFT. I’ve written before that I believe it is important to leave in peace, that when we leave in peace we can begin in peace. By contrast when we leave with unresolved conflict we carry that with us to the next place we go to. That’s exactly what reconciliation is — it means leaving in peace as far as is possible. When we’ve struggled mightily in a place this is difficult. I remember leaving Massachusetts and the small town on the North Shore of Boston where we lived. We loved our house and throughout our time there we had laughed hard, cried some, partied much, and grown in extraordinary ways. But we struggled with choking provincialism of the area and felt good eyes upon us, criticizing at every turn. It was not easy to leave that town in peace, and so I didn’t. Thanks to some beloved friends in a nearby town we were able to return and create new memories, but I still wish I had been able to leave with greater peace. It’s this move I think about when I think about the advice to have the first log of the raft be reconciliation. It’s an obvious first step — if we are able to do that well then we can better move on to the other three logs.

Affirmation moves us into acknowledging and letting those we love, those who have become our dear friends know how much we love them, how much we will miss them. Affirmation is about talking to a teacher and saying “Thank you! Thank you for your role in my kid’s development.” Affirmation is about saying thank you to coffee shop baristas and favorite bakery vendors, people who worked in church nurseries and pastoral staff. It’s about affirming the time we had in a place and the people who knowingly or unknowingly helped us create a home.

Farewells – Honor the goodbye. Those goodbyes are critically important. As I wrote last week “We grieve as we say goodbye because we are losing places and people that we love. Each goodbye is a little like death, it’s saying goodbye to permanence and the relationships as we know them. They will change, they have to change. Comfort and hope will have their place, and they are part of the process, but sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. The global transnational family has developed an amazing capacity to adapt, to move forward, but sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment.”

Think Destination is the last log that the authors recommend. This can be either tremendously difficult or really easy. When our family left Cairo we thought our hearts would break, the collective grief in our family was palpable and as long as we live I don’t think any of us will forget our last night in that city of 18 million people.  A last meal eaten with laughter and joy; saying goodbye to dear friends Jenny, Len, Yasmine, Neelam, and Tariq as they sang to us a hymn of blessing; hugging tight, not knowing when or if we would ever see each other again – these friend who knew our lives in Pakistan and Egypt; and then finally walking down the road toward our home just steps from the Nile River with the smell of jasmine in the air. How could we think destination? How could we think ahead when we were leaving so much? And yet we did. We thought destination as we sorted and packed and began reestablishing connections back in our passport country. We thought destination as we sent out emails asking people advice on housing, schools, churches. We thought destination as we prayed and planned, even while tears formed at every thought and our hearts began to bleed in anticipation of that final goodbye when we would look out the plane window and feel grief too deep for words, too heavy for tears. At the time I didn’t know the acronym RAFT. The first edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds was not released until three years later. The research was still being conducted, interviews with third culture kids and adult third culture kids were not yet complete. A few years later when we left Massachusetts for Phoenix this last step ‘thinking destination’ was easy – I could not wait to exchange ice and snow, the dog days of New England winters for the desert sun and vast blue sky. During that move other logs on the RAFT were more difficult.

Each move we make varies. Intuitively I think many of us know this RAFT, we know that this RAFT is critical to take us over the sometimes calm, sometimes rocky, always unpredictable thing called ‘transition’. But to see it in print, validated and researched, gives many of us a life line to draw from, a method to keep us afloat.

How about you? Are you familiar with the acronym RAFT? How have you used it in the past? Are you in the middle of a move? How has it helped you transition? Join the conversation through the comments! 

Blogger’s Note: If you’ve not yet read the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds I highly recommend it. Full of practical information and both qualitative and quantitative research it is a tremendous resource for the transnational family.

29 thoughts on “Transition – Building a RAFT

  1. Hey Marilyn. I’m moving again, this time from Iowa City to Wheaton IL. Living here has been wonderful and I really put down roots and grew into a community that any TCK would be proud of. Giving it up, though necessary, brings back other places. My therapist suggested the RAFT model to help me deal with the transition. Your post is very helpful. Thank you. I will be rereading it in the coming months.
    I loved your description of your last night in Cairo. It was beautiful and vivid.


    1. Thank you so much for coming this way! I’ll be thinking of you. I feel waves of empathy coming your way. Even when it’s for a good reason – it’s not easy but a process.


    1. Oh I love this so much! You will never know how much that meant to us. I remember it like it was yesterday. All of our kids embracing, tears falling, and knowing we were going into an unknown with dear friends sending us off. Thank you so much for commenting!


  2. I’m just reading this now and not sure why I didn’t read it sooner. You are right that these hard leavings often take so much grace, and we perhaps need the time in order to experience the grace. One statement made me chuckle, and also to say to myself, “this daughter of mine will never be a true New Englander!” The “dog days of New England” aren’t in the winter, they come in the hot humidity of August! Thanks for the post and for your honesty about your own struggles. Looking forward to seeing you. Give us a call about your arrival time. Love you!


  3. Marilyn, looking back, how do you think you could have reconcile with “choking provincialism of the area”? I’m curious because that is not concrete. You can’t go to someone and apologize or talk things out. It is more of a feeling that most people did not even know exists except in the eyes of an “outsider”. As I help kids walk through this process there are usually at least one thing that is hard to reconcile in their lives. What are you suggestions for areas of life that are not so straight forward?


    1. I think you have identified why it was hard to leave in peace with some people in Essex. Because it wasn’t concrete. And to go to folks my final week and say to them “I felt really hurt while I was here, I perceived a lot of criticism and I want to reconcile this before going” felt impossible. And you bring up the reality of the RAFT – it’s a tool but it is not real life. I think in my case I needed to leave to gain some perspective and appreciation. I was so wounded and so defeated that I couldn’t reconcile. In cases like that, and I think there are a fair number of us in this place at one time or another, I appreciate two things – grace and time. Both of those help to heal wounds and I no longer look back with the pain that I did. So all that to say, I agree with you, there are things that will always be hard to reconcile.


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