Feeling Overwhelmed?

How to Survive the Delegation . . . And Your Return

Participating in a delegation to Israel/Palestine has changed you — that’s the point!  And while almost all delegates have commented on what a transformative and positive experience their delegations were, many of them have also found the transition back from the delegation to ‘real life’ in their home community a challenging and emotional time.

In our experience with delegations we have found that the transition back from Israel/Palestine often elicits forms of “Reverse Cultural Shock” paired with the responsibility (and frustration) that we often feel after witnessing the reality of Israel/Palestine. Below we share some things that you may feel when you return, and then offer some suggestions for how to make the adjustment as comfortable, happy, and productive as possible.

First, some of the potential difficulties….

While everyone’s experience is different, some of the most common issues delegates have shared after their return are the following:

  • Exhaustion The delegation was jam-packed with meetings and activities—and all of them (we hope!) stimulated thought and emotion.  That, added with two 14-hour flights in the span off two-weeks, makes for a pretty exhausting trip.  And we’re all coming back to busy lives—so feeling tired and worn out is normal.
  • Isolation: Without other people in your immediate community who are retuning with you, it is quite normal to feel ‘all alone’ and to feel there is no one who can understand what you are feeling or how you are still reacting to the delegation experience.
  • Alienation and inability to relate to US/North American culture: This generally is more likely to happen with longer trips abroad, but it is possible that you will feel ill-at-ease with aspects of our ‘culture’ you took for granted before.
  • Change in your priorities: Again, this is often more marked after longer trips, but seeing the conflict up-close, exploring the US/North American/European role, and seeing different cultures and ways of life could all lead to a significant change in your interests and priorities. 
  • Frustration with friends/family/co-workers: You’ve had a dramatic, intense experience.  As you begin to try to share this with others, you may be surprised to find a perceived lack of interest in your stories and pictures.  Or you may be dismayed to find that all some people want to hear about is “how scared you were,” or how you managed to stay safe. You may even be directly attacked by people who disagree vehemently with your conclusions from the delegation.
  • Depression: Feeling uneasy and unhappy about the situation in Israel/Palestine is normal—there are many reasons to be dubious about any short-term hopes for a solution.  This feeling can lead us to action—but it can also become paralyzing, and a number of delegates have described themselves as “stuck” months after the delegation. 
  • An urgent need to do something, anything: The trip is designed to motivate (and educate) you for effective action when you return home.  We hope that you all make the most of your experience, but wanted to highlight the tendency to “need to do it all” that some feel.  With so many notes, photos, and stories from the delegation, some feel pressure to organize them immediately.  Others have felt that they need to devour history books to fill in gaps from the delegation and prepare for all possible counter-arguments.  Trying to do everything can become overwhelming and lead to you getting “stuck” instead of acting.

And now for some positive suggestions on coping….

Coming home, seeing family and friends, resuming your routine can be exciting, positive, and restorative after an intense two-week delegation. But you may also face some of the problems that we mentioned. There are no sure-fire ways to deal with them, but we’ve had lots of feedback and useful suggestions from past delegates as well as a fair bit of personal experience ourselves. We’d like to share with you some of the suggestions that delegates have made on easing your transition and preparing you to make the most of your experience:

  • Continue and strengthen the relationships you began on the delegation  You have shared an intense experience with the other participants on your delegation.  IFPB has provided you with contact information for fellow delegates—feel free to stay in touch.  IFPB also encourages on-going contact by providing the delegation listserve and scheduling conference calls after the delegation returns.
  • Seek others in your local community who have traveled to Israel/Palestine: In all but the smallest communities there are people who have traveled to the region on similar trips.  Many times IFPB staff know delegates or other contacts in your area and we will be happy to put you in touch with them.
  • Continue writing, thinking, reacting after the delegation: On the delegation there is a natural inclination to ‘process’ your experiences—there are so many and they elicit such deep feeling and emotion!  Don’t underestimate the extent to which processing, reflection, and discussion will continue after the delegation.  Be sure to provide outlets for this continued growth.
  • Stay in touch with the people and organizations you met with on the delegation: A great way to keep engaged is to get updates from the individuals we met and the organizations they represented.  This will allow you to continue to build relationships and connections—and remain up-to-date.
  • Pick major themes and points you want to convey: Some of the frustration with friends and families who seem to have a short attention span in hearing about the delegation can be alleviated by thinking hard about what major points (or ‘sound bites’) you want to share are.  These should be the essential things you think anyone should know about Israel/Palestine. Also keep in mind who you’re talking to, what they know, and what influence they have. 
  • Ask for help:  Others out there have felt like you.  Conveying your experiences to skeptical family and friends can take a lot out of you.  Some delegates have even experienced rifts with family or friends.  If this is the case, seek out others who have had similar experiences.  Let IFPB know—and we can try to get you in touch with others who have had to confront similar challenges. It is really useful to have someone who is willing to just listen.
  • Have realistic goals about the struggle for justice in Israel/Palestine: The struggle for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine is a long-term one.  While the enthusiasm and emotion of a recent delegation are wonderful motivations to work now—also be ready for slow progress and small victories.  Pace yourself to avoid burn-out.
  • Be content not to “know everything” and focus on your eyewitness experience: You’ve come back filled with knowledge and experiences. But you may well be confused because what you’ve learned lacks a sufficient framework or contradicts what you previously knew. When you give presentations, people may challenge you with facts and figures that you can’t refute immediately. Don’t worry about it. We know that sounds facile; we’ve also found it to be really good advice. Battling over facts and figures, historical claims, the positions of parties and factions aren’t going to change people’s minds about the conflict. Personal stories, stories that carry the authority of “I saw it, I heard it” have a much greater possibility of reaching people and changing hearts and minds. And that is the strength of your experience, what you can offer that is different. We hope you will want to learn more about facts, figures, and political analysis of the situation and use that greater knowledge. But that is a long-term endeavor. Right now, it can be very helpful to you and effective with others to keep it simple and keep it personal.