There and Back: Living & Learning Abroad by Donald G. De Graaf

Something hidden. Go and find it.

Go and look behind the Ranges—

Something lost behind the Ranges.

Lost and waiting for you. Go!

—Rudyard Kipling

With this Kipling quote, Donald De Graaf begins what is not so much a “how-to” as a “how-to-be” concerning traveling and studying abroad for college students and their mentors. De Graaf encourages them to be pilgrims rather than simply tourists. With the pilgrim mindset, they’ll be equipped to find that “hidden something” behind the Ranges. Drawing on his years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and his subsequent work in Korea, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands, De Graaf knows what he’s talking about. Now director of off-campus programs at Calvin College, he uses that experience to create this book as a guide for journey preparedness. His passion for this topic is clear.

The first part, “Before you Leave,” invites the student to consider the why and how of her adventure, to develop an actual sense of calling. While De Graaf gives advice about practical matters, he emphasizes preparing the heart and mind for the trip.

The second and longest part, “The Experience,” focuses on making the most of new cultural experiences, such as learning local mores, taking responsibility for one’s freedom in a new setting, acting carefully with social media, learning the two-way nature of hospitality, navigating culture shock, and developing awareness of one’s own spirituality (and that of other faiths).

De Graaf’s chapter “Living in the Middle” is especially helpful as it calls on the reader to expect the tensions of living abroad: the desire to be a full part of the new setting while retaining connections to home; striving to be a pilgrim but recognizing the traveler will likely always be a tourist; working for justice while realizing the traveler may be part of the problem.

In the third part, “Returning Home,” the author offers the returning pilgrim help handling reverse culture shock and the occasional unexpected reactions of friends and family to stories from the trip (actual disinterest is also a possibility). Returning to the “ordinary” can be disconcerting after months of excitement or living among people of a much different culture who experience adversity on a daily basis. De Graaf encourages travelers to develop both horizontal and vertical roots, keeping connections to distant places while also reestablishing themselves in their local community.

One of the richest aspects of There and Back is the frequent addition of actual journal entries from students who agreed to share their anticipations, fears, and joys in specific places such as Ghana, Hungary, Cambodia, and Honduras. These young writers are eloquent and insightful. The book also includes multiple sets of questions for readers to consider as they respond to the text. Both the journal entries and the questions elicit a sense of participation.

De Graaf has deftly written an important and useful book, one that could be helpful for persons of any age who might want to experience a “pilgrimage” rather than a “trip,” to “go and look behind the Ranges.”

Works Cited

De Graaf, Donald G. There and Back: Living & Learning Abroad. Calvin College Press, 2015.

Kipling, Rudyard. “The Explorer.” In Rudyard Kipling’s Verse, Inclusive Edition, 1885–1918. Doubleday, Page & Co., 1922.

Dorothy Wassenaar taught for several years in CSI Christian schools in California, Michigan, and Illinois, spending the last 14 of those years in Christian education as Library Director for Southwest Chicago Christian Schools in Oak Lawn, Illinois. She currently works part-time as a youth librarian for Palos Heights Public Library in Palos Heights, Illinois.