This is the final phase of my travel fellowship adventure, sponsored by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. What a privilege to be here in the USA as an ambassador for the trust, to learn from best practice in parent-infant psychotherapy, and to bring the learning back to the UK to inspire my colleagues.
I'm travelling again with my husband, Kofi-William Osafo, who also came with me to Prague and Scandinavia. Already, after just two days in the USA, there's so much to share.
'So what are you doing here in the USA?'
That was the BIG question posed to us many times at the US border. I had alighted from the plane, feeling really excited as this was my first time in the USA. However, in the next hour I experienced many new and unexpected feelings ... mild curiosity, surprise, bemusement, slight irritation, confusion, indignation, anger, rage, vindication, and much, much more ... I was so thankful that Kofi was there to keep me calm and to put things into perspective.
Why this torrent of feelings?
The first part of customs seemed straight forward enough as we checked ourselves in at a machine, but I was not ready for what came next. At the first window the official asked, 'so what are you doing here in the USA?' He seemed friendly enough so we merrily unfolded our story of our plans to travel from Michigan to California, learning from best practice in parent-infant psychotherapy. The officer looked slightly bewildered but waved us through nevertheless after taking our fingerprints and our photos.
We strolled on leisurely to the next barrier and was asked the same question again and gave the same answers. This officer was not so easily convinced and continued like a machine gun; firing question after question at us and not waiting for answers. We explained that the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (www.wcmt.org.uk) is UK’s national memorial to Sir Winston, and each year the Trust awards Travelling Fellowship grants to UK citizens in a range of fields to enable Churchill Fellows to carry out research projects overseas. These projects are designed to exchange ideas and best practice, and build greater understanding between peoples and different cultures, in order that professions and communities in the UK can benefit from these shared experiences.
Far from being impressed, the officer asked how and where we would do this, how much will we be paid, what will we do with the information, what will we do at the universities we visit, where will we stay (commenting that it's expensive to stay in hotels for a month) and how will we finance it, How much money did you bring? ... etc., etc. We explained that each Churchill Fellow is provided with insurance cover, a return ticket from the United Kingdom, and sufficient funds for daily living expenses/travel within the countries they visit.
So what do you do in the UK... what is your work? Again we explained that I am a parent-infant psychotherapist; that I was awarded a Travelling Fellowship in 2016 to visit the USA and Scandinavia to observe best practice in the delivery of parent-infant psychotherapy.
Many more questions ensued and each answer generated even more questions and confusion for the young man. He commented that psychotherapy is playing mind games. The officer asked us to stand aside with our bags and disappeared with our passports, leaving us bemused and confused. The hall emptied as we waited for him to return. We both dug deep into spiritual and therapeutic resources and remained calm (but inside I was raging). At this point I wanted to turn around and go back to London.
After a long wait he returned and asked us to take our bags and follow him to another room, where a panel of officers sat behind a long table. We were called eventually by a female officer and more questions asked. The tone of her voice matched that of her colleague at first but before long, as she scrolled through my enthusiastic emails to and from my prestigious hosts in the USA, her voice softened and became quiet and sober. She stopped writing in her notebook and slowly Scepticism and suspicion changed to embarrassment and respect. Doubt changed to belief as she got up from her chair behind the desk and offered to walk us out, offering a trolley for our bags and wishing us well for the remainder of our travels.
I can only attribute the strong feelings that I vented to my long suffering husband to sleep deprivation after our journey and the five-hour difference in time zones. Kofi explained (with annoying patience) that they were just doing their job to protect the country (really? ... from us?).
I continued to seethe with anger while we waited for our connecting flight from Detroit to Kalamazoo, wondering if I would ever recover from the 'border experience'.
So here's what we're doing in the USA
We start at the Michigan Association of Infant Mental Health conference in Kalamazoo from the 7th to the 9th of May, which will enable us to network with many of the professionals working in Michigan and hear what's really happening on the ground. We move on to the three main universities in Michigan; Wayne State University from 10th to 15th May, the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, from 16th to 18th May and Michigan State University - E. Lansing from 19th to 23rd May; sharing experience and good practice with staff and students and visiting community projects associated with the universities. From Michigan we fly to San Francisco, California were we will again get involved in the teaching and learning of the University of San Francisco, meet professionals and visit projects. We will return to London on Saturday 3rd June.
What do I hope to learn?
In a nutshell, my objectives are:
To observe how Parent Infant Psychotherapy is delivered in the USA and how this compares with UK methods.
To discover effective ways of measuring outcomes.
To find inspiration from pioneers in the field and catch their spirit to inspire the UK team.
To build links between the continents and share good practice.
To understand how practitioners in the USA are trained and equipped for effective practice.
To gain new ideas about how to care for my team back home in the UK so they will feel fulfilled in their work.
Well, that's enough for today. You'll be pleased to know that I did recover from my border ordeal very quickly, after a good night's sleep. My colleagues and hosts at the conference restored my original image of the American people as welcoming, trusting and hospitable. Perhaps the border officials were just 'doing their job'. Or perhaps that young man had a personal agenda.