Stages of Transition: Discussing the Impact of Our Return Back to Campus

By Curtis Isozaki

Often transition is just the response to every day, every season, and every milestone. We transition from one class to another, from college to career, and recently from learning at home to being together on campus. Every transition comes with its own set of challenges, moments, lessons, and reminders that we are not in control, but rather along for the journey. As I reflect on years of experience in higher education, every transition comes with lessons to learn, experiences to have, and memories to make.

During the summer of 2015, I was on staff at a church, and my role consisted of ministry partner development, college ministry, and church planting in Mongolia. However, re-entry from Mongolia back to the United States was challenging, and I realized a lot had changed in me that caused me to re-think the next season of my life. Re-entry from the mission has often been compared to an astronaut returning from space (Jordan, 2011) or a soldier returning from war. Similarly, when I returned from Mongolia, it was like I returned to a new reality after a lifetime in Narnia.

I had entered into a season of transition, which according to William Bridges (2004) in his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, consists of (1) an ending, (2) a neutral zone: a period of confusion and distress, and (3) a new beginning. Therefore, when we return to campus in the Fall, our community will inevitably experience three stages of transition: Ending, Neutral, Beginning.

Discussion Questions (Transitions):

  • Describe a time when you experienced a significant transition in your life.
  • Describe how you handle transitions.

During the ending stage, there are “five aspects of the natural ending experience: disengagement, dismantling, disidentification, disenchantment, and disorientation” (Bridges, 2004, p. 109). These elements have the potential to break down our connection with our previous environment, experience, and expectation, which can “awaken old memories of hurt and shame” (Bridges, 2004, p. 17). Thus, when astronauts return from space, they are greeted with the excitement of returning home while the perplexity of their experience starts to settle in. "Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one— not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are" (Bridges, 2004, p. 11).

Discussion Questions (Endings):

  • What has your experience been since returning to campus?
  • Have you been more excited or perplexed?
  • How have you been reflecting on the differences of distance, hybrid, and classroom learning?

According to Bridges (2004), the neutral zone is the time between the old and new life that consists of a rich time of insight and activities of surrender that chooses to submit to the emptiness to escape running back to the ending. During our time in the neutral zone, we can receive what Bridges (2004) describes as “signals and cues” that only the individual can decipher as what is needed for the next stage of life. This cannot be rushed because it is the slow transformation into the person necessary to move forward (pp. 80-81). Therefore, our time in the neutral zone requires patience and intentionality to fully prepare for a new beginning.

Discussion Questions (Neutral Zone):

  • How do you plan to set time aside to process how you are doing back on campus?
  • How do you hope to be intentional about preparing for this new season?

It is crucial for a successful new beginning to “understand what is within us that undermines our resolve and casts doubt on our plans” because genuine beginnings start within us, even when they are brought to our attention by external opportunities. It is out of the formlessness of the neutral zone that new form emerges and out of the barrenness of the fallow time that new life springs.” (Bridges, 2004, p. 165-169).

Discussion Questions (New Beginnings):

  • Describe an image of your semester on campus at Azusa Pacific University.
  • Write down three values, relationships, and experiences you hope to steward in this new season.

There is absolutely no way to be fully prepared for a new beginning, but we can be aware of the ending and processing in the neutral zone to fully prepare us for the uncertainty and excitement that is to come. In reality, a return to campus is a transition to an entirely new environment, community, and atmosphere that has gone through so much change. As a community, we can go through these stages of transition together and share in the memories of this time.


Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes. (Kindle Edition). Retrieved from

Jordan, Peter. (2011). Re-Entry: Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home. (Kindle Edition). Retrieved on

Note: This information is current for the 2021-22 academic year; however, all stated academic information is subject to change. Please refer to the current Academic Catalog for more information.