Ask the Experts: New Environments

Written by Samoana Matagi on December 12, 2023

Equality + Acceptance
Social Interactions
Social Activities

Ask the Experts...

Dear Burn Community, 

Welcome to "Ask the Experts," Journey Magazine's advice column. As we respond to submitted questions from the community, we draw on our personal and professional experience to offer guidance and do our best to make it good advice.

In this edition, we received questions from burn survivors and the mother of a survivor about adapting to a new environment, the struggles of accepting what happened to you, and what exercises are good for physical healing. 

Looking for answers to your own question? Email with "Ask the Experts" in the subject line. No question is off limits! Odds are, someone else is facing a similar challenge.


Sam, Lise, Felicia 

Question: New Environments

Dear Experts,

I'm starting college soon and am worried about not fitting in. I come from a small town, and everyone in my high school knows my burn story. Do you have any tips on being around new people and engaging without being socially awkward?


RESPONSE FROM Samoana Matagi

Dear Steven,

First off, congratulations on your graduation from high school and beginning college! I can see how a change from one environment to another can cause anxiety. I imagine your injuries may not be hidden burns and that many people will ask what happened. It can definitely be a socially awkward situation.

My burns caused me to be a double-hand amputee. Often people ask me what happened before they even ask my name. Sometimes that can cause me to feel more like my injury is my identity rather than my actual identity.

One thing that works for me is a technique called Rehearse Your Response. When someone asks me what happened, I give them a three-sentence response that closes the conversation about my injury and makes the conversation about what I want to discuss.

The first sentence is a short explanation of my accident. I say, "I was burned in a work accident involving power lines." There is no need to be any more descriptive than that. Keeping it concise helps the receiver understand you don't want to dwell on the subject.

My second sentence describes my current state. I usually say, "I'm doing pretty good now." I can also say, "I've adapted for the most part." Again, a short sentence helps the listener understand that you want to keep it brief about an injury. You can also choose for the second sentence to be direct and say something like, "I prefer not to talk about it at the moment." Remember, you own the story and can choose when and where to share. 

The last sentence for me is usually a question back at them. A lot of times, I say, "How are you doing?" That question works for me because it helps the conversation turn from one about my accident to one about friendship. In the third sentence, you can also offer a compliment about the person. You can even use something to change the subject, like the weather, sports, or whatever you want to discuss.

One important thing is to rehearse this response. Practice it in the mirror or with someone you know. I sometimes would even rehearse it in my head.

Steven, good luck at college. I know that along with anything that brings anxiety, there can also be growth. College was a great time in my life, and I believe it will be for you as well!

Samoana Matagi earned a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism in 2004. After two years in the field of Broadcast Journalism, he changed career paths to a high-voltage electrical line worker. Three years into his apprenticeship, he was involved in an electrical work accident that cost him his hands. He then became critically acclaimed for his recovery story, which drove him to create a YouTube channel to help other amputees. Now, he speaks to audiences about resilience. Learn more at or by connecting with him on YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram.

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