The end of the school year ushers in its own social dynamics.
Teachers cram in last minute review sessions and cajole students to focus and study, study and focus. Occasionally an administrator will throw in a heartfelt reminder that grades aren’t the most important measurement of a student’s progress, but at this stage of the game, no one’s buying it.
Teachers and staff alike look forward eagerly not only to well-deserved time off, but also to the blessed silence that greets them when they do enter the school building during the summertime.
Students want to be done with projects, homework, assessments and exams so that they can celebrate with their friends. Nothing says summer better than that rush of relief that the pressure’s off followed by the thrill of a good party.
Parents just want it all over with, and the sooner the better. The thought of several months’ freedom from the early morning scramble to get children of whatever age – it doesn’t really seem to matter, it’s all exhausting – up, dressed, fed and out the door beckons like a siren’s call.No more last minute dashes to the store for poster board, glue sticks or No. 2 pencils. No more juggling schedules for car pools and activities, concerts and parent-teacher conferences. No more listening to the keening wails of ‘I just don’t understand this’ or ‘How am I supposed to get this all done tonight?’ or my personal peeve ‘This is too hard…’
Yet for many expatriates and global nomads, this time of year signifies something else: the dreaded comings and goings that tend to populate the summer months like moths to a flame.
You start to hear rumblings earlier in the spring. This family is moving on to their next posting, that friend has decided to repatriate. So and so is getting reassigned; the contract of such and such isn’t being renewed.
It’s not only your friends or your children’s friends; it’s also your spouse’s colleagues, your neighbours, favourite teachers and coaches, even that dependable mother with whom you shared driving duties. They are close friends, acquaintances and people who you didn’t know all that well but relied on for a friendly catch-up whenever you ran into them.
Tell the truth. We all make a mental list of the people who are leaving, and then we look around and try to imagine what it will be like for those of us who are staying.
Earlier this year a dear friend cornered me at a meeting.
‘Well??’ she asked with that frantic look in her eyes.
When I told her my husband’s annual contract had been renewed, she emitted a deep sigh of relief and her shoulders slumped.
‘Oh thank goodness. I’ve already lost four, with another looking iffy, and I just couldn’t bear it if you left, too.’
I knew exactly what she meant; I consider myself fortunate that I’m only losing two, and I’d be distraught if she left.
Then again, I’ve had my closest Dutch friend move away two months ago in what I refer to as an ‘out-of-cycle’ loss. My happiness at the fact that she was joining her husband after many months of a dual-country, long distance marriage only barely edges out the pain I feel at losing the presence of a precious friend I saw two or three times a week.
My high school-aged daughter has seven parties coming up, two of which are farewells and one to celebrate a visit from a friend who moved away last year.
It’s even worse when children graduate or the last child leaves the expat nest.
My son finished high school last year, attends university back in the United States and is now with us for the summer. He knows all too well what happens when expats graduate. In the year since his graduation, approximately a quarter of his friends’ families have either repatriated or moved on to a new country.
That means roughly 25% of his graduating class no longer calls this area home. Factor in those who are spending the summer taking classes at whatever university they attend, doing an internship or working elsewhere, and the pool of friendly faces to get together with while he’s home has dwindled markedly.
Boom to bust in twelve months, and it will only get worse.
No wonder so many expat graduates save their hard-earned money to buy an airline ticket and catch a flight back for a visit as soon as they are able. They bunk with friends and spend their time reminiscing, eager to soak up the fading glory of a time and place that once defined their closest friendships.
It’s June, and the exodus has begun.
If we suffer the gradual departures of people who matter to us, at some point the cumulative loss takes its toll.
The same can be said of those doing the leaving. They pack up and leave the people, places and memories that constitute home for them. They awaken in a new place, a new country, a new culture and know that they have to begin all over again.
Where does that leave the rest of us?
We give thanks for the love and laughter and friendship and joy that those leaving have brought into our lives. We affirm their meaning to us, and let them know how much we value them and will miss them. We make plans to stay in touch, possibly to visit, knowing all too well that we likely will never see many of them ever again.
And then we dust off our sadness and open our hearts and minds to the possibility of meeting new people, new acquaintances in the making, new potential friends, both in the expatriate and local communities.
It’s the expat cycle of life, and sometimes it hurts like a you-know-what.
It reminds me of a song we used to sing years ago during Brownie meetings when I was a little girl:
Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver and the other gold
Silver and gold. Old and new. Then and now.
Well, don’t just stand there. Better get mining.
A writer and American expat living in the Netherlands with her husband and two teens, Linda pens articles on expat life and blogs at Adventures in Expat Land sharing the good, the less good and the just plain odd with a twist. She is also a co-author of the recent bestseller Turning Points: 25 Inspiring Stories from Women Entrepreneurs.
You may also follow Linda’s adventures on Twitter @in_expatland.