It is the last day of the school year in Belgium.
For expats who are part of an International School community, the last day of the school year means a lot of goodbyes. Talk to any teacher or staff member in an International School and they will tell you, it is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, part of being in an International School. The very nature of this type of school is that it caters to expat families who are coming and going for varying lengths of stays. The goodbyes are inevitable.
This is our third “last day of school” in our International School experience. Each year, the goodbyes become a little harder for us as our relationships with other families have deepened. And I say “us” because the parents are making friendships and bonds just as much as the children are.
I am grateful to have made friendships with other parents from the school. It is very special, crucial even, to have relationships with people who are going through the same experience. You can commiserate over coffee dates, lunches, family dinners, and play dates. You can share tips and recommendations. You can bond over shared experiences and help each other survive and thrive.
At the end of our first school year here, our son had only been in this school for 6 months. While he had friends, the bonds had not formed too deeply. Also, he was only six years old then, so the concepts of deep friendships and goodbyes were not too intense yet.
Last year, at the end of our second school year, he had to say goodbye to a friend who had become his best friend, his “brother from another mother,” as they said. His family was moving home. The goodbye was hard for all of us because as families we had become close, but it was hardest for the boys because they had really formed a strong bond.
While our son had said goodbye to good friends back in the U.S. when we moved here, those goodbyes were lightened by the fact that they were really “see you laters.” Goodbyes to friends here are really unknowns. We may very well see them later, but you never know.
I have visions of my son growing up and exploring the world through study abroad, backpacking trips, a global career, who knows. That is totally his choice, of course. I just imagine what might interest him based on how positively and enthusiastically he has reacted to living and travelling abroad, and knowing what I have learned about “Third Culture Kids.” It makes me happy to think of him meeting up with his friends from Sweden, India, Spain, Russia, Slovakia, Belgium, and other countries, in any of these places or somewhere else, or maybe even just connecting online and staying in touch.
This year, we are saying goodbye to multiple families, some of whom we’ve known since we arrived here. It gets harder each year. I absolutely adore our school and I can’t help but already be thinking about how hard it will be to say goodbye to teachers, staff, and friends next year when it is our turn to be the ones who are leaving.
I try to stay positive for my son. The following is my message to him, and to myself.
It is okay to feel the sadness. We are blessed to have made these new friendships and it is normal to feel sad about no longer having these friends in close proximity in our every day lives. BUT, the beauty in these relationships is that we now have friends from all over the world who will continue to be our friends forever if we want.
With technology, we can stay in touch via email, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger, telephone, etc. Maybe even a good old-fashioned handwritten letter or postcard! Who knows, in a few years perhaps even holograms or some other terrifying technology.
We now have these friends all over the world and our paths may cross again, by chance or on purpose if we want them to. We should embrace and enjoy every bit of it, even when it is hard or sad, because this is a beautiful benefit of our expat experience.