June is a rough month for expats, whether you’re coming or going or staying put. As June rolls around you’ll catch me doling out 100 Kroner notes like candy to cover the cost of leaving gifts; books, flowers, keepsakes and mementoes. June sees me squeezing in tea times here and coffee mornings there and drinks…where? Where were the drinks?
Is it stressful? Hell, yes. Do I complain about it? Sometimes. Would I refuse to do it? Never. Do you know why?
It doesn’t matter if you are the one staying or if you are the one going. You have been a part of something, something bigger than just yourself. Whether it was for six months or five years, whether you played a starring role or a cameo, what you shared was specific to a time and place, to a group of people. It was unique. Sure, for every one missing, someone else will arrive. For every one going, two will stay. But don’t be fooled. Numbers don’t make up the entire story. It will never be exactly the same because the dynamic has changed.
Take the time to say goodbye.
Goodbyes can seem a dime a dozen to expats. Adios, shalom, au revoir. June, chock-a-block with assemblies and leaving parties, with farewell events and bon voyages is practically an expat rite of passage. Saying “so long” to friends is a given. “Farewell” becomes familiar, “Auf Wiedershen” expected.
But just because it’s familiar or expected or anticipated doesn’t make it any easier. To those going or those staying.
If you’re leaving, you owe it to yourself to say good-bye, but you also owe it to those people who took the time to get to know you while you were here or there. If you’re leaving, let the ones staying buy you the coffee table book or the traditional parting gift. Let them host a coffee or a dinner or a drinks night in your honor. Let them wave a flag in your face. Hell, let them throw a freaking party if they want to.
If you’re the one staying, take the time to search out the folks leaving and wish them well. Dole out the Kroner or the Euro or the Francs. Squeeze in the coffee. Clear a few weeks on your calendar for drinks and dinners and picnics.
Expat goodbyes are goodbyes on an entirely different level. In Pokemon terms, they’re Goodbye Full Potential. When you leave an expat posting, you’re not just leaving a place or a home, you’re leaving a chunk of yourself. A chunk that belonged to a distinct time and place and people. And you leave knowing it’s likely you won’t see the place, the people, or that chunk of yourself again. Expat good-byes are not à bientôt, they’re not temporary. Even if you do come back, it’s likely others will have left, said their own goodbyes and moved on.
It will never be the same as it was.
It is difficult to explain the feeling of bidding farewell to people you’ve cried with and laughed with, people who know you better than you could have imagined, all the while knowing there is a good chance you will never see them again. I understand why it may seem easier to sneak out, avoid a scene, avoid the tears.
Say goodbye. It’s important. For a sense of closure, to tie it with a bow, to leave it finished.
I know folks who don’t want to make a big deal of their departures for a myriad of reasons. They don’t like to be the center of attention, they haven’t wrapped their own thoughts around leaving, they don’t want to make a fuss or put anyone out of their way. They would rather slip away: unnoticed, un-feted, un-celebrated. They want to walk away without a goodbye.
Don’t. That’s cheating.
It’s important to say goodbye, in whatever language you choose, in whatever language you’re comfortable in, in whatever language you have come to love or hate. Maybe you won’t see those people again, but that fact doesn’t negate the time you had with them. Honor that. Say goodbye.
You..yes, YOU…you may not think you’ve made an impact, but you have, whether it was on a small level or a big one, for a long time or short. Whether you’re coming or going or staying put.
So adieu, adieu to you and you and YOU.