The Perils of International Schools (or: Goodbyes are Constant)

As you may or may not be aware of, I attend an International school over here in Malaysia.

We’re an American school of grades K-12 with just over 500 students. It’s a small place, and every year we lose our seniors and countless other families. Of course more come to take their place, and the size of the school is steadily growing; but when people leave or graduate, they don’t just move upstate. More often than not, they move across the ocean.

One of my best and closest friends’ family is moving back to the States at the end of this year–more specifically Florida, a place this rain-loving Seattle girl has yet to step foot in. I will, of course, go there someday (Wizarding World of Harry Potter, anyone? Duh.) but that doesn’t make it any easier to let go. Goodbyes become a customary thing when you live in an International community. “Going home” for somebody might mean “leaving forever” to another. And you know how you can get used to something good or convenient once you’ve had it long enough? A smartphone you can’t remember life without? The tree outside your window you used to think was breathtaking but now merely look at it like a piece of the furniture? It goes the same the other way around. Saying goodbye too many times makes it less and less difficult–now you’re numb instead of sad.

It’s a sad thing to realize–suddenly it hits you that your best friend is moving away and there is a possibility you won’t see him for a decade. But it’s almost worse to realize that you’re not even feeling apprehensive. He’s just another thing to say goodbye to. Just another twinge of sadness drifting down the stream of life, never to be seen again. You know it’s not true, you know you’ll just have to cry and be sad when the time comes… but what if you aren’t? Are you a horrible person?

I have yet to discover if I’ll cry over one of my best friends leaving for who-knows-how-long. If I’m not moved to tears, though, there’s nothing wrong with that. The comforting thought that I may see him again soon helps me detach myself from the situation, even if another part of me whispers, ‘What are the odds? You might never see him again.’ I don’t think it’s bad to detach to get away from pain–as long as you don’t unhealthily repress grief.

For some reason, goodbyes have become such a regular part of my life that I don’t struggle with them as much. I’m forced to shrug and move on every year. Is this a bad skill to have? Not always. As long as I’m not holding back tears or emotion that are actually there, there’s no problem with it in my mind. I just seem to have the ability to step away from the emotion and not feel it until it’s passed.

Do you think it’s unhealthy to detach yourself from a stressful situation like this? How have you coped with saying goodbye to people in the past? Let me know. I’d love to hear your stories. Just because I can distance myself from grief doesn’t mean I don’t experience it. If you need any advice or just want to share, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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