“So are you staying or going?" It’s a seasonal question, one that pops up each year. If you have walked the expat trail you may recognize the familiar routine. As spring gives way to summer we stop initiating conversations about the air quality and traffic and become curious about who is leaving their posting. It seems this year there are moves afoot everywhere I look. Friends that I’ve come to rely on, those with which there’s the ease of the drop in call, the last minute plans. The unavoidable truth that friends will come and go is all part of the expat routine. This past weekend I attended the first of the departure season leaving parties.
The departure season starts buoyantly, and the first leaving dos are always well attended. Friends and acquaintances write cards, print off photos, compile memento albums, and give generously to the collection. The sad fact is that later on in the summer term, you can find yourself emotionally depleted by too many farewells. There is no solution to this. You just have to pick yourself back up, attend that next party, and remember that one day it will be you that is leaving. It really is important, for both those staying behind and those moving on, that a proper farewell is had.
This revolving door scenario has always been part of expat life, but I still struggle with the whole concept. New friends of course come along, and paths will cross again with those that have left. While some goodbyes may only be temporary goodbyes, experiencing the departure of friends does not get easier with repetition. In fact it can simply make it tougher. Almost all expats speak of reaching departure fatigue at some point, which can get in the way of forming new bonds with new arrivals. Some of the first questions an expat will ask another, is "when did you arrive?" and "how long do you think you’ll be here for?" This mindset can get in the way of forming new friendships, you’re always thinking about which one of you will be the first to leave.
This is my fifth year in Beijing, so I have plenty of experience in being "the expat left behind". Of course you’re excited for your friends that are leaving, but you also feel bereft that your life is going to be different too without them. Whatever you do, don’t make the person feel guilty about leaving. No matter how upset you are, don’t make them feel bad that they are heading off on a new adventure. By all means, give yourself a bit of time to feel bad about it, but it’s better to cherish the time you had with them. No one can replace people’s places in our lives, but there is certainly room enough to let in other great people.
The expat experience is such that people are always coming and going. The temporariness and the challenge of this situation is part of what accelerates the friendship creation and in a way make it so special. So when I’m going through yet another departure season, I try and remember that goodbyes don’t have to be permanent unless you want them to be.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.