In any globally mobile community there are three types of people – The Leaver, The Arriver and The Stayer. I have been all of these people. The Leaver is the one you see at this time of year running around like a crazy person, trying to finalise the removalists and the pet’s quarantine requirements all whilst working through the heartbreaking goodbyes of people, places and possessions. The Arriver is the new kid on the block, wide eyed, bushy-tailed, ready to make new friends and make the most of the incredible opportunity afforded to them by living in a new country. In most cases, Expatriate communities and even the occasional school, provide some level of support for these two types of people. But what about The Stayer?
Recently whilst waiting in a foyer for a meeting, I was entertained by two young children playing in one of those heavy revolving doors, popping in and out and going around and around, until they were so dazed and dizzy that they collapsed in a heap on the floor nearby. Their actions and the consequence, reminded me of The Stayer at this time of year.
The Stayer is the person who is left behind when the Leaver leaves and they are the one in situ, when the Arrivers arrive. They are thrown into transition even though their suitcase is still in the cupboard. They may be adults and they may be children. The reality for most globally mobile kids is that “the collection of significant losses and separations before the end of adolescence is often more than most people experience in a lifetime.”* Those dazed and dizzy feelings of the kids I watched playing in the revolving door are not unfamiliar to The Stayer after a few seasons of people going, people coming, people going, people coming…and so it goes on. To avoid the collapse on the floor nearby, over time the perception can be that it becomes easier, less painful to stop making the hellos because they will only lead to goodbyes. But is it really easier?
A lot of my work revolves (pardon the pun) around supporting globally mobile students and their families through the process of transition and I can tell you that avoiding the hellos to minimize the pain of goodbyes is not a healthy way to manage relationships. Too often, it makes the staying harder and leads to difficulty in developing and maintaining relationships in later life. So what can be done to work through the grief and loss of all those goodbyes, to enable The Stayer to develop and maintain new relationships and enjoy their life abroad?
- It’s OK to be sad – that wise old bear Winnie the Pooh says it best – “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” Accept how you feel. Your feelings are normal and over time, you will heal.
- Talk about it or do something – communicate with your family/friends/trusted adult about how you are feeling. Articulating your feelings into words, then hearing them, can help to bring about clarity and calm. If verbalizing your feelings is overwhelming, do something else that will help you to think about how you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. Get creative. E.g. Write in a journal, draw or paint, go for a long walk/run/cycle/swim either on your own or with a trusted companion, create a photo album of memories etc.
- Listen – there are two types of listening ~ the silent listening where you just look, nod, add the occasional ‘Ok’ or ‘Oh’ and the active listening where you repeat what you have heard and understood. Silent listening may be all that is required to bring relief but sometimes repeating the central message you’ve heard provides reassurance and stability amidst the chaos of emotion
- Build a Raft
- Reconcile any differences you may have with those leaving
- Affirm those who have been important to you
- Farewell appropriately The Leaver and places that are meaningful to you both
- Think Ahead about how you can maintain contact with The Leaver yet also leave room (in your heart and life) to welcome new Arrivers.
- Step on the Pathway to Change by asking yourself these questions and answering them honestly. You may need to go back to Step 2 afterwards
- Actions – What am I doing to actively say goodbye? What am I doing to actively connect with others? Am I actively involved in activities/the community here? Do I do things with friends on a regular basis?
- Feelings – Why do I feel sad to see my friends leave? Do I feel OK about making new friends? Do I feel good about my life in this community? Do I feel like I belong in this community?
- Thoughts – Am I gradually getting ready to see my friends go? Am I ready to make new friends? Do I belong here now?
- Extend Grace – to those leaving, those arriving and those who are staying (including yourself). The process of transition is different for everyone…and it is a process, not an event so be gracious and patient.
- Open the gate to your friendship circle – it is possible to make new friends without being disloyal to your old friends.
If you are The Stayer during this “Moving Season,” know that you are not alone. As you navigate your way through the copious farewell parties and preparing for the new arrivals in your community, remember these two things – that the only way to have a friend is to be one** and every globally mobile community needs The Stayer – you give stability to that revolving door. As a Leaver, an Arriver and a fellow Stayer – thank you!
*Pollock and Van Reken
**Ralph Waldo Emerson
With thanks to the work of David Pollock, Ruth van Reken, Douglas Ota and Lois Bushong
Photo Credits: Bristol Prospectus & Through Revolving Doors