Amid the constant departures and arrivals of an international school, let’s consider one group of students that is often forgotten.

The front door flew open, the school bag dropped to the floor, and fast, furious footsteps stormed up the stairs. The bedroom door slammed. Silence. We had been living in Singapore less than four months the first time I witnessed this chain of events unfold. My six-year-old son came home devastated because his new school friend was leaving. It became a familiar scenario.


In any international school there are three types of students: The Leaver, The Arriver, and The Stayer. The Leaver is the one running around the playground, clutching his or her cultural memento half-filled with signatures and well wishes from staff and students, saying heartbreaking goodbyes to beloved people, places, and possessions. The Arriver is the new kid on the block, who has walked a mile in The Leaver’s shoes just weeks before. This one is wide-eyed, ready to make new friends, and happy to capitalise on the opportunity of living in a new country. Most international schools support The Arriver and a few provide some support for The Leaver. What about The Stayer?

The Stayer is the student who is left behind when The Leaver leaves and the one still in situ when The Arriver arrives. He is thrown into transition, yet his suitcase is still in the closet. For most globally mobile kids “the collection of significant losses and separations before the end of adolescence is often more than most people experience in a lifetime,” according to author Ruth Van Reken. After a few seasons of people going and others coming, it may seem easier and less painful to stop making the hellos because they only lead to goodbyes. But is it really easier?

The answer is no. Avoiding the hellos to minimise the pain of goodbyes is not a healthy way to manage relationships. Too often, it makes staying harder, learning arduous, and developing and maintaining relationships difficult later in life. What can The Stayer do to ensure success?

Six Steps towards being a successful Stayer

  1. Feeling Sad is OK – Winnie the Pooh says it best. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
  2. Talk or Do – tell a trusted adult or friend how you feel. Hearing your own words can help bring clarity and calm. If verbalizing your feelings is hard, try to express them differently. Write in a journal, draw, compose a song, go for a walk.
  3. “Build a RAFT,” says sociologist and author David Pollock:
  • Reconcile any differences you have with The Leavers or The Stayers. Forgive others and ask for forgiveness.
  • Affirm those Leavers and Stayers who are important to you. Write a letter or email, give a gift, say it face-to-face. Create a list of all the things that are still good in your life, even without your friend.
  • Farewell The Leaver appropriately and the places that are meaningful to you both. This takes time.
  • Think ahead about how to maintain contact with The Leaver yet remain open to The Arrivers. Create a Hope Calendar, recording events that you are looking forward to in the coming months.

4.“Move AFT on your RAFT,” says Doug Ota, psychologist and author, by answering the following questions:

  • Actions – What am I actively doing to say goodbye, connect with others, and get involved?
  • Feelings – Why do I feel sad to see my friends leave? Do I feel OK about making new friends? How do I feel about my life here?
  • Thoughts – Am I preparing to see my friends go? Am I ready to make new friends? Do I belong here now? Refer to Step 2 if necessary.
  1. Extend Grace – to those leaving, arriving, and staying (including yourself). The process of transition is different for everyone.
  2. Open the Gate to your friendship circle – it is possible to make new friends without being disloyal to your old ones.

As international schools prepare for the hellos and bid farewell, they must also care for those left behind. Successful Stayers bring stability to our international school communities. What can your school do to support your Stayers?

Jane Barron is an educator with 24 years of experience in international and local schools and a Youth Intercultural Transition Specialist at Globally Grounded. Jane consults to international and local schools, families and globally mobile students – developing their understanding of the impact of cross-cultural mobility, creating programs and implementing support mechanisms to enhance learning and life. 


Pollock, D.C. and Van Reken, R. E. 2009. Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Ota, D. W. 2014. Safe Passage: How mobility affects people & what international schools should do about it. UK: Summertime Publishing.

Originally published in Vol. 31 No. 3 February 2017 The International Educator



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