Friday, June 22, 2007

Last Goodbyes

The end of the school year is always a sad time at international schools. The final days do not only signal the coming of summer holidays, when friends scatter in different directions for a few weeks visit in their home country, but also a departure for many families, moving on to a new 'assignment', usually in a new country.

At our children's school here in Switzerland there is about a 25% turnover each year. It feels very fluid, an ebb and flow, because as a quarter of the families leave, the same number of new families join the school community-- and it is just that, a community.

Some years are not too bad; dear friends being spared the announcement of transfer. Some years, like this one, are tougher. Our family was hit especially hard this year with the loss of several good friends.

The farewell parties for the parents are always bittersweet. They come in all shapes and sizes; small, intimate dinners held at elegant restaurants, boisterous potluck 'ladies only' nights held in someone's house or a subdued couples' apero (Swiss cocktail party) in someone's glorious garden. No matter the form the parties take, the feelings are the same; happy for the husband, as often a transfer means a promotion, melancholy for the wife because moving means having to re-establish her children in their new school and country and start all over again to form friendships not only for her kids but also for herself.

Expat friendships are intense. All of us are in the same boat-- far from family, in a very new and often different environment, trying to figure out a new culture. We depend on eachother. But, as intimate as the moms' friendships are, the childrens' are even more so. While we moms are able to carve out a couple of hours a week to be together, our children spend eight hours each day together in school. We all learn to make dear friends very fast.

So, last night was a farewell party for Barb, a Minnesotan who has lived in Switzerland for the past four years. From the first day she arrived she dove head first into the Parent's Association and other volunteering opportunities at school. She was a 'presence' at the school, easy to talk to and truly loved by all. She is moving on to London. The party was a loud potluck-- fabulous food, many laughs and lots of Sangria. But also some tears.

As I climbed into bed last night, I had a knot in my stomach. Expatriated women who follow their husbands all over the world, settling in their families' as they go, are the most interesting group of people I have met. All so bright, most with big, strong personalities (for one must be strong to survive being uprooted every three years or so) and steadfastly loyal and supportive of one and other.

They have a name for this time of year, when school ends and the farewell parties begin--'the dreaded months'. And for a few moments last night that's exactly what I felt, dread.

But this morning, I got up, changed diapers, made breakfast, started a load of laundry and tried to look forward to our summer holidays back in the States. When we return here to school in late August, there will be a 'welcome picnic' for all the new families who have arrived, and all the new friends we will again make.

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