Something that you don’t ever consider when you become an international teacher is the amount of times you will have to say goodbye.
I’m not naive; I understand that life is full of greetings and partings and that in every industry, people move on.
However, I could never have expected the depth of friendships that can be formed in such short spaces of time while working overseas – and the emotions that flood when they abruptly come to an end.
It’s not goodbye
Of course, there’s your initial outward journey but you are mentally prepared for that. Comforted by the fact that you are taking your future into your own hands and setting off on an adventure, you soldier through, thinking more “see you later” than goodbye.
And then, of course, you start making new friends as you embark on your international adventure – something that happens very quickly as you navigate the adversity of a life in a new country, culture and climate.
It starts at the airport when you are collected; a group of strangers thrown together from different walks of life and corners of the globe. Armed with your hold luggage and whole lot of hope, you start to navigate the quirks and intricacies of a new country.
Tasks that would take minutes in your home country can become an ordeal or an adventure. However, a problem shared is a problem halved, and through the hilarity and hardships, friendships are forged here.
With each home milestone missed or birthday celebrated through a screen, these friends become more important in your life.
Before long, it becomes hard to imagine what life was like before you met them, never mind what life would be like without them.
If you are fortunate to find yourself with the right people at the right time, they become your home away from home. This has become even more heightened over the past 18 months as we have found ourselves cut off from home and more reliant than ever on our friendship networks abroad.
Then suddenly, someone announces “we’re off” and you realise this bond you’ve formed will be severed by distances – after all, international teachers do not usually move to a school down the road or even to another city, but thousands of miles away to other time zones or hemispheres.
Different every time
You’d think it would get easier but, after 10 years of goodbyes, no such luck. But I have come to accept the fact they never get any easier and all represent different moments in your life.
Some are bittersweet, where the happiness felt for the friend almost outweighs the sadness of them leaving. Inevitably, there are others where people are called home unexpectedly, before it feels right. The hardest goodbyes make you question your resolve, forcing you to reflect on your own decisions to move overseas and to confront the question, is it time to go home?
Perhaps all we can do in these moments is reflect on the words of the great philosopher Winnie the Pooh, who said: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
One thing those 10 years have taught me is to treasure those friendships while you can.
Niall Statham is head of physical education at Hartland International School in Dubai