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  • Valérie Besanceney

On Leaving and Saying Goodbye

June has always become the ‘leaving month’ in my head. Like most teachers, I don’t think in calendar years, but in school years. We start in August (or September when we’re lucky) and we usually finish the year in June. This particular month of June, which has sadly been marked with final goodbyes, has led me to reflect a little more on leaving and saying goodbye.

For many Third Culture Kids, June often means that they are leaving one place behind to begin a new school year elsewhere. Going away parties have been had. Students have left their classmates and friends behind clutching picture books, signed pillow cases, and t-shirts. Moving boxes have been packed, and tears have been shed. Not just by those who left, but also by those who stay behind. 

Somehow the Von Trapp family bedtime song has been stuck in my head for days now: ‘So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu…’. Of all the phrases for leaving, I like the German ‘auf Wiedersehen’ best because it implies a reunion. 

Peter Pan’s words resonate. I don’t like “… saying goodbye, because saying goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting”. I agree with Peter Pan and prefer to say ‘see you soon’, even when I have no idea when ‘soon’ is, except that I always hope for it to be sooner rather than later.


As much as I know that memories will be with me wherever I go, and that people will be in my heart no matter how far away we are from each other, being apart hurts. Knowing we will not be able to look each other in the eye and laugh and cry together makes me miss my friends before they’ve even left. 

Luckily, technology is making this easier. However, as my three-year-old pointed out the other day, we can’t touch them “because they are in the pooter” (computer). And I’m pretty sure that, at least in my life-time, we won’t be able to climb into the ‘pooter’ and nothing will ever compare to a real hug. 

My parents always quoted Edmond Haraucourt whenever we had to say goodbye: “Partir, c’est mourir un peu” (translation: Leaving is to die a little). It sounds so heavy, but there is some truth to it. 

At times, leaving is a final ‘adieu’. Even when we hope for a ‘see you soon’, there is a sense of loss when parting with people who have touched our lives deeply, with places dear to us, with pets we’ve grown attached to. Knowing we will not see them for a long time, feels like we are losing part of ourselves. And unfortunately, we can never know for sure if we will definitely see each other again. 

As Ruth Van Reken and David Pollock point out in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, it is of utmost importance for children (and adults) to say goodbye properly in order not to leave unresolved grief. Saying goodbye may be different for everyone and we all need to do so on our own terms. However, saying farewell is such an important part of the grieving process when experiencing loss. For Third Culture Kids, it is part of an annual process, sometimes more than once a year.

It’s important we help our students and children understand the stages of transition and the importance of proper farewells. We need to give them the tools to work through these emotions and losses. Not only so they can achieve closure with one chapter of their lives, but also so that they will be open to new experiences and friends. This is what motivated me to write B at Home: Emma Moves Again, and what is encouraging me to improve the Moving Booklet which I give my students when they leave.

And as most TCKs and ATCKs know, the ‘see you soon’ to one friend imperatively implies ‘hello’ to another person. In the world of international schools, we quickly form strong bonds with those who share this understanding of what it means to leave or to be left behind. In turn, these ‘hellos’ turn into more ‘see you soons’, and hopefully turn into more happy reunions. 

Leaving or being left behind is, for most of us, not easy. Winnie the Pooh says it best when he reminds us: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. 


This summer, I am struggling with some ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you soons’, but am especially grateful for the ‘see you soons’ that are being realized. A few weeks with our family across the ocean, a weekend visit with a dear friend who I haven’t seen in years, a phone call with my old roommate who I rarely have the chance to Skype with due to awkward time difference, and the treasured lunch dates and dinners with family and friends that we rarely seem to have time for during the busy school year.  

Staying in touch and continuing to build onto our existing family bonds and friendships, even when we cannot always be together, matters. And in the end, the people, who matter most, never truly leave.

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