As an expatriate, you learn how to let go and move on. Saying goodbye is part of this transient life. As global nomads, we can avoid goodbyes by just ignoring them, or we can consider saying goodbye as an art. If done well it gives us new focus. In this article, we explore the many forms ‘goodbye’ can take, and how to say a good goodbye. The art of saying goodbye gives us closure, which helps us to enjoy happy and healthy hellos in the next phase of our lives. 

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Saying Goodbye: Expat Reality

Expat life is often misunderstood. The difference between traveling and living abroad is huge. The reality is far from easy.

When your home is nowhere and everywhere, you have within you a richness formed by a kaleidoscope of places, people, and cultures. You belong to a tribe of 56.8 million expats – which is 0.77 percent of the total global population. Do you find it easier to be understood by other international expatriates? Thought so…. 

Many TCKs and expat children know the feeling of loss early on in life. The grief you feel over people that are not dead, and places that stay with you forever. 

You would assume that this gets better as you get older. Not so. You learn the art of saying goodbye through hard earned lessons. You come to know the difference between the bad, the hard and the good goodbye.

Saying goodbye matters as an international expatriate, illustrated by many world globes.

Saying Goodbye: Life Is a String of Pearls

A multitude of international experiences forms into a string of ‘life’ pearls. Pearls, however, are said to mean tears. Tears of joy or sadness. 

Life is made up of a few moments all strung together like pearls. Each moment is a pearl, and it is up to us to pick the ones with the highest luster. If we do not have time to do great things, take a few gentle moments and do small things in a great way. ― Joyce Hilfer

If life is a string of pearls, and pearls mean tears, then my pearl neckless would be opera length. The string of many goodbyes clutters my TCK experience. As a 3rd generation expatriate, I ask myself if the art of saying goodbye is, in fact, the ability to move on. International Living develops a different view of what 'home' means, illustrated by people running around the globe.

In my experience, goodbyes can take many forms. The impact of each type makes the new roads easier or more difficult to travel. You can say a bad, a hard or a good goodbye. Let’s explore them…

Saying Goodbye: The Bad Goodbye

You can say goodbye badly and live with the mental scars afterward. Most of the time a bad goodbye means you didn’t get the chance to really close out. 

The bad goodbye is….

Loss of Life

  • How you wanted to say goodbye but didn’t get the opportunity. The loss of life altogether is the most difficult one. Global travelers tend to live with loss more than the average person as safety, security, illness, and accidents carry a high cost. The mental impact of the cumulative exposure to unexpected deaths is underrated at best, and the psychological responses to loss can be hard to understand. 
  • If bad news arrives and you cannot get there in time. You cannot say goodbye to your close family and friends because you’re stuck in an airport, or in a remote duty station. The feeling of guilt combined with grief can be overbearing. The bad goodbye at its worst and most misunderstood aspect of expat life…

Not Saying Goodbye

  • As an expat child, you often don’t get to say goodbye to all your friends, who may be away when you leave, or on their way somewhere else. The grief of not being able to say goodbye remains and sticks to you like superglue.  
  • How you decide to ignore saying goodbye, even to those that you didn’t care for so much. Communication Barriers include perception, prejudice and stereotyping illustrated by man and woman seeing different images in their heads. Read more on thegoodista.comThis amputation approach can feel liberating. It is an opportunity you get as a global nomad more than once. You can truly ‘unfriend’ for good, as you leave a country, job or situation. You know how refreshing it can feel to just let go with no regrets. It comes with a warning sign, however: The world is a small place, so if – or when – you see this person again it is awkward and unnecessarily emotional. Maybe a goodbye would have cleared the sea of thoughts, and allowed a new relationship to start?

Saying Goodbye: The Hard Goodbye

The hard goodbye is filled with emotions that range from rage to utter sadness. If you do have a choice, a sense of escapism may be your salvation – and new beginnings take place. The forced departure is, however, one that remains utterly difficult, and often felt down through future generations.

Goodbye to Home and Country

If you have the choice the feeling of loss is not smaller, but can at least be processed logically. 

When plans are in play to say goodbye to ‘home and country’ it is a true hard goodbye. The world today brings such thoughts into play for many expats.

What you thought of as ‘home’ is no longer be regarded as such. The place you felt connected to in so many ways no longer speaks your language. You have a luxury of choice when you’re morally against what a political sing-song is dictating.

This is different from a forced migration and instead based on an inner sense of knowing where your ideas and ideals belong. It is hard as it is an emotional upheaval, as well as a bureaucratic nightmare….

The Unwanted Goodbye

War, civil strife, and political upheaval force many to uproot and leave for good. To say goodbye is a luxury that is not afforded, and thus the feeling of loss so much greater. It is in stark contrast to anything most expatriates ever experience, however very much important to highlight. It is a bad and a hard goodbye all wrapped into one. Humanitarian Workers are becoming an Endangered Species due to external violence, internal pressures and poor lifestyle choices, illustrated by man sitting among many question marks, discussed in this post on thegoodista.com

Migration and its consequences are central to today’s’ political upheaval. At its core, there are people who have lost and feel their loss, on a daily basis. The goodbye was never wanted, and no closure is provided naturally. 

Saying Goodbye: The Good Goodbye

As international constant re-settlers, we enrich our lives through our knowledge that the world is, in fact, a very small place. Goodbye doesn’t mean ‘forever’ if you don’t want to. Goodbye is better said in other languages – where Aurevoir, Arrivederci, and Auf Wiedersehn means ‘See you again’. 

To live through the inevitable leaving process is to know how to say goodbye to enable a new hello. 

The Good Goodbye

In their book “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds”, David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken suggest to build an R.A.F.T. in order to have a proper closure:

R = Reconciliation 

Reconciliation is a way to avoid the bad goodbye. You reconcile with people and resolve issues. The process of reconciliation is not easy but helps you to avoid emotional luggage. By forgiving and getting forgiveness you can move on. 

A = Affirmation

Tell the ones that matter how important they have been to you and why. A teacher, a shopkeeper, a neighbor may have played a special role. It may sound cheesy – but a thank-you, a token of appreciation, and your words makes a difference. You will feel great and it is also an opportunity make someone feel appreciated.

F = Farewell

To really say farewell, means to go to favorite places, invite friends, and treat the departure phase as a true time to really appreciate the country you have called ‘home’ for a while. Fare-the-well brings closure. Tears of joy and sadness need to come out. You will get a real sense of ending a chapter, and open the door to a new one. 

T = Think Destination

Think where you are about your new destination. Look at a map, imagine where you will live, and what that country has to offer. Dream a bit, and make it part of a new adventure. It eases the going and invites a new beginning. 

Saying Goodbye: The Art of Saying Goodbye

The art of saying goodbye is the ability to move on. Finding new experiences is what drives us forward. As international lifers, we feel rich from a multitude of geographical exposures and people. We become chameleon-like in our approach to new situations and know how to navigate the unknown.  We learn that saying goodbye is a part of the whole life process, and at times it seems that we live in a world of constant goodbyes. The need to master the art of departure becomes apparent when you realize the emotional luggage you carry, as well as the real risk of loss of relationships. 

Why Saying Goodbye Matters

As international globetrotters, we get used to planning, and tagging boxes. Some baggage you cannot label, as they stay with you whether you want to or not. 

We get bizarrely used to the many departures from all that we know. The garden we loved, the laughter we heard, the shopkeepers and neighbors we chatted to…Saying goodbye is an art, illustrated by eye with an iris as a globe

In instances when saying goodbye wasn’t possible, or couldn’t be articulated orally, you turn them into memories. Yet, while the emotions remain, words get stuck. The unexpected and unplanned creates a void that says with you. This adds to the (emotional) baggage you drag around the world with you. 

What makes the art of saying goodbye so crucial is the risk of fading relationships. We have all felt the slow but sure disappearances of ‘old’ friends or family. Your life is very different, and just as much as you don’t get where they’re coming from – nor do they speak your language. Unless you make an effort to bridge and stay connected – they fade into ‘acquaintances’ and ‘distant relations’.

Saying Goodbye Welcomes Hello

If life is a string of pearls, I know that each pearl has a meaning. The good goodbyes make life easier, and the bad ones stay with you too.

In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse. ― Anthon St. Maarten, (Divine Living: The Essential Guide To Your True Destiny)

The art of saying goodbye is not a life lesson we give to everyone. For global nomads, it is part of our core. We know why closure matters, how affirmation makes us richer, and how moving on is a part of letting go. Every new chapter has a purpose, and every experience a silver lining. 

Hmmm… Whoever said goodbye was easy?

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