“Leaving” Before “Starting” the One Year Trip

 

I recently read an article titled, “Why Expats Hate June”. Indeed, for many “Junes”, we had to say goodbye to many foreign friends in Kunming as they embark on another new path or return back to their home country.

This year was finally our turn to leave.

Taking photos with families of graduates
Taking photos with families of graduates

Students cried. Girls cried. Boys cried. Teachers cried.

The difference however from 2008 was that not just the adults are saying goodbyes but our three teenage children are also saying goodbye.

And I didn’t realize that it can be a very difficult and emotional time for them…until this June.

I attended Nathan’s tutorial school graduation ceremony this year. Students cried. Girls cried. Boys cried. Teachers cried. They prayed and blessed each other one by one. The deep friendship and mutual admiration are so evident among the students and teachers.

Uri is one is Nathan's best friend at the tutorial school where they were in Algebra and book club together.
Uri is one is Nathan’s best friend at the tutorial school where they were in Algebra and book club together.

Although Nathan was not graduating as a senior from the school, this was his last year in the school. So during the ceremony, the school had a special moment to say goodbye to Nathan by having him standup and having one of his good classmate pray for him. It was a special moment for him and for us as his parents.

Since Nathan will be leaving the tutorial school after the one year backpacking trip, during the Graduation Ceremony a classmate prayed for him.
Since Nathan will be leaving the tutorial school after the one year backpacking trip, during the Graduation Ceremony a classmate prayed for him.

The night before the graduation Nathan stayed up. I thought he was trying to review for his tests on the last day. The next day I found out that he stayed until 4AM to write a personal letter to each of the students and teachers and he also prepared a photo magnet of our backpacking adventure for each of them. My first reaction was that he should have used the time to study or to finish his Chinese homework which has been overdue for several days.

he stayed until 4AM to write a personal letter

After attending the graduation and seeing the close bond among the students and teachers, I felt ashamed of my reaction to his staying up late at night to write personal letters. I now understand more personally why leaving for a year is hard for him. So when he said he wanted to stay late for the party after graduation or to have a sleepover with his classmates, I did not object.

The tutorial school is quite special and I am so happy that all three children were blessed to be part of it and I am very thankful to the many teachers who poured their lives to these students.


 

Joani took a photo with Kai En during the Tutorial school graduation.
Joani took a photo with Kai En during the Tutorial school graduation.

For Joani, it was different.

“Can I have Qi stay over for a week?” Joani smiled as sweetly as she can possibly be. “Can I have a real summer week with no homework, no Chinese, have a movie marathon, and to do whatever we want? I won’t see her for a whole year.”

“What if you set aside 2-3 hours each day to do some work?” I counter-proposed. I felt much better after saying this.

Although I tried to change the topic, Joani kept coming back to this request. As a parent, my first reaction was to have a mental list of things that Joani should be doing: Chinese, journal, country research, etc. “What if they watched movie all day long?” I thought with a shudder.

Ever since growing in Luchun, Joani & Qi have been best friends, chatting over iPad everyday.
Ever since growing in Luchun, Joani & Qi have been best friends, chatting over iPad everyday.

I forgot how joyful she can be

I finally relented that Joani can have a “real” summer for a week.

“Really? Really?” Joani could not believe I agreed.

I was surprised at how joyful she was. With the many arguments we had over Chinese and over her watching too much movies on the iPad, I realized that I forgot how joyful she can be. I miss that.


 

Olivia celebrated her graduations with her classmates
Olivia celebrated her graduations with her classmates

For Olivia, her 3 years at the Kunming International Academy (KiA) has come to a close.

It was not until age 16, did she go to a “real” American school. Before, she was homeschooled or half-homeschooled. Many teens dread going to school, but for Olivia it was like going to Disneyland. She even likes taking tests because finally someone is “grading” her school work. At the school, she was the class president and involved also in care group, chapels, teacher’s aid, school musical, fun fair, varsity sports, etc. Being a small school, she knows everyone and everyone knows her. She found a new life and new identity there.

We took a photo with a life-size cutout image of Olivia, symbolizes how to cope with our life without Olivia after she leaves.
We took a photo with a life-size cutout image of Olivia, symbolizes how to cope with our life without Olivia after she leaves.

Therefore, thinking about leaving her friends, her school, her home “forever” has been very hard on her

One day after dinner, Olivia suddenly started to tear up

One day after dinner, Olivia suddenly started to tear up. I didn’t know why she was crying. Annie used hand motion and urged me to hug her.

“I don’t want school to end,” Olivia sobbed. “I don’t want to leave Kunming, my home.”

Thinking about leaving school and Kunming, Olivia started to sob.
Thinking about leaving school and Kunming, Olivia started to sob.

We talked about what she wanted to do for the last three weeks in Kunming before leaving for the one year trip.

“I want time to write goodbye notes to my friends and teachers. I want to go on sleep overs. I want to visit all the places we used to go in Kunming, like my old Chinese elementary school, the West Mountain, the apartments we used to stay on  青年路, the 麻辣烫 in the city center….”

I promised her that we will do all that and more.

Although we will be traveling together for a year, Joani and Nathan already is missing Olivia.
Although we will be traveling together for a year, Joani and Nathan already is missing Olivia.

he choked and “leaked” tears throughout most of the 20 minute speech

Although Olivia’s graduating class is the largest in KIA’s history, it is only 25 students. Because KIA is such a small school and everyone knows each other intimately, Olivia feels that instead of finding lifelong friends in college, many of her high school friends will be her lifelong friends.

At the graduation, she and another classmate made a touching slideshow with baby photos of the students. Mr. Frank, her English teacher, was the commencement speaker and attempted to say goodbye to the students, many of them started KIA since kindergarten, but Mr. Frank was unable to continue as he choked and “leaked” tears throughout most of the 20 minute speech, including sing the Muppets song, “Saying Goodbye”. There was not a dry eye among the students or the parents.

All the students hugged and took photos as they say goodbye.
All the students hugged and took photos as they say goodbye.

After the ceremony, we all hugged, took photos with all the students and their families, ate cakes, say goodbyes…We feel blessed to experience this close knit community.

Expats hate June. I hate June.


 

“Saying Goodbye” – Muppets Take Manhattan

Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye’s such a hard thing to say
Touching a hand, wondering why
It’s time for saying goodbye

Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Make’s us remember the good times we’ve had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It’s time for saying goodbye

Don’t want to leave, but we both know
Sometime’s it’s better to go
But somehow I know, we’ll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I don’t know just when
Your in my heart, So until then
It’s time for saying goodbye

Somehow I know, we’ll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I don’t know just when
Your in my heart, So until then
Wanna smile, wanna cry
Saying goodbye

La la la la la la la la la
It’s time for saying goodbye
La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la

In celebration, all the students threw their caps into the sky.
In celebration, all the students threw their caps into the sky.

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