At the end of the school year, many families leave, while others stay. For all of them, this transition time can be challenging. But as Tina L. Quick writes: “transitions are a process, a life experience that can be purposefully managed” … if done in a sensible way.
There is a lot of advice available for expats who happen to be moving away from The Hague or the Netherlands; reminders about what needs to be attended to such as deregistration at the local gemeente, terminating utilities such as telephone or internet service, but what about those expats who remain? They will experience many emotions just as the leavers do; first they will be happy and enthusiastic for their friends who are on the move. They will feel involved during this first phase, a time when most things remain status quo. But once the leaving stage begins, where the departure date is approaching quickly, friends unintentionally begin to loosen emotional ties, backing away from relationships and responsibilities. They’ll call less frequently and will hold off sharing new experiences. Leavers commonly deny feelings of sadness or grief which can complicate planning a move, hoping to avoid emotionally draining moments. During this process of “detachment”, stayers can feel confused, and even angry or frustrated. They often feel they should be moving too. But stayers will tend to exclude leavers from future move considerations.
Leavers begin to realize they will not be a part of future community activities and planning, and start to feel left out. Resentment and rejection can cause conflicts among friends and collegues during this stage. Not acknowledging and/or sharing such feelings only exacerbates emotions and can lead one to act inappropriately during this stage.
By avoiding conflict resolution, leavers and stayers risk advancing negative feelings of “unfinished businesses” into the next stage of the relationship. Lingering wounds can cause bitterness and disappointment.
Expat leavers commonly celebrate their departure, but what about the expat stayers? They will face a certain emptiness, knowing they need to move forward without that reliable friend or collegue. They experience varying levels of grief and sadness. While leavers busy themselves with acclimating to a new community, stayers will think about life without them.
Similar to the empty nest syndrome, stayers need support from others in their community. Both, leavers and stayers will need to find out how to function effectively in their new world. Hopefully, after a while, both will adapt and find balance and, eventually, be able to approach one another again.
Knowing about the very normal process of transition, about the various stages helps to be prepared, to recognize where we are now and what will come next. It can also help to influence decisions for “dealing productively with the inevitable losses of any transition experience”.
Here are 4 tips on how to make this transition for both, leavers and stayers, more bearable:
1) Involve and get involved
If you are the leaver, involve your friends and collegues into the process and make them feel that you care about their help and advice. If you are the stayer: offer your help and be there for your friends and collegues. They will need all the help they can get. – Keep in mind that emotions will run high, don’t take things that will be said or done too personally.
2) Give some space
Be prepared to an emotional rollercoaster. If you feel that it’s too much for you to bare, keep a bit of distance – but make sure your friend or collegue knows it’s only temporary. – You may also consider to arrange a short timeout for both of you, either together or apart.
3) Show acceptance
Make sure to take some time to let eachother know what you mean to eachother. What did the other do or say that impacted your life? What qualities has the other one shared that you’re going to remember?
Don’t forget to say a proper goodbye to people, pets, places and possessions: teachers, neighbors, the lovely lady in the shop… everyone deserves a goodbye. Nothing hurts more than to know that someone you considered a friend or that you liked, moved without saying goodbye. – Taking pictures of your favourite places and possessions (you may not take with you) will be nice memories for later.
To all those who will leave, and to all those who will stay, make sure you let others know what they meant for you, and if you say “let’s keep in touch”, sincerely mean it (and do it)