Three Types of Goodbyes
For the time being, I can safely say there are three types of goodbyes: there are goodbyes you say to people you will certainly see again, goodbyes meant for people you will never see again, and goodbyes for those whose possibility of reappearance is ambiguous. The three types come with varying degrees of loss and pain, but they emit a particular feeling when used for international friends. For three years, I have said countless farewells to exchange students, and I have a few stories about the three types.
Goodbyes to those who you will see again:
Ah! what a light and hopeful goodbye! A separation that leaves only a moment of sorrow followed by the assurance that another hello is in store sometime in the future. This past winter, as school ended for the semester, I sat in the car of a dear friend, waiting for her grandmother to call. We both knew when that call arrived, it meant our parting. We sat in that car for probably over an hour, going over the last two and a half years of our friendship, all the inside jokes, all of the people we had known. We made plans of what we would do when we met again, and we let the silence float between us with retrospection. The call came, and I said goodbye with a knot in my throat. She left and I was happy for her. Off for an exciting year abroad in Korea. We will meet again when she returns, and knowing this makes me feel less depressed about parting with her.
This type of goodbye secures a friendship that defies oceans, country borders, and time zones. It’s a goodbye that is guaranteed a hello in the future.
Goodbyes to those who you will never see again:
This is such a resolute goodbye. Sadness but with a finality. I was on a subway in Korea filled with Koreans with the exception of me and the tall, slender Ukrainian beside me. It was our last subway ride together and with her returning to Ukraine and me to the US, I felt we would never see each other again. As we code switched between English and Korean, talking about our classmates, our home countries, and our stay in Korea, I listened to the announcements of each subway station. Each stop meant we were a station closer to my exit and the end of our friendship. As my stop came closer, she grabbed my hand and squeezed it. Soon, my stop was announced, and we both stood up, tears in our eyes. We hugged, and I left, never to see her again.
This goodbye leaves a friendship in the past. It hurts especially when you realize you will never share another real-life moment with them. The only hope is online communication, which usually loses its frequency from the inevitable force of time. From this type of farewell, I only have fond memories of us together, which only leave a bittersweet taste.
Goodbyes to those who you may or may not see again:
For me, this is the hardest type of goodbye. I’m a wreck after separating from my international friends. Recently, a friend was nice enough to come with me to the airport to go home for the summer. It was his first time so many friends left him in such a short time, and he repeatedly asked how I was able to do it every semester. I told him I just got used to it, but that was only half of the truth. On one hand, I came to accept the inevitability of parting with my foreign friends. On the other, saying goodbye to some people never got easier. As he stood with me in the never-ending line to the security inspection area, the sadness grew. There was no telling if I would ever see him again. Yet, he kept promising that we would. I couldn’t help but think of all of my other friends to whom I had made the same promise. Some I had seen, others I had not. The uncertainty of it all made the situation worse. When it was time for me to step into the next room, I cried my adieu and waited in the next line as a sobbing fool.
When you don’t know if you’ll ever see the person again, the goodbye is in a state of limbo. Not light-hearted nor numbingly permanent. For me, I know that in most cases, when I say goodbye to an international friend, the likelihood of seeing them again is low, but if I do see them again it will not be under the same circumstances. After we leave each other, I’m always left unsure whether I should tuck those particular friendship memories in a box and pull them out once in a while only to reminisce, or if I should try to keep the friendship alive by remaining in contact. I am left with both the fear that I will never see them again and the desperate hope that I will.
No matter the goodbye, it’s never easy. Whether it’s at the end of a study abroad stint or saying farewell to international people studying abroad where you live, a goodbye of international proportions is, in my opinion, the most difficult. Not only are you separating from the people, but also the unique intercultural experiences you had with them. I am both thankful for the time we had together, but also saddened by the inevitable separation that international friendship brings. Despite the foretold end of a friendship, however, I never regret making international friends. A goodbye is just one dim memory out of a hundred spectacular ones I am able to share with friends from all over the world.