Leaving on a Jet Plane

Friends forever,
miles apart,
maybe in distance,
but never at heart.
– adapted from Helen Keller.

So that time of year has come, as it does all around the world, when families start scouting for incredibly large cardboard boxes, so they can move onto their next jolly grand adventure. Some are moving with heavy hearts, others with a skip in their step, as they reunite with family and friends from their homeland. Most juggle a confusing mix of emotions that change from moment to moment.

In our local bilingual nursery, we are losing 90% of the English group this summer. Some children are returning to their homelands after adventures in Switzerland, some are moving on to new adventures and a few are moving up to local kindergartens. How do the children who remain here cope with this huge hole in their lives? We are careful to explain what is happening to the children and may use books such as Half a World Away (Libby Gleeson). We make sure that we mark all departures with a celebration of their time with us. Presents are exchanged, thanks given, songs sung, cake eaten and tears shed. Such rituals are vital to mark the end of a child’s time spent in one place and the beginning of a new life in a new location.

Besides parties (there should always be time for parties!), there are the “old-school” and “new tech” ways to retain precious friendships between children when they move away.

When I was little, I had an expat friend. She would spend some of her time in a tiny village in Cornwall, England and then fly back to the scorching sands of UAE. I always knew where she was in the world, as I had a huge map on my wall, adorned by a series of big, colourful pins. We now use the same technique with my daughter (Missy M). Her map uses stickers to track where Daddy is (he travels a lot), Grandpa and Gran, Gramps, Grandma and the many friends who now live in strange new places scattered around the world.

One new sticker is appearing on the map this week. Missy M has just lost a lovely friend to the demon of relocation. They have decided, much to my delight, to write to each other! Actual letters! Using real paper, struggling handwriting and blotchy ink! The decision has been driven by the same angst I had when I was little – namely, “Why do I never get any letters?” In an effort to address this crisis, a plan of letter swapping between continents has been devised! There is hope for us all yet!

If the pull of the electronic cannot be ignored, I can thoroughly recommend an app called Tocomail. It is a closed and safe system through which kids can send emails, photos, audios and drawings to approved friends. When Missy M was younger, she would send drawings to her friends, and now she writes messages, takes photos and sends little scraps of audio. She has wonderful fun continuing to share her life with her friends, despite the distance between them.

It goes without saying that friends moving away can be distressing; for us, as well as for the little people in our lives! It is a painful part of the expat experience that emphasises the sheer transitory nature of the whole darn thing. However, it can also be an enriching experience in which we have friends all over the world. This means that we now have many crazy new places to visit, and our lives become bigger and expanded as a result.

We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had with souls that made our souls wiser, that spoke what we thought, that told us what we knew, that gave us leave to be what we inly are.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Tammy Furey

Tammy eases the expat parenting experience through coaching and teaching throughout Switzerland. She also writes, blogs, runs workshops, gives talks, and, of course, parents (her daughter)! Find out more at www.fureycoaching.com.

Illustration by Laura Munteanu

Laura has studied Journalism and Advertising, and has been working as a journalist and an illustrator. She has been illustrating for magazines, websites, charity and diverse campaigns. She lives in Zurich with her husband and nine-year-old daughter.

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