…It is the first day of the school year and I am going back to the same school where I have been for five years now. It is the same building, but to me it is not the same school. My best friend, Ben, moved away and will not be back. Two other friends who I have known since first grade moved away as well. I am supposedly returning to the familiar, and already know exactly who my teacher will be, but I feel so incredibly lonely. At recess I will miss my ‘to go to buddies’. Who will I sit next to at lunch? Maybe I should not have spent so much time with Ben in the last two months of last school year. Maybe I should have spent more time hanging out with Mike, the new friend I made in January after the winter break. However, Mike just told me he will probably leave at the end of this school year…once again I will be left behind.
Being a stayer is not easier than being the leaver or the arriver. At times, it might even be more difficult.
A few years ago, when I showed one of my (international school) friends my newly published book (B at Home: Emma Moves Again), she read the back blurb with interest and then turned to me with a slightly reproachful look.
“Great,” she said, “I love that you wrote a book for all those kids who move around a lot, it must be hard for them. But do you think you could write another one for people like me, who never moved, but always had to say goodbye to at least one good friend at the end of the school year?”
And that’s when I realized it never occurred to me what it was like to be a stayer. I had been the leaver and the arriver so many times and had always felt envious of the stayers. I had been so busy thinking about the predicament that international school kids found themselves in when they had to move around a lot that I had never even questioned how the ones felt who were always left behind and expected to welcome each new lot with open arms.
Without even realizing it, I have become the stayer. We have settled in Switzerland, have been working at the same international school for almost eight years and neither of our daughters have ever moved. My best friend came and went. My parents are thinking about moving back to my home country (the Netherlands). My daughters have had to deal with classmates, and other loved ones, moving. And we have stayed. And saying goodbye is just as hard as when I used to leave. Even when we stay, we have to learn to navigate the painful goodbyes and continue to embrace the hellos.
Interestingly enough, the stayers are often not asked how they feel about the constant transitions that take place around them, and therefore within them. However, as research tell us, mobility and moving hurts and it affects our students’ learning: the leavers, the arrivers, and the stayers. In this article and this article we have addressed the leavers and the arrivers. So how can we help our staying students.
1. Comfort instead of encourage
Acknowledge their feelings and the fact that they are staying. They will not only feel sad, but perhaps angry and they might direct those emotions at the same person they are so apprehensive to say goodbye to. I will never forget when, at the age of thirteen, my best friend told me to “just go to your stupid Luxembourg” a few days before moving. Although her words initially hurt me a lot, I later realized this was her way of expressing her sadness as well as her frustration. The stayers need to feel that their feelings are heard as well. And they need to understand that it is okay to feel many different emotions.
Pollock, Pollock and Van Reken encourage anybody in transition to build a RAFT (Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell and Think Destination). Help the stayers ensure that their relationships are in tact before leaving. The emotional burden of carrying unresolved conflicts can be just as challenging for the stayers as for the leavers (reconciliation). They also need to have time to recognize and thank those that are leaving for being in their lives (affirmation) and they need to be able to say their goodbyes (farewell). And when the leavers are thinking about themselves in a new place, the stayers will be thinking of the empty place left behind. The stayers will also have reinvent their social circles and routines. In the new edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds (2017), another acronym is provided to help younger students process the above-mentioned steps, SHIP: Saying Sorry and I forgive you, Heartfelt thanks for each other, It’s time to say goodbye, Plan for the New Place. Alternatively, in the case of the stayers, the P could stand for Plan to Stay.
3. AFT: Move AFT on your RAFT
Doug Ota, psychologist and author of Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it (2014), encourages all persons facing transitions to question themselves in terms of their Actions (what am I actively doing to be involved?), their Feelings (How am I feeling about seeing friends leave and about making new friends? Do I feel a sense of belonging in my school community?) and Thoughts (Is this home now?). Not only is it important to address these actions, feelings and thoughts in the Leaving and Arriving part of the mobility cycle, but also in the STaying part, to “produce a cumulative change that will LAST”.
4. Give them the CCK/TCK language
The famous words of wisdom from Winnie the Pooh ring so true (“How lucky are we to have something so good that makes saying goodbye so hard”) for those who leave, but also for those who stay. Help your students understand the concepts of being a Cross Cultural Kid (CCK) and Third Culture Kid (TCK) and how that impacts their identity. Apart from celebrating the positives they also need a language to express the challenges and grief that goes along with saying goodbyes, time after time again. Your students are never too young to understand the CCK/TCK language. These days, there is a list of TCK literature available to children. Stories about the TCK experience, especially fiction, will give them characters and situations that they can identify with. It is often easier to connect to how someone else’s feelings than to adequately express your own emotions. Children should know that they are not alone and that the CCK/TCK definition is rooted in the idea that TCK children find that “the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar backgrounds”.
5. Help them take ownership of their school
The stayers play a vital role in the well-being of those who are arriving to the school. If they feel a sense of pride and ownership of their school community this positive energy will likely transfer to those who are new. In his book, Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it (Summertime Publishing, 2014), Doug Ota describes the importance of providing the stayers the opportunity to be an instrumental part of a transition program. Not only will offering leadership positions help students develop and gain experiences that can help them in their future endeavors, but it will also help them feel valued as a staying member of the community. When stayers might be busy tending to the arrivers and leavers at certain times of they year, it is important for the admin and staff to recognize and support these student leaders who are helping their peers.
6. Set up a mentor/ buddy system
Help stayers become buddies for the new students. Depending on what your school already offers in terms of transitions, there are a variety of possibilities for stayer to become buddies or mentors. Stayers could show the new students around on orientation day before school starts (consider giving them a t-shirt or something else to distinguish them from the other students). Alternatively, with older students they could become ‘mentors’ to the new students and already get in touch with arriving students a few weeks or months before their actual arrival. Either way, by allowing the stayers to have an essential role in the well-being of new students, the stayers could also benefit from the experience of reaching out to others while saying goodbye to their friends.
7. Find ways to create stay in touch
Help your students think of ways to stay in touch. Teenagers have obvious access to numerous social media platforms. You might want to remind them that there is a thin line between living your friendships mostly on social media rather than in real life, and help them find ways to establish a healthy balance. For younger students, and with their parents permission of course, you could have Skype conversations with the leaver(s) and the stayers in your classroom. I recently had a delightful conversation with a student that left in the middle of the school year and his classmates.
8. Throw a goodbye party
A goodbye party is not just for the ones who are leaving. Give the students who are staying the opportunity to give letters, keepsakes, or little gifts to those departing, but also think of ways for the stayers to receive something similar. The leavers often take the signed t-shirt (or something similar) with them and the stayers often having nothing tangible to hold onto. When one of my daughters’ best friends left, her friend gave her a beautiful frame with pictures of their time together that my daughter still has on her wall.
9. Throw a ‘welcome to the new kids’ party
The students who are leaving will be in the midst of getting settled into their new destination. This is a time for those who stay to open their doors and lives to the students who are arriving. Help you students understand that they can still miss their old friends but that they do not need to feel any guilt about forming new friendships. Encourage them to reach out to new people, especially if these stayers are they ones feeling just as lonely at the beginning of the year. Devote some special time and attention to helping students to get to know the new people in their lives. Ensure that you not only keep an eye on those that are new, but also those who feel left behind. Although they might become more apprehensive about saying hello, help them understand that relationship fatigue is part of being a TCK, but remind them that each goodbye did initially start with a hello and that the moments in between are often very much worth it.
10. Remind yourself, as a teacher, that no learning will take place until your students feel safe and secure in their new surroundings
And, yes, even if those surroundings may appear familiar to those who stay, the student who stays may feel like they are entering a whole new universe in which they will have to redefine who they are every single time they say goodbye. And remind yourself, as a human being, that we are all affected by transitions in our international schools. We need to support each other, our students, and their families in order for all of us to thrive through them.
 Ota, Douglas W. (2014). Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing.
 Pollock, David C., Van Reken, Ruth E., and Pollock, Michael V. (2017). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth. P. 240.
 Pollock, David C., Van Reken, Ruth E., and Pollock, Michael V. (2017). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth. P. 347.
 Ota, Douglas W. (2014). Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing. P. 182.
 Ota, Douglas W. (2014). Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing. Pp 182-186.
 Pollock, David C., Van Reken, Ruth E., and Pollock, Michael V. (2017). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth (chapter 2 and 3).
 Definition of TCK by David C. Pollock in the TCK Profile seminar material, Interaction, Inc., 1989, 1.
Barron, Jane (www.globallygrounded.com). “6 Steps Towards Being a Successful Stayer in an International School”. Found on: https://globallygrounded.com/2017/02/28/6-steps-towards-being-a-successful-stayer-in-an-international-school/. Originally published in Vol. 31 No. 3 February 2017 The International Educator
Douglas W. (2014). Safe Passage: How mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing.
Pollock, David C., Van Reken, Ruth E., and Pollock, Michael V. (2017). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth.
Photo credit: free images from Pixabay.com
This article was originally published on December 5, 2017 on International School Community Blog