I’ve been watching parents in the international community say goodbye to their graduating seniors for a while now. I’ve been watching the seniors themselves say goodbye to their friends – fellow third culture kids like themselves.
Watching these parental goodbyes feels like a knife in my chest. I have to stop myself from thinking about it just so I can breathe again. Because I know that will be me, someday, saying goodbye to you.
“Goodbye.” We get a lot of practice saying it. We’ve said goodbye to short-term workers. They never planned to stay, but we welcomed them into our lives anyway. We’ve said goodbye to others — longer term workers whose time in this country, for a variety of reasons, has also come to a close.
And then, every year, I watch the graduating high school seniors. The ones who leave their families behind and travel to their passport country for their university years — and beyond.
As I write this, all four of you are more than eight years away from entering your college years. Still, someday I will say goodbye to each of you in turn. My oldest son first, then a couple years later, my youngest son. A couple years after that, I will be saying goodbye to my oldest daughter. The next goodbye will be my last. My youngest daughter will leave too.
I must say goodbye to you like this, no matter where in the world I live. And when you do leave, there are things I want to tell you. Things like. . .
You are my child. You are now an adult, and I’m proud of who you are, but you will always be part of my family. Our home can always be your home. No matter where we live, we will always welcome you into it.
We have endeavored to give you as stable a home life as possible in the ever-shifting international community in which we live. I am sorry for the consistent, repeated, prolonged, never-ending goodbyes you have endured. So say goodbye well. For many of your high school friends, the goodbye may be forever. You might return to Cambodia; you might not. And your friends may not. Even if they do, it most likely wouldn’t be at the same time as you. So honor your friends with good goodbyes.
Keep in touch with your TCK friends if you can. After my military upbringing, I finally found a small group of friends in high school. They were Christians. They buoyed my life and my faith at the time, and I regret not keeping in touch with them. Even with Facebook, I’ve only been able to find a couple of them, and I wish I could find more. So stay in touch. You won’t regret it. This journey has already separated you from many friends, so strive to keep the ones that still remain.
There won’t be any weekend trips home for you, as I had. You’ll live more than just a few hours away. So you’ll have to say goodbye to this place, not just the people. Again, make sure you say goodbye well. Write these places, and their memories, on your heart forever.
I was lonely and depressed my first year at college. My roommate was never around, and my hourly venture to the water fountain was the most exciting thing I did while I studied. Don’t do that; don’t be like me. I sequestered myself in my room. More time at a park probably would have lifted my low spirits, so for goodness sakes, go to a park every once in a while.
I did find friends in a campus ministry. So whatever you do, find a good campus ministry. A community of your peers following hard after God. Form deep friendships there, deep enough to last your whole life long. My campus ministry friends still inspire me to love Jesus more, and to serve Him in both the little things and the big things.
Find a good church. A church that loves, a church that lives and breathes and teaches both Grace and Truth. Churches are flawed because the people are flawed. But if the Grace is there, it will cover over the flaws. Hopefully these people will feed you and lend you their laundry rooms, and maybe even sometimes, when you really need it, their cars. They will be there to catch you when you fall to loneliness and depression and temptation. They will be people with whom you can worship every Sunday. Your studying will exhaust you, and you won’t feel like getting up on Sunday mornings, but if you show up, you will find God there.
Try to live your life in real time, with real people. Don’t waste your time getting drunk, playing video games, or looking at trashy pictures on the internet. That stuff doesn’t satisfy. But even if you do turn to those things, your Papa and I will always welcome you with open arms. We are always your family. Our hearts are open, our home is open. Possibly more importantly right now, though, is that our inboxes are always open.
And whatever happens, you must know that your Heavenly Father will always welcome you Home. He is always there for you. He will forgive anything. And should you ever stray from Him, don’t stay away forever out of fear that He doesn’t want you. He wants you. Believe it.
All my love, Mom
To international parents who have already graduated a senior, I’d love to hear from you. I have never done what you have done. And in fact, I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to TCK’s. I only wrote this in honest reflection of my past, and in painful anticipation of my future. So I’m curious — what things were helpful for both you and your teenager as you said goodbye??
[This letter was reposted on A Life Overseas in April 2014]