It’s the most wonderful time of the year….or is it?
13 and a half days left….WOW where has the year gone? Hard to believe that the first year of this adventure is just about over.
This is a VERY busy time of the year at all schools for all teachers and administrators. The anxiety and stress is high and the number of tasks on the to do list keeps adding up. Social calendars are filled with farewell events and all of those end of the year after school activities. Those cartoons that show teachers at the beginning of the year and then again at the end of the year are beginning to resemble us all. I look in the mirror and see it in myself! YIKES!
Being at an international school is quite different. We still have all of the stress of report cards, graduation, end of the year assessments, provincial testing, classroom clean up, class placements…. all of it. What is different are the good byes!
When staff leave an international school they are moving on to a whole other adventure. We have staff leaving for Poland, Dubai, Kiev, Japan, Brazil, and back to Canada. Many of these staff have been here for a long time and have formed very close relationships with their colleagues. Unlike schools at home we live and work in the same space which can make our relationships are VERY intense. Our colleagues become our very close friends and family. We rely on each other for emotional support, crisis management, problem solving, advice etc. Many staff have had milestones here like marriages, children, divorces, graduations, illnesses and even the deaths of their family members. Colleagues have experienced both the joy and sorrow that these milestones bring.
Saying goodbye and walking away from it is very difficult. It is very emotional. People do stay in touch but it is not the same as walking down two floors to a friends’ apartment for a chat. If you need someone you are NEVER alone! There are time zones, technology challenges, new jobs, settling into a new country or home and the general craziness of everyday life.
Leaving an international school means downsizing BIG time. I have only been here less than a year but I still have managed to accumulate a fair amount of “stuff.” Imagine being her 2-10 years. What do you do with all that stuff? There are virtual garage sales, clothing swaps, WeChat groups all in which people are selling or giving away their things. This takes place for months prior to the end of the year. This often leaves people feeling unsettled and a bit untethered. Packing your life into boxes and determining what memories to keep is hard.
There are also apartment switches. Staff have the option of moving apartments when there are vacancies. This sets off a whole chain of events around who is going where and when. Leaving staff are trying to determine what to keep, what to sell, what to take and how they are going to get it from one place to the next.
There are visa requirements, criminal background checks, document authentications, apartments to find, and arrangements to be made for moving. This is stressful for those who are moving on. How do they maintain their focus in their current environment while they begin to prepare for the next one?
There are also the farewell events, videos and parties. Staff who are leaving often want to do the things on their Beijing Bucket List that they have not yet had the chance to check off or to go back and do all of their favourite things. These events are very personal and fun but also very emotional for leaving staff.
International schools unlike provincial schools have a challenge when individuals leave because they often take with them the years and years of history and knowledge that have been part of policy and decision making. Unlike at home there are not ministry expectations or board policies and procedures that apply from one school to the next. Each international school has its own context and culture. The lessons from the past are important to the direction of the future and to maintain the consistency of practice. If individuals leave with this knowledge it poses a challenge for those left behind. Finding what you need is not just as simple as a quick phone call or email. These gaps open practices up for interpretation and modification. What started as an expected practice evolves and no one seems to know why it was started or by whom? This means that new practices are invented and implemented over time. Snippets and bits of these practices can be carried over from one year to the next or from one person to the next. Clarity and consistency in practices can be lost.
I am looking forward to returning home for the summer and reconnecting with my family and friends. Even though I have only been here for one year I cannot imagine saying good bye to the new friends I have made. I know that I could not have made it through this year without them and will miss them terribly. The next few weeks will be emotional to say the least but we will get through it……we always do!