For many of us, the first time we’re faced with saying substantial goodbyes is high school graduation. We say goodbye to our peers that we’ve seen nearly every day, September through May. If you grew up in a small town like I did, these are the people you’ve spent three quarters of your year with every year since kindergarten. More often than not, the “goodbyes” I said to people at my high school graduation weren’t permanent goodbyes; I swear whenever I’m at home – even if it’s for a mere few hour or two – I always end up seeing someone I graduated with or one of their relatives.
Even though we know they won’t be permanent, the hard post-high-school goodbyes don’t come until our close friends start heading off to their respective colleges. As cliché as it sounds, these really aren’t goodbyes; they truly are “see-you-laters.” When winter break rolls around, we head home and reunite with our hometown crews like nothing has changed.
Fast forward to the following spring: finishing up freshman year. This is the next set of goodbyes, and it feels weird. Cramming for finals and packing up our lives to head home for the summer distracts us from these impending goodbyes, but we are reassured to know that we’ll see all of our friends’ smiling faces again come August or September. We look forward to reuniting with those high school friends, so it’s no big deal to bid farewell to our newfound college pals.
Here’s where it gets strange though: studying abroad. For those who are fortunate enough to get to spend a semester somewhere other than their home university, we know it’s a great time. We get to have a new home for a period of time, try new things, and experience a new culture. Oh yeah, and we meet tons of new people. I’m preparing to leave my home in Madrid in two short days, and I can tell you that I have very mixed feelings on leaving. Some people have been on my nerves all semester, and these are the people that I can’t wait to never see again.
The majority of our study abroad goodbyes are going to be hard though… really, really hard. First of all, we have to say goodbye to a place that has been our home for the last few months. There are so many little things that seem so insignificant on a day-to-day basis, but as the end nears, all of these little things seem huge. That tree you admire on the way to school, that beautiful tile street sign, the double crosswalk that you impatiently rush through every day, the flower shop on the side of the street, your favorite café, the view of the mountains as you walk down the hill, everything… It’s all starting to slip through your fingers and you cant stop it. These goodbyes are hard, but they’re doable – especially since they are one-sided!
Then, there are those two-sided goodbyes: the ones where you have to say goodbye to real people. Roommates, host families, teachers, school workers, friends, and anyone else who somehow impacted your day-to-day life abroad. Many, if not most, of these people will continue on living and will never see us again. That barista at your Monday afternoon coffee spot? Her world is going to keep on turning even when you’ve left the country. Reality can be harsh, but these relationships were not that deep.
The deep and real relationships are the ones that are going to be hard to say goodbye to… friends. Regardless of who you are, it’s weird trying to make friends – especially in college. Even when you swear you’re the only new kid who’s not going to make any friends, eventually it happens. Midway through the semester, we realize that we’ve met some crazy cool people and do in fact have friends, even if we don’t remember exactly how these friendships blossomed. In many ways, it feels just like school back “home.” When the end of the semester nears, we realize that most of these people are not going home with us. As lovely as it would be, this is just not reality. The girls that I want to grab a glass of wine with will be in Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri, and California. Come fall, those guys that I spent last Sunday with will be at their respective universities in Washington and Pennsylvania. I’ll be in between them in Minnesota.
While I’d love to think that I will see all of these people again someday, the realistic and sometimes cynical part of me knows that this is not true. Sure, there are some people that I will most definitely visit when the opportunity presents itself. On the other hand though, I know there are some people that I will make no effort to go see. Even so, that’s not to say that they didn’t impact my life in some way – big or small. There are so many incredible people I have met this semester.
So, here’s to all of those people. Whether we were friends from the beginning until the end or just had a thirty-minute conversation on a plane, you impacted and changed my life in some way. While I can’t bring you home with me, I can (and will) bring home the memories we made; for this, I can’t thank you enough. To many of you, I hope our paths will cross again someday – intentionally or not. In the case that we don’t see each other again, I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Thank you all for giving me an incredibly wonderful four months in Madrid.