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During this time of year many of our students are faced with a move. For some it is yet another move of many. Teachers and administrators of international schools can help students say goodbye in meaningful ways that help them truly fare well during a transition. The ten points outlined below will hopefully serve as gentle reminders of what many of you already do and might inspire some of you who are less familiar with the transition process of international school students.
1. Comfort rather than encourage
One of your students tells you that he or she will be moving. “Oh, how exciting!” It is such a natural instinct for us to encourage our students before comforting them. In our attempt to protect them from any possible pain that could be caused by the transition, we are quick to ‘help’ them look at the bright side of things. By not allowing them to accept and work through their own emotions, whatever they may be, we are actually helping them prepare a perfect recipe for unresolved grief. Encouragement can trigger shame and frustration rather than true comfort (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009, pp.82-83). Instead, ask them how they feel and truly listen. They will not necessarily need you to cheer them up about the move, but they do need to feel heard. Also, if appropriate, let your students know that you will miss them. And rather than assuring them that everything will be all right at their next destination, you can tell them that you hope to help them make their last few weeks or months as enjoyable as possible. That is a promise you can at least try to keep.
2. Reflect with the student
Ask the student what they will miss, and what they look forward to. It will help them understand why they might find it difficult to leave. Encourage them write up a pros and cons list. They might even be happy to leave some things behind. They might need affirmation that those emotions are also okay. If they are quick to mention the tangible losses, encourage them to explore the losses that affect the senses (Bushong, 2013, pp. 74). What are the smells, sounds, and feelings that might be lost when moving? By helping them identify the depth of their potential hidden losses, they will have a better understanding of the process of saying goodbye.
3. Connect with the parents
Reach out to the parents and, time permitting, try to meet with them. They may have questions regarding the move and transition to a new school. Often these are of an academic nature, but do not hesitate to point out how mobility affects their child’s identity, sense of belonging, and ultimately their learning. More importantly, explain that it does not need to hurt their child. “Mobility across cultures can be one of the richest sources of learning and personal growth that life has to offer. But these benefits are only likely to occur when mobility’s challenges are managed well (Ota, 2014, pp.XL).” Ideally, it is in their child’s best interest to find a school that is not only academically suitable, but that will also address and assist them in terms of transitioning. Luckily, there are also various independent services that can help parents and their children during transitions.
4. Give them the TCK language
Students are never too young to understand the 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. Often it is much easier to connect to how someone else is feeling than to adequately express your own emotions. Children should know that they are not alone and that the Third Culture Kid 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 build a RAFT
In the book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, by Ruth E. Van Reken and David C. Pollock, parents and educators are encouraged to help students build a RAFT (Reconciliation-Affirmation-Farewell-Think destination) to leave well in order to enter well, and ultimately accumulate the least amount of unresolved grief through their transitions. To be able to say hello, one must have closure. And reconciliation, to forgive and be forgiven, is a vital part of closure. At school, this means making sure there are no loose ends such as disagreements with a friend or teacher left unresolved.
6. Help the leavers (and the stayers) say farewell
Children who often move, or children who are surrounded by others that move, can become fatigued by saying goodbye. Eventually, they may become reluctant to welcome new friendships. Therefore, especially children in international schools need reminders that every relationship you build is important and matters. In order to affirm relationships, help them take the time to let those they care about (friends, teachers, administrative staff, lunch ladies, janitors, etc.) know how they feel about them. Teachers can provide them with time and support to write notes. For example, instead of journal writing, they can be encouraged to write some letters during the last few weeks of school. There are many creative, yet simple and not too time-consuming ways, to encourage students to write notes of appreciation.
7. Help the leavers (and the stayers) say farewell
Help all of your students say a final farewell. While many efforts go out to help the ‘leavers’, the ‘stayers’ are sometimes neglected. The students that are staying need to have a chance to truly say farewell as well, and take the time to reconcile and affirm. Within a smaller class setting, allow your students to have a goodbye party. Let them celebrate the time they had together.
8. Give them a tangible gift / let them leave a tangible handprint
Schools often hand out a certificate at an end of year school assembly on the last day of school. On a more personal note, a class can create a pillow case, a t-shirt, a cap, or a national token of the host country that is signed by all. Do buy special markers that can be washed, otherwise all the kind messages can sadly be erased after its first trip to the washing machine. In return, let them leave something tangible behind, to leave their mark. It could be a handprint in a tile, a wall to send a postcard to, or a board that allows the leavers to leave a message and their signature. Finally, you could consider providing your students with My Moving Booklet, a workbook which allows them to write down their ‘moving’ story while guiding them through the transition process.
9. Think destination
Even though it is logical to focus much of the attention on leaving, encourage your students to share information about their new destination. They might want to do a little show and tell about their future home. Ideally, the next school has already reached out to these students. Some might have helped them connect to other families and students who can serve as mentors. Most likely, their new school contacted you earlier in the year for a recommendation. You may want to offer the possibility to touch base with you again at the end of the school year. Should the next school offer some kind of transition program, extra feedback on the student at the end of the year might be helpful and appreciated.
10. Reach out
Once September rolls around, take five to ten minutes to reach out to your ‘departed’ students and their families. Ask them how they are settling in and let them know they are missed. When it’s their birthday, you could get their old class together for a picture and attach it in a birthday email. Students, let alone their parents, usually will not expect you to care about them when they are not ‘your’ student any more. Especially when they are not in ‘your’ school any more. Let them know you do care, that they are remembered, and that they matter. You are likely to make a much bigger difference than you imagine.
• Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken (2009). Boston: Nicholas Brealey Yarmouth.
• Safe Passage: How mobility affects people & what international schools should do about it, by Douglas W. Ota (2014) Great Britain: Summertime Publishing
• Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counselling the Globally Mobile, by Lois J. Bushong (2013). Indianpolis: Mango Tree Intercultural Services.
 Definition of TCK by David C. Pollock in the TCK Profile seminar material, Interaction, Inc., 1989, 1.
Clip art credit: (bon voyage image by Ewe Degiampietro from Fotolia.com)/ Tim/Winnie the Pooh
This article was written by International School Community member Valérie Besanceney. Over the past ten years, Valérie has been a primary school teacher at five different international schools on four different continents. Valérie is also the author of the children’s book B at Home: Emma Moves Again (Summertime Publishing, 2014). It is a fictional memoir about the experiences of a ten-year-old girl and her teddy bear who have to move yet again. During the different stages of another relocation, Emma’s search for home takes root. As the chapters alternate between Emma’s and her bear’s point of view, Emma is emotionally torn whereas B serves as the wiser and more experienced voice of reason. My Moving Booklet (Summertime Publishing, 2015) is workbook that can be used with or without the chapter book and intended to help children to welcome the new challenges and adventures that lie ahead of them, together with their parents and teachers. For more information on her book and the topic of Third Culture Kids, please visit her website: www.valeriebesanceney.com.
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