A Note on Friendship and Goodbyes

8:53 PM

I know that I said I was going to try and write every week, but sometimes life happens and gets in the way of things. This is actually the first time I'm using my laptop in three weeks as I sent it off to Taipei to be repaired and it has just safely made its way back to Tainan. My screen cracked the first day I was in the Netherlands, so it's been a long time coming getting it fixed and I am so happy to have a laptop where I can, you know, see things.
But anyway.
It's going on week five of classes here in Taiwan (or it was when I started writing this....), and time is flying ridiculously quickly. Somehow the final exam for the intensive Chinese class I've been enrolled in is in a few weeks (read: less than a week away), and it will come time to say yet another round of goodbyes.
The past eighteen months have been incredible, as I detailed in my last post, but they haven't been without difficulties. The very nature of study abroad is to temporarily live in a place, and with that comes new housing, new daily routines, and new friends. On one hand, traveling to a lot of places and meeting a ton of new people when you're there is always an adventure in figuring out group dynamics and finding personalities you click with. On the other hand, those personalities and people you click with eventually get on planes and leave. And that can be really, really hard.
My first real experience with tough goodbyes was when I left Malaysia in 2013. I cried when I finished my last day of school, cried when I left my host family in Ipoh, and cried when I sat on the plane watching Kuala Lumpur disappear under the clouds as the plane climbed to its cruising altitude. The hard part about study abroad goodbyes is twofold: you don't know exactly when you'll get to return to a place or see people again, and on top of that, when you do get to go back things simply won't be the same. The exact combination of people and feelings and experiences that cause you to make a place special will never exist in the same exact way ever again. The resulting feeling is this weird before its time nostalgia, knowledge that things are about to change and there's nothing you can do about it . Hard to swallow, no?
My first semester in the Netherlands I had a beautiful group of American and European friends that cycled around the Dutch countryside to find tulips and cycled around Dutch cities to find the most gezellig canal-side locations. My second semester in the Hague I had a mishmash group of Dutch and international friends, including dear friends from back in the US and Malaysia that re-entered my life, and we took on such events as Oktoberfest and Embassy Festivals. In Beijing, I froze to death with other Americans while interning with a Chinese company, using Chinese to navigate what can only be described as a wild ride of a city. All these people and places left me feeling like one of the luckiest people in the world to have met so many fantastic people. But to be honest, they also left me feeling a bit burnt out.
It wasn't necessarily part of my plans to come to Taiwan this summer. After a tough (but rewarding) semester in China, it would have been easy enough to return home and spend a summer interning or working somewhere. When the friends I made in Beijing were all getting ready to head home, I couldn't help but feel a bit jealous. Five months away from home is a long time, tacking an extra three on to the end of it sometimes felt like forever.
But now these extra three months are drawing to a close, and I honestly couldn't be happier with my decision to stay...
Before I got to Taiwan, I was really worried about making new friends. I guess worried isn't the right word, because I wasn't concerned that I wouldn't have friends,  I was more so dreading the process of meeting new people and the process of becoming close to them, especially knowing that a goodbye was looming at the end of the eight week program in Taiwan. I remember writing a text (on Wechat, because China) to my dear friend Sarah, who has also been studying abroad for the past year and gone through several friends of making new friends on new programs, saying that I was tired of making new friends and honestly wouldn't mind being more of a loner for this final Taiwan program. I know, a rather jaded and cynical view to take, but the thought of making small talk and dealing with  new friendship drama sounded so... exhausting.
After a week of small talk and trying to remember 55 new names (English and Chinese names!!) and faces, I resigned myself to having good friends on the program, but not necessarily looking to having a "squad." But life has a way of working out in the way it's supposed to.  I ended up making this incredible group of friends, entirely different than the people I first got to know. Random events, including but not limited to making millet wine in an indigenous elementary school, searching Tainan for vegetarian food, and getting semi-stranded on a Taiwanese island really bring people together. These people have taught me a lot about myself and how to live life more fully, there's rarely a moment where we're not laughing or seeking out the closest 7-11.
It was this experience that led me to this conclusion: if you don't open up your heart to new people, you won't have the chance to make the memories that cause goodbyes to be so difficult. Because as hard as goodbyes can be, the hardness only means that there are beautiful experiences being remembered. If you don't make yourself vulnerable to saying goodbye, you can never come to know people that will change your life for the better. Especially when you're living abroad and not physically nearby your home, friends end up being the family you choose. You can't have the good times without the bad ones; you can't learn to love a place without the knowledge that you'll eventually have to leave it.
In another two weeks I'll be getting on a plane back to the US for the first time in eight months. My very battered passport (it sort of got soaked in a typhoon at a monastery last weekend...) is full of stamps, but my heart will be fuller thinking about how many people I have come to know in the past year and how all of them are just a text away. Because for the people that matter, a goodbye is merely a see you later.
That might be the most cliché paragraph I've ever written, but these thoughts have been weighing in my mind heavily for a while and sometimes the best way to say things are ways that resonate with you.

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  1. This is so beautiful and true and honestly resounded with me on so many levels in the context of my junior year studying abroad in Russia and Finland (plus summer programs in Azerbaijan and Iceland the summers before and after respectively). Thank you for putting these thoughts out into the blogosphere, reading them was awesome <3

  2. wow ..it almost 5 year since left malaysia and time is flying ridiculously quickly...

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  4. This blog is not active anymore, wish can know the new updates from you.
    its been like many years


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