As international students, we flew across the world as naïve 18-year-olds with the end goal of flinging our caps up into the sky, popping that bottle of champagne, and seeing the proud look in our parents’ eyes. As the global pandemic unfolded, we saw the signs leading up to our commencement ceremonies and final semesters being cancelled. But right until the moment last week where we had the official emails from our chancellors in our inboxes declaring the breakup, we refused to believe this could happen and we clung onto those little glimmers of hope. Our four year relationship had ended without even having a chance to say a proper goodbye.
The worst breakups are those that are not mutual. They’re the ones that hit you unexpectedly. You sense some uneasiness and detachment from the other side in the weeks or months leading up to it, but you trust that the strong basis of your long-term relationship will shine through. Or rather, you choose to ignore the signs in hope that they’ll go away if you don’t acknowledge them.
The worst breakups are those that happen when you are busy planning your future together. You picture the smiles in your eyes, the warm feelings in your hearts, and even the exact outfits and photos. But suddenly that is all chucked away. And even after all of that, you remain hopeful for a reconciliation. But as time passes, you know that it’s not coming back.
Seniors, this is what we have been feeling.
When you commit to a relationship, you see a future and you see an end goal. For many people, that goal is often marriage.
I see a parallel connection with graduation.
There are apparently seven stages of every breakup: shock, denial, negotiation, isolation, anger, acceptance, and hope. At this point, most of us are probably in the first five stages.
For many international seniors, we were rushed back home overseas without a chance to say goodbye to our friends, professors or college towns, and moreover, not knowing when and if travel, visa and employment restrictions will change so that we can in fact return.
Here are a few of my thoughts and wishes for international seniors to help us console our broken hearts.
In 2016, we had our high school graduations, our graduation trips, and our final summers. Come August, we were all scattered across the globe. Much of our first semester was spent on excited video calls with each other, comparing notes on roommates, campus spirit, culture shock, and occasionally we would remember that classes were a part of this whole college thing as well.
Over the four years, our calls and reunions in our hometowns became less frequent. At some points we even grew distant as we navigated our changing lives, developed our distinct personalities, and worked on building our individual support systems within our college environments. We were essentially all successfully building our homes away from home.
And yet when we did have those few days of overlapped vacation during summer or winter break, we would go to the same bars, restaurants, and parks that we used to during high school, and we embraced those parts of ourselves that only come alive with our high school friends. It’s those goofy parts of ourselves that we vow to never let each other forget. All those embarrassing things that we did and said as teenagers. We made a point to never stop roasting each other for all those little things. And amidst those nostalgic roasts, we give each other the highlight reels of our college lives. Over time we managed to master the art of living in the moment rather than panicking about having such few days together.
In recent weeks, we have all been checking in on each other a little extra. We have been hurriedly comparing notes on panicked parents, city lockdowns and employment fears. Should we fly back home, or should we stay in our college towns? What about our F-1 visas and OPT status? Has anyone else been kicked off of campus, or has had commencement cancelled or postponed?
We managed to maintain our high school friendships without any doubts, despite not always knowing when we will see each other next and having to incorporate our growing and changing personalities. We became the champions of long-distance relationships.
That is exactly what I believe we will be able to do during this time. In these same ways, we will keep in touch with our college friends and know that seeing them is a matter of “when” rather than “if”. We are so used to moving between countries every few months and still being able to maintain being rocks of support during difficult times for our friends and family overseas.
As third culture kids, we almost have a sense of responsibility and immense privilege that we can really use for positive social impact during this time. So many of us have lived in several different cities through our schooling years and have the capacity to engage with those different communities and help spread best practices that we’ve seen some of our cities observe effectively versus those cities that haven’t been able to. We can use everything we have learnt about living abroad and away from loved ones during tumultuous times to take care of those around us.
We graduated together once in 2016 and I like to find peace and positivity in the thought that the universe didn’t think that was enough. It conspired to bring us all back to our hometowns to somehow put together little celebrations to graduate together one more time.