Finals have been graded, scores have been submitted, and everyday hundreds of students march out of the campus rolling their suitcases behind them heading home for the summer. This time last year I was feeling relief and excitement. Relief my first year of teaching was over, and excitement of the traveling that lay ahead of us in the summer.
This year I also feel excited to travel, tickets have been bought and plans have been made, but it’s mixed with sadness as well. Why? Well, I guess it begins with Color.
I met Color at one of my first oral classes.
“Teacher, I want to improve my oral English. Can I attend your class?”
I said sure, not really putting much thought into to. (To be honest, I don’t even remember meeting him for the first time. He reminded me of it.) It happens all the time. Students from other majors walk into our building, ask where the foreign teachers are, and sit in on class usually just once or twice and they leave never to be seen again.
But Color kept coming back. Quiet and shy I could have easily overlooked him if he only came to speaking class. But he also came to writing class, movie club and every single office hours I had. (He also attended some of the other foreign teacher’s classes.)
He kept coming because he was determined to improve his English. He needed to improve his grade on the IELTS (an international English test) to attend a good university to get a masters. But as the year went on, I think he was coming less to practice his English and more just to hang out.
That’s because Color and I slowly became friends. By Christmas time when I needed help with something he was the one I’d call. From helping me buy bus tickets to carrying heavy books back to my apartment, Color was always there. I’ve become really friendly with a lot of my students, but there was something about Color that was different. Maybe it was because he was not really my student so I could be more relaxed around him, or maybe it was because he is older. Not really sure why I guess, but it’s hard to know why you become friends with people sometimes.
The past few weeks Color and I have spent a lot of time together because we both had a lot of free time while all the other students worried about finals. (He’s shown up in my blog a few times recently.) We watched movies, went to a bar for the first time (first for him–first in a long time for me), played mahjong and I taught him how to make popcorn. At this point I consider him my best Chinese friend. But just minutes after my birthday party ended we had to say goodbye. He’s a graduate after all and can’t stay at school forever. (In fact he and his girlfriend rented a hotel room just to attend my birthday party because the school had already kicked him out of the dorm by then.)
I’ll see him a few more times, but something about him leaving cast a pall over my mood. A few days later I said goodbye to a few more students and felt disproportionably sad. I say disproportionately because I will see them again soon, in September, and will actually teach them so we will see each other plenty. But they will be seniors and I know at some point (that will come sooner then I expect,) I will have to say goodbye to them as well. I even look at my freshman sadly because I know we will have to say goodbye. It might be three years in the future when they graduate or sooner if we leave before that, but a goodbye is coming, and lately I can feel it.
Another person to say goodbye to is Morten. Morten is a foreign teacher from Denmark and is basically a cartoon character come to life. Take Jim Carey from Ace Ventura, add a little Asterix and Obelix and combine it with a talking encyclopedia of archaic information and you end up with Morten.
To give you an example of Morten’s personality, here is a text message explaining our paycheck was in. “Fellow scholars and illuminators of young minds. I can happily report that we have received our much deserved pencunium–in other words we are rolling in the dosh, the mullah, stuff and coin of the realm.”
Anyone else would have written “We got paid,” but not Morten.
Morten has been like a brother to me, and I mean that in all the senses of the word. I want to kill him just as much as I want to hug him. (Maybe the killing wins out more often.) We’ve argued, we’ve laughed, we’ve commiserated about students, and made fun of each others cultures. (“Culture? America has culture?” is one of his favorite refrains.)
He’ll be heading off to a university in Hangzhou and while that is right down the street from us, we are both busy people and I feel like we won’t see him that often. We definitely won’t run into him or his dog on our way to dinner anymore, or we won’t get to listen to him bitch about how none of the students did their weekly reading (which would usually be like a 600 page Russian novel. Don’t know why he was continually surprised).
Morten is basically responsible for us being here. He put up a few posts on a message board that I followed through on, and to be responsible for us choosing this school means being responsible for all the good things that have happened to us since. That’s a big deal, and after this summer, I might not see him that often and at some point, I won’t see him ever again.
The thing is as a traveler, I’m not often the one left behind. I’m the one usually leaving. I said goodbye to my friends 2 years ago when I came to China but I wasn’t sad. I was off on a new adventure, have new experiences and see new things, and I expected (and expect) most of them to still be there when we eventually head back.
But here in China when I say goodbye, it could be for life. I will probably never see 99.9% of the people I meet here ever again. Maybe in the future some will come to America, but I can almost guarantee that I will never see most of my students again. Even the ones I’m close with.
And it’s not just with people, but places and things too. I have never taken this experience for granted for one single second. An oft repeated phrase of Ryan and I is, “We’re gonna miss this when we go back home.” Even after being here for two years, and knowing we will be here for at least one year longer, we say it when we’re eating a delicious meal, or watching our students perform, or seeing a new sight. It’s like I’m living in a state of perpetual melancholy. Even as I am living an experience, like my birthday party, or class, a voice in the back of my head say, “I miss this already,” even while it is happening.
So lately, my life has gotten a little less “color”ful. Luckily it’s almost time to hit the road and seeing new sights will take my mind off the friends I miss.