Anyone can leave, but it takes intentional effort to leave well.
The process of leaving begins about six months prior to actual departure. At this point, you begin to psychologically and emotionally disengage from your surroundings in view of the fact that you will soon be saying goodbye, even if it is only for a few months. You also start to think about leaving more frequently and may start to experience emotions like excitement, dread, fear, or anticipation. Either way, you know that you will be leaving and therefore you may notice that you begin to distance yourself from friends and loved ones, even if you don’t want to leave in the first place. Some distancing is a natural result of the excitement you have about your upcoming transition. At other times, distancing is a form of subconscious self-preservation. You know it will hurt to say goodbye, and so your mind rationalizes that if you distance yourself, it won’t be as painful.
Along with distancing, you may find yourself picking fights with those you love as the time draws closer. Or, conversely, you may find them picking fights with you. You also may notice that these fights can get blown way out of proportion. Or you might get really angry over something that normally doesn’t bother you about your friends and relatives. Again, this is more of the self-preservation tactic. “Saying goodbye doesn’t hurt as much if you’re angry,” says your sub-conscious rationale.
This is a dangerous and important time. Especially if you are leaving for more than a few months, it is extremely important that you recognize and try to combat these issues for what they are, and not by what they appear to be. Feelings can get hurt, and relationships can be damaged when everyone is more concerned about self-preservation than leaving well. Perhaps instead of having numerous irrational fights shortly before you leave, you can sit down with your parent and say, “Look, I’m scared about my trip to _____, but I’m also excited. I know we’ve been fighting a lot, but I’m not really angry with you. I think that really, I’m sadder about saying goodbye and being away from you for so long.” Or even write it down in a letter. But the last thing you want is to leave with your closest relationships weakened or wounded, especially if you were really just dreading the goodbye the whole time.
Personal Story—Val Yates: When I was a senior in high school, we went through a cultural transitions “exit seminar” a few months before graduation. Since my school was an international boarding school, I guess they figured we needed it. And they were right. Several times in the next few months, my friends and I had to have talks in which we acknowledged the fact that we were distancing ourselves from each other and promised to change that as much as possible. But then, a week before graduation, I had a huge fight with some good friends. Looking back, it was all pretty irrational, but there was real hurt and anger in that fight. Fortunately, after a few days, we were able to sort through the issues and reconcile, but if we hadn’t done that, I don’t know if I would still be friends with some of those girls today. Ironically we weren’t really angry with each other, we were mostly just scared about saying goodbye a week or two later.
It’s also important to mention that leaving well helps one to enter well, so if you want to be able to maximize your experience, your goal should be to leave well with no regrets. You should work “to orchestrate a smooth departure. ‘Goodbyes are important,’ Victor Hunter has written. ‘Without a meaningful goodbye, an effective closure, there cannot be a creative hello, a hopeful commencement’ (1986, 179)” (37).12
Psychology students present work at regional conferences annually.