temporary versus permanent

one of the most frustrating things about the international teaching lifestyle, for me, is the assumption that everything is temporary. it is true, in a way: the majority of us will be leaving the school and the city that we are currently living in within 1 or 2 or 3 or 5 years. a few will create deep roots and stay for 10 or 15 years. some, more: even a lifetime. but especially where i am now, the expectation seems to be that we are here for a few years at most.

having this expectation can lead to a kind of casual treatment of life:

-i don’t really need to learn Spanish deeply, because i won’t be living in South America beyond the next few years.

-i won’t join that committee at school, because i won’t be able to make a huge difference while i’m here and any changes that it might bring may happen after i leave.

-i won’t pursue that friendship or relationship, because i know they’ll/i’ll be leaving in a year or two.

-i won’t follow local news or politics, because i don’t really live here; they’re not my people.

i find myself guilty of all of these.

it is odd to find myself living this way. for the last 10-15 years of my life, the value of community was paramount to me. in high school, i loved the fact that i had friends from several different social groups.i didn’t hate group projects; i mostly loved them. i once stood up at a ‘state of the community’ school event and said that we should work harder towards learning from each other (students), not just from teachers. in college, the major i created was ‘Community Studies’, and i was consumed with studying the sociology of communities: schools, towns, cities, etc.; how local businesses and local organizations support the feeling of community; and the crises that modern America is enduring that could possibly damage this. as an adult, after college, i chose to live in a small city that was noted for its community infrastructure, its responsive government, and its arts scene, which i believe strengthens the feeling of community and generates connections within it.

and now i live abroad, and dance around between countries, dipping my toes in for a few years in each. i make connections, i join organizations, i build, but then i move on.

… i often wonder how psychologically healthy it is to live this way.

the romantic point of view is that living this temporary lifestyle serves to make us more present. it can cause us to invest more deeply in our friendships because we know that the we may not always be living in the same place forever. it can make us value the events and interactions that are happening now more highly because we know they’ll eventually end- probably sooner rather than later. in a way, you might think that there is less at stake– so why not join the committee now and be bold in your institutional criticism? why not stay out late going to a nightclub with your friends and risk being tired at work tomorrow? why not get to know someone who challenges you and who you never would have been comfortable spending time with if you were living elsewhere?

i wonder, though, if we really integrate the lessons that we could be learning if we are always moving on. i wonder if we are making a lasting impact on these communities when we’re only there for a two-year stint.

i think there is a very deep value in long-term engagement: in learning how to deal with someone that is challenging and who you will be spending time with for years; in making mistakes and dealing with the consequences; of being at a school or community through its changes, being part of making those changes happen, and seeing some of them to fruition, some slow, some fast.

psychologists generally agree that humans need to be and feel generative in order to be healthy adults.

i think the frequently-moving lifestyle may end up being an impediment to my fulfilment of this need.



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