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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Watching students say goodbye…

Last night I joined the IES Staff, faculty, and most important, the students, at their going away/end-of-semester party. It was on the Queen Mary II–a permenantly docked boat on the Thames River. It is on the North Bank, between OXO Tower and the London Eye–right before the Enchantment Cafe and the Embankment Tube station. It is a two or three story boat with four rooms available for private parties. From the boat, you had a view of the London Eye, Big Ben, and Parlaiment.

Now, I am the first to admit thatI was very grumpy when I left the res hall and was on my way to the party. I told Maureen that if I stayed grumpy, that I would leave. My fuse had been lit earlier in the afternoon and nothing, it seemed, was going to lift my mood. We got to the boat and were greeted by Sally. I could see the party through the door and started getting that freshman feeling. After we hung up out coats and walked into the party, I really felt like a freshman–or worse–like Stephen King’s Carrie. “They’re all going to laugh at you!” But I’m a comic, that’s the point. Looking at everyone who is dressed better than me and lounging like they are in a magazine spread.

And then I remember, “Oh, right, I’m the adult in this situation.” And I head to the adult table in the corner and am greeted by the rest of the Center Staff and Faculty. Ah, the adults. I am the kid at the adult table, but at least I’m at the adult table, right? So then I have a great vantage point to start watching the goodbyes. Sadly, there are students that I don’t know or recognize and then there are the ones that I have talked to more regularly than my own family. They are dressed to the nines–or at least the girls are. They have all worn their Number One London Outfit. The shoes, the dress, the scarf. I have to get a scarf, everyone is wearing them. The boys are wearing the college staple of “Khakis and a white button down.” None of the boys have picked up british fashion–no pink shirts or purple shirts or blue ties for them. Khakis and a White button down shirt.

A student with a sweet, southern accent stand up at the end of the student awards to sing for the group. No mic, no piano, just silence as she sings, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” She had a beautiful, crystal clear voice and I get goosebumps this morning thinking about it. The main group of 5 ot 6 guys were lined up at the bar behind her and all were looking at the floor, they looked like they were praying. Except one, at the very end, who was beaming a huge smile at her. I imagine they were fighting back tears–either that or trying not to laugh at the line, “Make your yuletide gay.” But I think they stopped laughing at that by Freshman year, and they were reflecting on the last few hours with their friends in London.

Then the dancing started and the dance floor swelled with people on the songs that would be on their “Ultimate London Songs.” Songs that will probably never make it back to the US charts and that unless they bought them, they won’t ever hear again. The windows fogged up and students wrote messages in the fog, “I Love IES!” and the staff responded with, “We love our students, even the naughty ones.” At this point, you see, there was a little dirty dancing on the dance floor.

As the night went on, I would catch some of the most gregarious students in a moment alone. Sitting in silence or walking through the party, stopping to reflect before cracking the next joke or pouring the next glass of champagne. They seem to realize that everything changes back to normal tomorrow, but they may not realize that normal is gone. That even though they came to live with Americans in an English speaking city, home kept moving without them and they changed more than they’ll realize–give them 5 years or so to figure it out.

Finally, the first student leaves. He is the big, friendly bear that I imagine no one ever had a negative thing to say about him. He hugs the girls, does the “hand-shake, no, we can hug,” with the guys. He says goodbye to staff and then leaves. Then remembers his hat and gloves and comes by the adult table to grab them. At this point, even I get a hug and a “Thanks for everything.” Then more people realize he is the first to leave and this time, leaving takes longer. More people hug him and wish him well and promise to stay in touch when they get home.

It is impossible to watch this scene and not remember leaving La Plata. How six of us rented a combi and went to EZE together. How we drank one last mate and 6 were then 5 were then 4 were then 3 were then 2 were then 1 were then back home. How 5 years later, we are sort of still in touch with each other and I have seen a few people for the first time in ages. I also think about the Tokyo group I met, the Spring 03 students. And how in 7 days, I felt closer to them than I did with this group after 6 weeks living with them. I think it was arriving in Tokyo on day one and not on week 10. Hearing a student walk up to me and say, “Leah-san” and being able to still be in touch with one guy from that group. I am lucky to have been a part of three IES experiences–La Plata Fall 1998, Tokyo Spring 2003, London Fall 2003, and will greet London Spring 2004 in a couple weeks.

Everytime I go home, I go back to normal. A normal that is never the same.

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