In Ashley Zhou’s words:
再见。Zai jian. Goodbye.
In Chinese, the translation for “goodbye” is comprised of two characters. Literally, it means “see you again.” I think that’s beautiful. I think it’s also fitting that we sang “再见” for the graduation of our seventh-graders and then Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” for summer camp graduation. Our relationship with Dandelion doesn’t end with goodbye.
我怕我没有机会更你说一声再见。Wo pa wo mei you ji hui geng ni shuo yi sheng zai jian. I’m afraid I won’t have the chance to tell you goodbye.
Parting is always difficult, and particularly so when everyone is in tears. Summer camp was comprised of 10 challenging days, but in that span of time lasting relationships and bonds were fostered. On summer camp graduation day, every single one of my volunteers, who ranged in personality from effervescent to reticent, had shiny tear trails on blotchy faces. And the students, even the tough cool boys, dissolved into earnest tears and earnest embraces. Sometimes it’s difficult to articulate a proper goodbye—I know I hate doing it. I couldn’t really do anything but hug my students and cry together.
因为也许就再也见不到你。Yin wei ye xu jiu zai ye jian bu dao ni. Because there’s the possibility that I might never meet you again.
It’s also difficult knowing that even if I do return to Dandelion, that doesn’t mean all of my students will. Among my seventh-graders, there are many whose goodbyes were more permanent, who will be returning to their laojia. For me, one of my most heartbreaking moments during summer camp was returning to my classroom after the Forbidden City field trip to see “Ashley 我 Billy 回来过, 再见” scrawled across the blackboard, Ashley, I, Billy, came back. Goodbye.” He’d come to visit me on the one day I wasn’t there, and because he was returning to his laojia, he would not be able to visit again. And I didn’t get the chance to tell him goodbye.
明夜我要离开熟悉的地方和你。Ming ye wo yao li kai shou xi de di fang he ni. Tomorrow night I will leave this familiar place and you.
Leaving Dandelion, the place that had become our home for ten weeks, was strange, particularly with the notion that Dandelion will be moving campuses, and this colorful assortment of buildings will never be Dandelion again. But Dandelion wasn’t quite Dandelion without students milling about, haphazard basketballs flying everywhere, the simple melodies announcing the start of class. We’d really said our goodbyes when we bid goodbye to our students.
要分离我眼泪就掉下去。Yao fen li wo yan lei jiu diao xia qu. Leaving has my tears falling.
The tears really come in phases. A few teardrops even as we’re telling the students to smile, to stop crying, that it’s okay. A few more later on the airplane as we casually browse through pictures, and through them, an entire summer. A torrent of tears even later when we’re back home and realize we’re different now, and inherently, home feels different too.
我会牢牢记住你的脸。Wo hui lao lao ji zhu ni de lian. I will always remember your face.
My students’ faces are still clear in my mind, their expressions distinctive whether mischievous or confused or sweet. I do wonder how they’ll change as they grow. I wonder if I’ll recognize them if I go back to visit.
我会珍惜你给的思念。Wo hui zhen xing ni gei de si nian. I will cherish the memories you give.
It’s difficult to describe the experience when asked; there are so many little facets to it, joyful and somber and transformative alike. Sometimes something my little sister does will remind me of yet another, and I’ll tell her a story or perhaps keep the memory to myself to cherish and go over.
这些日子在我行中永远都不会抹去。Zhe xie ri zi zai wo xing zhong yong yuan do bu hui mo qu. These past few days never will leave my heart.
When we’re in the classroom or lessonplanning or even just hanging out with the students, it’s difficult to care as much about life back home. So many things just feel superficial when we’re working with these kids, these human beings, whose lives we’re trying to impact but realistically are constrained by systemic barriers we can’t do anything about. Even when back home, it’s difficult to reprioritize, to reengage with our lives. It’ll be a long time until things feel “normal.”
我不能答应你我是否会自回来。Wo bu neng da ying ni wo shi fou hui zai hui lai. I cannot promise that I will return.
Perhaps it’s most difficult of all to face the kids’ questions. Some of them are more cautious, asking if we will return; others are adamant, asking when we will return. I want to be able to give an answer. I know I want to return. But I don’t know if I can and I honestly don’t know if I will, let alone when.
不回头不回头的走下去。Bu hui tou bu hui tou de zou xia qu. Not turning back, not turning back, I will walk on.
I’d like to see my seventh-graders graduate in two years, to see my summer camp kids grow into tall, proud eighth-graders. But even if I don’t, I won’t leave Dandelion Middle School behind. I’ll carry the memories with me, nurture the relationships that developed, and return constantly to the lessons my students taught me.
再见, Dandelion. Goodbye. And see you again.