Students always in transit

At least I have skype

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about saying goodbye.  I get a lot of practice, so I’m pretty good at it.

I’m good at giving long hugs, hosting goodbye dinners, and promising to call and email. I’m good at packing, at putting clothes and books into storage, and I’m even good at shedding a few discreet tears during takeoff.

Like many students, I have to be. I say a big round of goodbyes in both April and August, and while the first days in a different city are often jarring, my daily routines fall quickly into place. Soon, those people whose physical presence was so warm and constant just days before are reduced to a voice on a telephone or a face on a fuzzy video screen.

In 2010, I’ll say more goodbyes than usual. Because I’ll spend the winter semester in Denmark, I’ll divide the year between three different cities, all of them thousands of kilometres apart.

But I don’t mind too much – after all, “goodbye” isn’t what it used to be. It can still mean goodbye forever, or at least until that high school reunion, but more often it means goodbye until the next time we Skype, or email, or text. Because I’m Facebook friends with at least half of my grade five class, all of whom I can contact or creep at my leisure, goodbye doesn’t have to mean goodbye at all (even when I wish it did.)

And for me, like many people I know, I expect these constant, half versions of goodbye will be a regular part of my life for years to come.

I’ve met people who are planning to stay in Ottawa after they graduate – after all, they have a boyfriend and a nice place and a cat – but not very many.

Many instead see themselves in permanent transit, hopping from city to city – or from country to country – in pursuit of travel and adventure, or just grad school and a job.

This decision can manifest itself in lots of ways. For example, it can mean nursing an obligatory addiction to keep-in-touch technology, an unwillingness to collect anything that doesn’t fit on an iPod, and a reluctance to commit to relationships.

I keep a whole range of friendships running entirely through Facebook, and after a couple years of shuttling between school and home, I started giving away my favourite books. I worried about how much time they would spend in a box instead of on a shelf, so I found good homes for Norwegian Wood and Middlesex and The Places in Between.

And when my grandmother or my hairdresser asks me if I have a boyfriend, I mentally calculate when would be a good time to acquire one, like getting a puppy or tending to a garden full of perennials. Any relationship, after all, comes with an ultimatum – spend a lot of time on Skype, or learn to love the built-in best-before date. Love would complicate that clear formula, so I try my best to avoid it.

Instead of books or boyfriends, I acquire ambitious lists of the places I would like to live. Edinburgh. Munich. New York. Vancouver.

We’re often referred to as a hooked-up, signed-in generation – constantly available via phone and email while ignoring the people sitting next to us on the bus. Maybe this is because we’re also a generation in transit, always looking for the next challenge and the next move, trading stability for stimulation and real conversation for “communication” with the many people we’ve left behind.

It’s certainly the path I’ve chosen, and I think it’s the one required of me, in any case. Even when I hate to leave again and again, especially when “keeping in touch” seems like such a flimsy comfort so far from home, I’m still young enough to fantasize about each new place, with little regard for the consequences.

Eventually I’ll have to “settle down” – but right now the concept seems so far away, so foreign, so grown up, I don’t even know what it would look like. Maybe I’ll end up in a place and I won’t say goodbye – even a half version – for a long, long time.

But until then, at least I’ve got Skype.