There were hugs, handshakes and promises to keep in touch, but now the parking lot is empty and a group of people that came together nine weeks ago has gone their separate ways. They’re headed back to Alaska, to cycle across southern Europe, to explore West Virginia, to a winter job at a ski area in Vermont; lots of places to be and things to do. I’ll miss them. I’ve always looked at those who attend our long-term programs as members of my extended family. For 9-weeks we spend all of our time together. It isn’t always easy. But every time it is difficult to say goodbye. The four hardest days of my year are leaving home for the spring and fall semester, and saying goodbye at the end of the spring and fall semester. And none of them has become any easier over the years.
Some of it is the fatigue that builds up over the course of the semester finally getting to work itself out. As any of our instructors or TA’s will tell you, it’s a 9-week grind to run our semester course. You put your life and personal relationships on hold and devote yourself to the educational outcomes of the students. By the end you’re tired of managing people, physically tired, but mostly tired of having to be “on” all the time. At the end there’s a crash. That’s where I’m at right now. It lasts a few days before things sort themselves out and a sense of normalcy returns.
For all the challenges it brings, it’s still the most rewarding work I could think of doing, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. After 20 years of doing it, I’m not sure I could do anything else. But because it’s a unique way to make a living, there’s only a handful of people who understand what it is that we’re really doing here. This isn’t a bad thing, but it makes trying to communicate about the experience a big challenge that is rarely, if ever, successfully accomplished.
It’s time to head back to my other life as a dad. But the people I spent all my time with over the last nine weeks will have a lasting impact on me. And during those moments when I reflect upon my extended family, they will come to mind.