Adventures in Multicultural Living: End of the school year brings summer travels, moving away and international friendships

As the fifth graders processed into the auditorium under the brightly colored pink, blue, orange and green arches (swimming noodles held aloft) for the final end-of-school assembly, the whole school applauded. Congratulations! Fifth grade graduation!

So heartbroken by the other big goodbye we were also facing this day, goodbye to a much-beloved principal being transferred to another school, I had actually forgotten that today was a day of celebration. I was there to see the going-away video the teachers and students had made for him, sad, so sad, to see him go.

It was a relief to watch him wind up the year by asking all the kids to close their eyes and raise their hands if they had tried their best in reading and math this year, and it was heartening to hear the fifth grade graduation speaker reflect on the many lessons learned in his long years here.

It is the end of the school year, and everyone is beginning to leave for the summer, especially many international families I know. Our friends are moving to Australia, so we will miss them a lot. Summer is the time to go “home” to visit parents and grandparents, time to attend weddings and family reunions, time for kids to hone their language skills while playing with cousins, time for study abroad and “Loveboat” trips for the teenagers and college-aged.

The end of the school year is also the time we suddenly discover that friends are moving away, sometimes for a year or two, sometimes for forever. Every day the children and I attend another going-away party, birthday party, end of the school year party, barbeque, ice cream social, picnic.

One of the things about living in a college town is that people are always leaving — graduation, post-docs, visiting scholars, visiting professorships, sabbaticals, tenure, no tenure, post-tenure. Lay-offs and promotions affect the friends left behind the same way.

A few days ago, I was at a friend’s birthday/going-away party. I brought my camera but was too sad to take any pictures. I cannot begrudge her her fabulous new position in the warm California sunshine, but I am still reluctant to let her go. She fed us amazing Singaporian food from the unexpectedly named Happy Wok, while everyone promised to keep in touch with email and Facebook and to invite each other to give papers and visit.

But if we could not actually find time for each other when we all lived in the same town, how will we do it when we live apart? How many times did we cross paths at Eastern Accents but not have time to talk because one or the other of us was rushing to meet a deadline? After eight years of both of us saying, “We should get together some time,” “after I finish this paper,” “after you get tenure,” “after the conference,” time is up now, and I am sad.

My children tell their international friends who are returning to their home countries now that their parents have finished their PhDs or postdocs or visiting professorships, “Maybe when I grow up I will go to Korea/China/Japan/Germany to visit you.” Or “Maybe when you grow up you will come back to America for college.”

At the end of the last day of school, Mrs. S. asked her first graders if they would like to come back to be in her class next year instead of going on to become second graders. Every hand raised. She warned them, “Once you walk through that classroom door, you will become a second grader.”

Every first grader gave Mrs. S. one last hug and then bravely walked out the door.

Before leaving on any summer travels, check out this lighthearted video made by photographers Joe Ayala and Larry Chen who found themselves “Stuck” overnight at Dallas Fort Worth airport with nothing but their photographic equipment to entertain themselves.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, a contributor for New America Media’s Ethnoblog and a contributor for Chicago is the World. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches “Asian Pacific American History and the Law” at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at This article was originally published in


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