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World Mag > WM Summer 2019 Celebrating Family Connections > Becoming an Alumnus - The curse of the happy high school

Becoming an Alumnus - The curse of the happy high school

Understanding the transition from student to alumnus.
Tea D. - AISB Journalism Student
Tea D. - AISB Journalism Student

The curse of the happy high school


Every year come spring, anxiety and excitement fill the senior hallways. Students cram for their DP exams, acceptance letters come in the mail, and finally, they get to wear those black robes and walk across the stage for their AISB diplomas. They rush the door, throw their graduation caps high into the air, and walk towards their future-towards the unknown.

Starting “real life” after high school can be exciting, of course; but it can also be daunting. 

Besides leaving their actual families behind, most seniors are also leaving behind a family of friends--people who were their support system when they got a bad grade, when they went through their first breakup, or when they got rejected from their dream college.

It’s hard to see past that light that shines so brightly at graduation, but the transition from high school to college (or whatever the students decide to do) is one of the toughest transitions we go through in our lifetimes.

While visiting AISB in May, founder of Sea Change Mentoring, Ellen Mahoney, cited that only 44% of international schools (involved in the study) administer transition activities with their graduates. Thankfully, AISB is among this number. 

According to AISB Counselor Lindsay Kehl, last year’s seniors received lessons on how to handle the changes that are coming their way- -particularly related to “the three P’s: People, Places, and Patience.” Kehl says that, since “most students have not yet made decisions on what to buy for dinner or when is the time to stay in or go out,” these are just some of the common day-to-day decisions that can add additional stress to a first-year university student. “These are just some of the things they need to be aware of, as they are quickly gaining independence; it’s not something they have a lot of practice with.”

Another tough transition? Leaving behind friends and family. Fela S, a 2018 AISB graduate, is studying at a university in Warwick, England. This past school year, she came back to visit several times, and even coached a football club on campus,“I missed being with my friends and siblings every day of the week.” she says. “After going to pursue my degree, I started to appreciate them more and I’m more eager to meet with them and do stuff together.”

Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D, writes in an article for Psychology Today, that this homesickness and longing to return to the familiar, is what he calls “the curse of the happy high school.”

He says that, “It’s not so much a matter of missing their biological family as missing another family -- their tight circle of close childhood friends with whom they palled around while growing through high school.”

AISB’s Alumni Coordinator Fabiana Pezzoni sees this often, and reports that approximately 20 alumni visit the campus each year. “Alumni who have left the school for more than eight to ten years come back with so much nostalgia and with so much desire to visit every corner. Younger generations come on campus for the people, to visit their teachers, younger friends or siblings.”

Graduates who leave siblings behind may be more prone to feelings of loss, depending on their relationship. Kehl says that it can also be really hard on the younger siblings--to finish school after their older brothers or sisters have left the nest.

AISB Junior Raquel G. said goodbye to her brother in June 2019, as he left Romania to start a gap year. She was nervous for him to leave, but was also anxious about life on her own. “Even though we fight about silly things, I will definitely miss having him around. It will be hard to adjust at home without him.” She jokes that “the one good thing about him leaving is the ability to use all the assessments he completed in the DP.”

Psychology Professor at Emory University Marshall Duke, in a Washington Post article, states that this is all part of the growth cycle; and that while it may be hard at first, “many siblings [have] had to live in the shadows as parental energy was focused on college applications, campus visits, senior prom, graduation, shopping for dorm stuff and preparing for the big move.” Duke compares this transition to pruning a flower garden: “You trim back a bush, and the flowers behind it can now blossom.”

AISB Math Teacher Reinier van de Ven also had a tough time saying goodbye to a family member last school year: his son. “It will be very empty and quiet without him,” says van de Ven.

Even though he’s encouraging his son to lead an independent life, getting used to a home (and a school) without children is emotionally challenging. Psychology Today states that this transitional period, often called “empty nest syndrome,” tends to bring bouts of grief, depression and a loss of purpose as children begin their college careers.

A large handful of students, teachers and parents will always be in this cycle of change and transition-- especially at an international school. And given that the average family spends three years at AISB (according to Manager of Admissions, Catalina Gardescu), it’s important to understand this.

Third culture kids, in some sense, become used to transient lifestyles, and often develop an “internal desire or restlessness to change the scene every few years,” according to the author of the book, Raising Multilingual Children, by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa. But this doesn’t mean the transition is easy--nor does this mean we don’t desire a place to call home. And for AISB graduates, this school will always be a home they can return to--for a sense of nostalgia, and to experience another part of the cycle: becoming an alumnus.

*For more student articles, visit The Bite:



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