Saying goodbye – the art of leaving a place
Kristi Fuoco


“It's the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: 'Good-bye.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard



This summer at a friend’s birthday
party we went down to one of the
beach bars and had an amazing
view of the harbour, along with the
statue of a naked woman. So
Hamburg. Missin’ this place.


I really like the German word for goodbye. Auf Wiedersehen. It means you’ll see the person again. It’s not the end. Why is there even the word “good” in “goodbye” anyway? There is nothing very good about leaving people you love, leaving a place you love.

A lot of people have asked me since I got home, “so, what made you leave Germany when you did?” That’s a tough question, and doesn’t have just one answer. It was a long process, just like the decision to stay in Germany longer had been before that. It came down to a lot of factors such as realizing it would take years to progress in a career in Germany without a fluent level of German, that I couldn’t afford to be so far from home without the ability to fly back whenever I needed to, that I couldn’t afford my own apartment in Germany. For those of my friends who have German partners it makes a lot more sense to stay for longer, but even so that is still a difficult thing for them to do. Living in a foreign country on your own takes a lot of energy, a lot of guts, a lot of determination and a lot of dealing with annoying paperwork. It’s worth it, but it’s important to know when to stay and when to go. My Australian friend Erin (who lived in Hamburg for five years), told me when she left to move back to Australia with her fiancée that you just know when it is time to go home, you feel it. And she’s right, I felt a change in myself. I felt it was time. So, the best answer is, “my gut told me what to do.”

One of my favourite places in
Hamburg, Blankenese beach (yes,
Germany has sandy beaches!)



So, once the decision was made, and the time frame decided on, then came the hard part. Telling people I was leaving. Of course people back home were thrilled, but all my friends (and family) in Europe were not as pleased. And a strange thing happens when you tell people you are leaving a place – they immediately back off from you, whether they realize they are doing it or not. It’s a form of self preservation, I think. I’ve felt it and seen it so many times in the past and probably even done it, since I’ve lived in so many places and left so many places and it’s hard. It’s not that people stop being your friend, but they stop investing in you so much. It’s the nature of the beast when it comes to expat life and expat friendships. You realize that most of your friendships have an expiry date. The good part is that you also know you have friends all over the world now and with the good friends you will just pick up where you left off when you see them again, but it is a strange feeling when someone you may have seen every week for a year, is suddenly gone, just like that.





A lovely going away and birthday gift –
a scrap book of my time in Hamburg. I
couldn’t put it down for a good 20 minutes!




Thus begins the process of trying to adequately say goodbye to those around you. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really do a great job of it. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t want to deal with all those emotions, because there are a lot of them. I tried not to think about it. After a while it gets exhausting to say goodbye over and over again. I preferred thinking of each meeting with a friend as a simple “see ya later.” You are so inundated with the stress of moving away too that sometimes you don’t spend enough time on the things maybe you should have spent time on. It takes a lot of work to tie up loose ends, especially in a foreign country, so your energy level is constantly zapped. I feel badly that there were a few of my students, and a few of my friends I didn’t get proper goodbyes with. In the moment I was also in self preservation mode, trying to just keep my head above water, and I didn’t get to make time for everybody and everything. It’s part of the nasty business of leaving. Making some tough decisions that hurt others. But, saying a proper goodbye is important.


My cousin Greg and I at my favourite Christmas
market in Hamburg last year. I will miss this!


Victor Hunter, an American reflecting on his last days in England, wrote, “Today I must say goodbye. Goodbyes are important. Without a meaningful goodbye, an effective closure, there cannot be a creative hello, a new beginning and hopeful commencement… In saying goodbye to each other and to current ‘home,’ we are able to greet and affirm the new hope and anticipation. We affirmed the new journeys yet to be taken, as individuals and as a family.” (Cross-cultural Reentry: A Book of Readings, Clyde Austin, p. 96)

Closure. We all crave it. We all want it. As hard as it can be to have those emotional conversations, it’s part of the process of properly leaving a place, or a person.



In one of my happy places in Hamburg.
(photo by Jodi Ellen Stolzenbach)




The strange thing I have noticed since being home is that in addition to the heart break of a break up with a man, I feel this with my friends there, and with the city itself. I honestly fell deeply in love with Hamburg. I fell in love with the water, the “big city but feels like many small towns” feel, the vibrancy, the unexpectedness, the food, the drink, the well dressed and reserved people, the fancy cars, the boating of every kind, the massive container ships and the harbour. I was deeply in a relationship with that place. I tried to say goodbye to Hamburg properly, but now I miss him like crazy and I’m having a hard time being in a relationship with my old boyfriend aka Vancouver again. With the German Christmas market season approaching it’s only going to get harder. That is by far my favourite time of year in Germany and when I think about not being there, I get a little teary-eyed. I hope if I ever changed my mind, Hamburg would take me back and embrace me again.

Goodbye hugs and remembering the great
times are key.

My good friend Liz and I kissing goodbye
downtown on a beautiful fall day in Hamburg.


So, I have to let go. This is the final stage of goodbye. Truly letting go with all of your heart and embracing the new/old place you have moved on to. I know now I need to throw myself into creating a new life in a place that used to feel like home. I need to create new memories, new friendships, new adventures, renew old friendships in new ways and learn to fill the void of my expat life in Hamburg. But that’s the thing, you are forever changed and will always now have more people and places in your heart after living abroad. “It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.” – Sarah Turnbull, Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris.

A perfect way to spent my birthday – at the
amusement park with my friends. They
even won me a stuffed dog!


So perhaps the goodbye does have a good side. The memories. I look back on my photos and think about the ridiculous amount of amazing and hilarious and crazy and funny and fun times I had these past 19 months and I am blown away. I want to thank every single person in Hamburg who helped me get by. Every person. From my cousin Greg who housed me at first and got me started and made me fall in love with Hamburg, to my German friend Yvonne who shared her sacred places in Hamburg with me, to one of my totally crazy and scary German teachers who made a few of us expats bond and become great friends because of her (or inspite of her?), to the German men I dated who enriched my journey in unexpected ways, and my wonderful students who taught me more about the German language and culture than any other part of living there (and who also made me laugh almost every day) to every single one of my expat friends, who were there to party with me, and sympathize with me every step of the way. I will never forget how my friend Jodi and her German husband Simon took me out for a wonderful evening on my birthday when I really didn’t know how I was going to celebrate on the day.

Goodbye lovely Hamburg! (view from the
top of the Summer Dom ferris wheel)



I even want to thank the mean old German man who yelled at me for recycling at the wrong time, cause he gave me a great story to tell. I want to list every single person here who meant something to me, but that might make for a boring post, like one of those Oscar speeches you wish would be over. But, I want each of you in Hamburg to know that you were an integral part of my journey. My life is richer because of you all, and because of my time with my German love, Hamburg. Vielen dank alles. Auf Wiedersehen. And come and visit me in Canada!



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Kristi Fuoco

 KRISTI FUOCO – Social media enthusiast, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music lover. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe. Current city – Hamburg.

Twitter: @kristifuoco

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My experience in Germany has been invaluable. In addition to learning German and taking part in another culture, I have learned so much about myself. I am confident that I can thrive away from the comforts of home and that I am dynamic and flexible. This is exactly what today’s employers are looking for – giving me a competitive advantage in the working world.
Kate from British Columbia – working for an international not-for-profit organisation.