For now …

Goodbyes are hard. 

When I was young, whenever I knew something was about to end, I would get scared. The fear would well up in me and cripple me. I can’t begin to count the number of times I hid from having to say goodbye. Whenever possible I was always the first out the door and down the street –  or when that wasn’t possible, I would try to sneak out a side door.

The few times I was unsuccessful at either strategy, I would find myself crestfallen and a wave of deep sadness washed over me.

One of the most difficult goodbyes in my life was when I headed to college. I was 17 and was going to be the first in my family to go to college and as a first generation college student, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed. 

A few days before I left, my grandmother sat me down and told me “When you leave, don’t look back.” Her conversation caught me off guard because I wasn’t expecting to say goodbye this early – but, grandmothers often know how to reach out to their grandkids – and she knew me better than anyone in the world. 

She would continue the conversation by telling me how proud she was of me and how much I meant to her. 

I cried when she told me this and I even suggested that maybe I should stay and take care of my grandfather who had had a stroke just a few months earlier. As soon as I started to bargain with her, she told me “this isn’t goodbye, it is just for now.” 

Now that I am older, I think of endings as just – for now

It is a wonderful way to look at things. 

For now implies there is a future – that our relationships will continue and that our paths will cross again even as we divide and separate.

For now is what I told our study abroad students tonight. 

These 24 students are amazing young people who I cannot wait to cross paths with again. 

For most, I will have the pleasure of seeing them around campus when Fall semester begins. 

We will plan times to meet and also bump into each other as we make our way to classes and meetings. I love to bump into my former students as I walk around Purdue. It is like seeing old friends. We catch up, when there is time, and I learn what they are up to now and I can hear how they have grown.

I’ve seen firsthand the growth in this short three week program and I’m eager to see how they grow even more when they return to campus.

I rarely get a chance to meet and interact with undergraduate students up close and personal. 

As professors, we rush to classes and then rush off to our next class or meeting. There seems to be a lot of rushing around. Rarely do we get a chance to know a student unless they find themselves needing to come to office hours, which honestly never happens.

From talking to students, it seems they rarely get a chance to know a professor beyond the classroom as well. Perhaps we are unapproachable or perhaps their schedules are too busy. Whatever the case, it seems that professor-student interactions are rare outside the classroom.

I think this is one of the reasons I do study abroad – to get to know our undergraduate students – our future doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, and other budding health care workers.

I am honored to know each and every one of our students who were part of this study abroad. 

As you probably know, as the parents, grandparents, friends or boyfriends/girlfriends of these students, these are a special bunch of folks. They are smart, funny, passionate and compassionate. 

I’ve learned a lot from them and am proud to say that I know them and am proud that they are here at Purdue.

To each and everyone one of our students (Mary Kate, Ally, Tori, Lauren, Tiki, Lexi/Fern, Maggie, Alexa, Katy, Katie, Maria F., Maria S., Nicole, Leilah, Catherine, Taylor, Maxine, Danielle, Daniel, Chandaly, Erin, Celine, Brittany, and Emily) thank you for this amazing adventure. 

Also, thank you to Kristofer and Luke who helped pull off this tremendous program – without their help this program wouldn’t exist.

To all of you, for now!

– Dr. Stewart Chang Alexander


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