One of our long-term students, Sina, is leaving us today (if she has finished her packing: another story); and as with the departure of many of our long termers, it suddenly seems as if a hole is opening up in the school. Sina herself said yesterday of another of our long-termers, Masato, who left before Christmas, that he was like the furniture of the school.
I think furniture is perhaps not quite the right image, however. Furniture suggests something unregarded, something you forget is there until you bark your shins against it. Masato (and Sina, and all the others) was never that. I think with the longer term students the school – by which I mean, the staff and the teachers – come to rely on them to some degree. They know how things work, they look after the new arrivals, they develop an understanding of the culture of the school, and not only promulgate that culture, but contribute to it, and by contributing, alter it in some way. The school is never quite precisely the same, before and after.
This is also true of the students who are here only a week, but the effect amplifies with time. I can only imagine what it is like for teachers in primary or secondary school, who see generation after generation mature, graduate and pass on. But a language school has its particularity too, since students arrive with a well-developed weight of culture of their own, both national and professional. They contribute more from the get go.
Anyway, to (mis)quote what George Clooney said in a snippet of a film we watched together this week, make no mistake: the human relationships are the weightiest things we carry around in our metaphorical backpacks. And a language school is nothing if not human relationships.