By lucky chances, conscious decisions, and some unlucky twists, I’m winding down a consecutive two and a half years in my fieldsite and preparing to go back “home.” In this time, I’ve learned and changed more than I am able to put into words (though I have to somehow manage to put it into a dissertation) and I’ve progressed through four stages of fieldwork—language study, research, analysis, and writing. Through all of those different phases, I made what feels like a normal life for myself in my field. Now it is finally time for me to leave and I’m working on processing a whole suitcase full of emotions and experiences. In this post, I want to outline the decisions I made about leaving that helped me to transition into the next phase of my studies and career.
My transition from full-fledged writing to wrapping up and leaving the city I’d called home for two and a half years started about a month before my actual departure. Some of my close friends were leaving town and I realized their exits marked the beginning of my final goodbyes to people I’d grown close to. So, while I was still working on writing, I began to think about my own exit and return to my other home. I made sure to wrap up a draft of a chapter in order to end the year on a high note but after that task, I decided to leave my academic work aside for my last couple weeks in my field. However, in order to not go completely crazy or have sadness consume me, I kept a low stakes project on hand to split my attention from my packing and farewells. This allowed me to spend my last couple weeks still academically productive, but also able to have flexible time to do tasks outside my normal routine knowing that there would definitely be visits and tasks that would pop up unexpectedly.
One of the tasks that I decided to take on in my last week was a whirlwind of shopping. Apart from buying gifts to bring back to family and friends, I also made time to do a lot of shopping for myself. I learned I could get nice professional clothes in India, so I used that as an excuse to re-vamp my wardrobe for my return in an economic manner. In my attempts to mentally prepare to return home, I began a process of nesting for my new place back home too, I decided to bring pieces of my field back with me to put around my apartment in the US. I made time to visit some of my favorite shops and finally picked up textiles and objects I have been eyeing for months in anticipation for my return that will gently remind me of the home I made and loved for over two years. I also made sure to stock up on some of my favorite foods and other little things I’d grown accustomed to while living in India. I figured having some of these things by my side would help to make the transition less difficult.
Enjoying my favorite things
Shopping also provided me a way to go around the city one last time, which I enjoyed with new eyes knowing I’d be leaving it soon. The plans I made with family and friends also centered on making sure I visited some of my favorite restaurants, cafes, and landmarks. It was a nice way to give closure to the city and also spend time with friends. I also enjoyed visiting some of these places alone to reflect on my time spent in the field and tried to take more pleasure in things I began to take for granted from sunsets, street dogs, plants and fruit that first seemed exotic to me, and even traffic.
While this may have been the most important thing on my list when leaving a city in the past, this time I tried to not stress myself out by planning individual meetings with everyone I had interacted with over the last couple years. I tried to see people at group gatherings to say goodbye to friends. I also started a process of saying goodbye early and let people know that I would probably be busy and that I would love to stay in touch by email if I wouldn’t be able to meet them near the end of my stay. I figured it was going to be both emotionally and logistically hard to say goodbye to everyone who has made my stay meaningful and important, so I compromised by having a relatively open schedule for myself instead of making appointments to visit everyone one last time in a rush on my last days. While I’ve done the mad rush to cram in as much as possible in the past, I find it is not as meaningful as a heartfelt note or a more relaxed visit well before leaving. I do wish I could gather everyone I know and see them on my last day, but I also know myself and the limits of my sanity and emotions and would expect a harried meltdown if I had tried to go through with that.
Envisioning a return
I recognize the way that I said goodbye to my friends, family, and interlocutors in my field is a privilege because I also expect that I’ll be back in my field for a short follow-up stay relatively soon. It was helpful for me to not see this departure as a final goodbye but as an ellipsis until the next time I visit to do follow up work or come for a relaxed vacation. This is a privilege I have from working in a place where I have roots and a city that is relatively easy to reach from all corners of the world. I know my plans to return are a luxury not granted to all of us, and while for me a return trip also may not come to fruition, it was helpful to imagine one as I planned to leave.
Trying to be normal
Overall, I kept telling myself that life goes on. Everyone I was interacting with in my last couple weeks were working their own jobs and sticking to their normal schedules, so I tried to stick to mine and keep in mind that the world did not revolve around me as much as it seemed that removing myself from a city that became my home should be the biggest thing in the world to me and everyone around me. Rather, I kept telling myself that this was always part of the plan and that I knew this day would come. I made time to reflect on my feelings and especially to acknowledge my accomplishments, proud moments, and fun memories.