Even before Facebook came on the scene, I would stay in touch with them over e-mail or, in a few cases, Live Journal. A few of them would let me know they were coming each year and we would arrange to meet for coffee or drinks. And since I started actively participating on Facebook, the number of these former students I am in fairly regular contact with has increased significantly.
Quite a few of them have moved back to Arizona. Some are teaching middle school or high school now. Curiously, though, the ones I meet in person are usually the ones who live far away. Maybe it's the fact that the possibility of meeting any time makes it less of a priority to make arrangements. Or maybe it's just that seeing someone every other year or so and, what is more, someone who lives in a different place, makes such encounters more rewarding.
At any rate, I greatly look forward to these meetings, both because I am genuinely interested in how my former students are doing -- they matter to me as people -- and because I don't get much opportunity to spend time in stimulating conversations these days. The students I meet up with may not be the best I've ever taught when measured "objectively" in terms of GPA etc., but they are usually the ones that have the most interesting things to say.
Take today, for example. For a variety of reasons, I had only been able to meet up with elizabeg since the winter break began and for a shorter time than usual. But the fact that time was running out for several opportunities made me be more proactive in carving out time for the former students still in town. This afternoon I met with someone who in my class back in 2002, a former rock musician who is now in the first year of an English Ph.D. program, planning to be with a medievalist. And tonight I saw Marina, a woman who came to the United States from Russia with her parents as a teenager and, after entering and finishing college several years early, embarked on both graduate study and a quest to get to know her Georgian heritage -- meaning the sort from the Caucasus -- which has led her to since in a Georgian folk choir.
Both of these former students are wonderful people whose success brings me great joy. But the latter also has great stories to tell about a place that few Americans know anything about. Hearing her talk about everything from hiking to handling sexual harassment in the former Soviet Republic was riveting. And it was great to see how much more comfortable in her own skin she has become over the past five years. I left the pub where we met up with my spirits boosted greatly.