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At age 13, I had it all planned out. Having taken my passport from my mother’s desk, I prepared to purchase my ticket to freedom from the place I’d been held hostage all those years: Florence, Italy. My mother discovered the theft quickly, however, and my plan was foiled. This wasn’t the first time I’d plotted an escape. While Florence is many people’s ideal vacation city, it was far from the ideal home for me. Neither was Bonn, Germany four years prior. With each change of country, my longing for my old home, America, only intensified.
While parting with my friends, my home, and American culture was difficult, the loss of these previously unappreciated aspects of my life paled in comparison to the challenges I faced in Germany. My father was often away on business trips, and I found that whenever he was gone, I was pushed to mature faster than I would have liked to. I can still vividly recall one occasion when I was seven and he was traveling. My mother, bedridden with the flu, asked me to read my three siblings a bedtime story and tuck them into bed. I was proud that I could help but I felt like it wouldn’t have happened if we were still in America.
While I missed my father a lot when he was away, I missed America even more. I felt my lost childhood was somehow preserved there, out of reach and waiting for me. Every time he returned from a business trip there, he brought back candy, snacks, and American memorabilia, which appealed to my childish image of the perfect utopia I had left behind. Although I had little contact with America when I lived abroad, I always considered it superior to Germany and Italy.
When my father broke the news that we would be moving back, I jumped to my feet ecstatically, screaming “YES-YES-YES!” until I nearly lost my voice. In the months preceding my transition back to America, my anticipation grew; I was ready to return to the utopian society that would restore my happiness. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When I moved to Long Island, I came prepared to be the new student again. At Cold Spring Harbor High School, where most of the students had been living in the area their entire lives, I anticipated being the talk of the whole school. I thought I would be “the cool kid from Italy,” but in reality, I was the furthest thing from it. From day one, I started realizing I wasn’t really “American” anymore. I didn’t know a thing about American sports, customs, pop culture references, and most of all, it seemed that I knew nothing about American high school culture. While I came into the school expecting immediate popularity, as I had attained in the warm and welcoming foreign communities, I was set apart from my peers in ways from which I didn’t know how to recover. For the remainder of 8th grade, I kept to myself, isolated and wondering what went wrong. The problem wasn’t the country. The problem was me.
I changed schools freshman year to Friends Academy. I felt that the kids were nice, but I didn’t reach out and remained fairly anonymous for the first semester. However, I auditioned for the play and soon found my niche in the theater department, which immediately gave me a new group of friends. Although I withdrew from my academics for the first two years, I continued to gain social confidence and self-worth, which propelled me to be a leader in clubs and in the theater by junior year.
Looking back, my problem was never finding to which culture I “belonged,” or where I considered home – it was about holding my own and being grounded in who I am and who I want to be, independent of where I live. That is a foundation that I can build off of in college and beyond.
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