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Laos: Where Are You From?

"Where are you from?"

The teacher's words sent my heart racing. We were all crowded into a tiny white classroom on the first day of fifth grade in a French lycee in Vientiane, Laos. I was feeling alone and different. I was the odd apple in a sea of Laotian faces with almond shaped eyes and pitch-black hair. One by one, the children stood up and introduced themselves with ease. As my turn grew nearer my mind raced: I didn't understand what the teacher wanted to know. My legs felt like spaghetti and could barely support me as I struggled to stand up. "My name is Tamara and..." my mind went blank. Everybody stopped to look at the strange foreigner waiting for what was to come next, but there was nothing. I sat down, my face beet red and my heart in my throat. The teacher, confused, asked again where I was from. All I could say was: "I don't know."

Where am I from? I've asked myself this question time and time again. Where is my home? Where do I belong? Whether I lived in the States experiencing miniature golf and Chuck E. Cheese's or in Laos surrounded by rice paddies and noodle soup, I felt like I was at home. In whichever exotic country my father's job at the U.S. Embassy took us, I naturally found myself a place to blossom along with other children. It was my life, the way it had always been. I was accustomed to making new friends, eating new food, and learning new languages. Which one of these very different places did I belong in? Was it Guatemala, where I spoke Spanish and ate fried bananas; or was it Madagascar, where I spoke French and played with brightly colored chameleons in my garden; or perhaps my birthplace, the Seychelles, where I spent my holidays playing in the white, sandy beaches? The truth is that no one of these places was more of my home than any other.

At times, I would resent my parents for putting me through the trauma of moving and making it so difficult for me to identify myself. I wished that we would just pick a place and stick with it. The knowledge of what an exciting life I was leading and what a rare opportunity I had only came later. I didn't pass through these countries as a tourist and see only the beauty in them; I also saw the difficulties the locals faced in their everyday lives. On my way to school everyday in Madagascar, thin children of all ages would run up to our car and knock on the windows begging for money. At that time, I didn't understand what all this really meant, but today I look back and appreciate that I don't have to worry about what I'm going to eat or where I am going to sleep.

Where I am from? There is no definite answer, but I feel lucky for that. Instead of having one home, I have many. Instead of having one culture, I have many. All these places, unique and beautiful in their own ways, have molded me into what I am today. The question that I once struggled to answer, I now look forward to answering. What I used to scold my parents for, I can't thank them enough today. I've been given a wonderful gift, a gift that will last.

"Where are you from?" a fellow student asked me on my first day of school in Switzerland. I proudly announced that it was a long story and proceeded to describe my amazing adventures across the globe.

This life has given me a broad view of the world and the reality of how incredible different people's lives are. I know that I want to continue traveling. There is so much more out there that I haven't seen and some of it I will never see, but I hope to discover as much as possible.


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