I remember January 1995 clearly. The streets outside our house were covered with ice, and the schools were closed for 5 consecutive days. That year was my family's fifth in the United States, and we were getting cabin fever because we were confined both in our house for that week and in one country for much longer than we liked. We used the extra time to sit around the diningroom table and consider our options for the future. Without much debate, we decided that it was time to begin plans for a move overseas in the next 2 years.
I was not always as enthusiastic about moving as I am now. I used to be sure that living in one place my whole life was what I really wanted. When I returned to the States in sixth grade after living in the Ivory Coast for 4 years, my classes we're filled with people who had known each other forever. Their minds were filled with mutual memories and knowledge they had gained from opportunities I had never had. I loved music and immediately joined the school band. My zeal was soon dampened when I found that I was the oldest student in the beginners group and had come 2 years too late to join the band with the other sixth graders.
I envied my friends who had always lived in the same house, gone to the same church, and had been around the same people. They had stability in their lives that I felt missing from mine. I was jealous of the life they had always led of TV sitcoms at night, music on the radio, ever-present ice cream, and fast-food joints, and school bands. At times, it was hard for me to find where I fit into their lives. They, unlike me, at times, seemed to always know who they were (typical American kids) and where they belonged (in the same place they always had been). I thought they had the best possible life and often wished that we could trade.
My mind changed within a few years when I started to realize that many of my experiences in life were foreign, even to my friends' parents. My classmates couldn't imagine life outside their sheltered one and surprised me by returning my envy. While they had spent much of their 12 years in front of the television, I had gone on safaris, visited African plains and tropical forests, eaten exotic foods and fruits, toured French chateaus and cathedrals, and ridden the TGV to Paris. I became proud of my visits to places that they had only seen on TV or a movie screen. My new classmates thought I was unique, and I felt the part but was beginning to be happy with my association with that world.
I relished my differences even more when I started to reap the benefits of my diversified childhood. In eighth grade, I discovered that living outside of the United States had developed my mental abilities as well as provided me with enriching experiences. I had taken French during my 4 years I was in the Ivory Coast, and this early exposure to the language has made it always seem natural to me. I feel comfortable with learning languages, in general, and seem to pick up the grammar and intricacies of foreign tongues easily. Also because I have lived all over the world, I see it as filled with possibilities of future explorations instead of places that are out of reach. Reading or watching the news takes on a different meaning when I know someone from the topic country or have been there myself.
When my family saw that a post in Santiago, Chile, would be open in the summer of 1996, we knew where we wanted to go. We have done a lot of traveling to, from, and around our different homes, but never in South America; now we had that chance. Moving to Santiago would mean leaving just before my senior year of high school, but I realized I might never again have such an opportunity. I had lived in Alexandria for 6 years and now had the kind of base group of friends that I had dreamed of when I first moved there. I knew that Alexandria was my home. However, even home can become confining and the routines too familiar. I was ready for the excitement of living overseas again. I had enjoyed living in West Africa and was positive that I wanted to try a different kind of life once more before going to college. I can now say that I have lived in five countries on four different continents in the past 17 years and am proud of what I have learned and seen. I wouldn't have had it any other way.