On the first day of 10th grade, my Honors English teacher interrogated my class about our summer reading assignment, To Kill a Mockingbird; she asked if anyone recognized who the character Dill was based off of. I raised my nervous palm, oozing with that new kid sweat I was all too familiar with, and responded, “Truman Capote.” Surprised, the teacher extended her question by asking if I had ever read any of Capote’s work. I answered, “In Cold Blood is my favorite book.” The student behind me leaned forward, and inquired, his voice dripping with a heavy southern drawl, “Where you from, girl?”
After serving 16 years as an Army brat, and living briefly in the United States, Germany, and even England, news of my impending move to Lake City, Florida had not fazed me. Of all the countries I had lived in, I had resided in the U.S. for the least amount of time. I was ready to live in the country my family and I had been representing overseas with the U.S. Army my whole life. Upon completing my registration at Columbia High School in August 2009, the receptionist welcomed me to the South, and suggested I read the Bible to learn English, insinuating I was a non-English speaking European citizen, not an American citizen educated in Department of Defense schools overseas.
Her proposal hit me with a startling realization; my life here would not be similar to the brief years I had lived in U.S., not to mention drastically different than my years in Europe. Previously, my days in America were spent isolated on U.S. Army posts, arguing with my friends about who had lived in Europe the longest, seen the Eiffel tower the most, and spoke a foreign language fluently. Now, in an American public high school, the close proximity of a Super Wal-Mart to the school building was all it took to impress the pupils. I was having a culture shock in my own country.
At first my reaction was to isolate myself from the rest of the student population. In my mind, we had nothing in common, and I had to survive rural America for three years until graduation, when I could move back to Europe. However, amidst the pick up trucks (which sat a good five feet above the road), the hunting camouflage, and obsession with smart phones, I found my peers wanted to know what was beyond Florida’s borders. Many had not even traveled the 45 minutes to Georgia, let alone a foreign country. Never had I realized before that being well-traveled is a privilege, not a right.
As the year progressed, my classmates warmed up to me through my anecdotes from my travels, such as falling into the ponds in the Netherland’s tulip gardens, visiting Paris for my 14th birthday, or getting horribly lost in Rome’s confusing ancient streets. Traveling not only exposed me to new and fascinating cultures, it aided me in relating to others from a land I had not formerly recognized as foreign – America. Likewise, while residing in Lake City I was thrown into modern American culture. From driving to Atlanta for the SEC Football Championship, to being able to drink the water straight from the tap, my life in both large and small ways was slowly being Americanized.
By the end of my sophomore year I knew I would be returning to Germany to graduate high school. I was receiving what I had wished for all year long, to live surrounded by history, not strip malls, to ride the streetcar again, not drive everywhere, and to eat schnitzel, not generic chain restaurant special low priced meals. However, I knew I wanted to return to the U.S. soon. I spent my childhood exploring Europe’s ancient rich culture, and now America’s budding new culture seems like the next challenge to conquer.