Elizabeth Trotter is an Anne of Green Gable’s sort of kindred spirit. Like most of those who guest blog, we’ve never met but we have connected in many areas these last few months and she has often unknowingly encouraged me. Today she writes about something I’ve wanted to feature for a long time on Communicating Across Boundaries – being a military kid, that group that even in the third culture kid world sets you apart. You can read more Elizabeth at the end of the post and make sure you check out her blog. She and her husband are great writers!
“Home is Where the Army Sends You.” For the first twelve years of my life, home was, indeed, where the Army sent us. There were good times, full of life and love and happiness. But there were bad times too, full of the ache of transition, the despair of loneliness, and a sense of awkwardness that seemed to follow me everywhere I went.
I was born in an Army hospital in Fort Knox, Kentucky, in the shadow of the United States gold reserve. It was the early 1980’s. Communism hadn’t yet fallen, the Berlin Wall still towered overhead, and the place the Army sent us next was called West Germany.
For four years we dabbled in German culture, language, food, and even traditional dress, all while living within the security of an American post. We traveled through Europe and collected Belgian carpets, German tea sets and Christmas Pyramids, Russian lacquer boxes and Matryoshka dolls – items that would decorate our many future homes and bring the West Germany of my childhood with us, wherever we went.
When we returned to the States, my Dad taught university students in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. It was a civilian community in South Dakota with minimal military personnel, and I enjoyed an idyllic small-town existence for nearly five years.
After that we crossed cultural lines back into a military community, this time, Fort Riley, Kansas. No military housing was available at the time of our move, so we lived in the nearby town at first. I arrived mid-year, and as the new kid, I didn’t fit in very well. It was the fourth grade, and friends were hard to come by.
It was here, however, that I first learned how to teach myself. Springtime standardized testing was imminent. Since I hadn’t been in class for the first half of the school year, I was sent alone to the library to learn the science I needed for our upcoming tests. I didn’t know it then, but learning how to teach myself during a lonely fourth grade year was a skill I would use for many years to come. It set me on a path of loving learning on my own.
By the time we all entered fifth grade together, I was friends with most of the girls. I was even friends with the girl who had teased me most mercilessly. Unfortunately these newfound friendships lasted only a couple months, because housing had opened up on post, and we had to move.
So I switched schools mid-year. It was a difficult transition, again. I was the new girl, again, and that meant being taunted pretty heavily. Again. But thankfully, by the time we all headed over to the middle school for sixth grade, the teasing had lessened, and I had friends. And oh, how I loved that middle school! I loved my teachers, and I loved the subjects we studied. I thought I had found a place to belong.
It was a glorious year, but it was only a year. At the end of that year, my family left military life to settle in a suburb of Kansas City, MO. And all over again, I was the new girl. This was the third socially difficult move in 2 ½ years, and coming directly out of military culture, I found that I did not fit in anywhere in the suburbs.
I didn’t feel like the house my family lived in was my home, and the town didn’t feel like mine, either. Everyone else had been friends since kindergarten, and I didn’t make many friends at school. Instead, I made school my best friend. I excelled in all subjects. (Um, except P.E.) I loved learning, and I loved my teachers. I may have been socially unhappy, but hey, at least I was academically happy. My love of learning continued throughout junior high, high school, and college, forming my identity as a dedicated student and academic.
In college I found true, lifelong friends, and it was precisely because I was an academic that I found them. I attended an engineering school with people just like me, fellow lovers of math and science. I found my dearest friends at a campus ministry, among others who had also devoted their lives to God.
Through all the moves, one thing remained constant: my grandparents’ home in a little town in Iowa, surrounded by cornfields, and possessing the most marvelous night skies I have ever seen. Through all the shifting relationships, through all the changing addresses, through all the loneliness and the friendlessness, we returned there again and again, for Christmas holidays and summer vacations.
I had friends there — plenty of cousins to play with. On so many levels, it was Home. Even after graduating high school and college, I would still point to Belle Plaine, IA, as my hometown. It wasn’t really my hometown; it was my parents’ hometown. But I had adopted it as my own and felt like I belonged there.
I still love the small town life of my parents’ hometown, and I am so blessed to be able to experience it anew overseas. I live in the capital city of Cambodia, along with some two million other souls, but there is an expatriate community of only a few thousand. Small enough to feel like everybody knows everybody. Small enough to be known. Small enough to feel cared for, loved, and supported by the international community.
Home is wherever the people I love are, and my experiences have taught me that I can have multiple homes. So my home is still back in a small town in Iowa. It’s also in Kansas City, where my parents have lived for 21 years, where I got married, and where I gave birth to all my babies. And home is in Cambodia, with my husband and four children, and the many kindred spirits I’ve met here.
Home is no longer where the Army sends me; home is where the Lord sends me. For now, He has sent me here, to live and work in the Kingdom of Cambodia. I never expected to live overseas, but now that I’m here, I feel I was made to live life like this. I never dream of going back “home” to America. My history has shaped me into a person easily suited to long-term living overseas. My home is here, living among other global workers. It’s where I belong.
About Elizabeth Trotter
Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at http://www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.