Once upon a time– the year 2007 to be exact– I moved to Geneva, Switzerland with my family because of my father’s job. In 2010 we returned to living in New Jersey, after a three-year stint of living in Europe and attending an international school.
I always joke (except we all know that a part of me is quite serious about this) that I left the country “to go through my awkward phase.” This obviously wasn’t planned, but it did just so happen to be the case. I lived in Europe from ages 13-15 (7th-9th grade), and in my case, these were my roughest years in the sense of “awkward”: Socially, physically, emotionally. I left New Jersey as a child, and returned as a mostly-not-awkward-but-still-a-little-quirky 16-year-old.
I could go on and on about my experiences living over there, both positive and negative, as well as everything in between, but that isn’t what I’m writing this post for. I want to reflect on a part that most people often don’t think of when I tell them about my move to Europe and back– the discomfort of returning ‘home,’ when everything has changed.
What exactly do I mean by everything? I mean my views of the world, my mental state, my appearance, my familial and social relationships. My tastes, my interests, my perceptions, my language abilities. My experiences. A change from childhood to adolescence. From naive to not all-knowing, but more aware of so many things than before.
Even more so, not only were there all the changes, but there were also the constants. Discomfort crawled up my spine frequently those first few months back in New Jersey, as I, a 16-year-old, entered the same home I lived in at age 12. The home was exactly the same, but I was not. It felt all wrong, as if I no longer fit into a puzzle that I was supposed to be a part of. What was I doing incorrectly? Why did I have to change, only to come back? Entering high school was an even stranger part. I wasn’t used to being in public school surrounded by 99% white Americans. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being a white American; I am one, after all. It simply felt unnatural to go from an environment of diversity of ethnicity, race, religion, and language, to a place where fitting in and being the same appeared to be the goal of the student body (not saying it necessarily was that way, but it was how I felt and perceived those things). I re-joined friends that I had from fifth/sixth grade. It didn’t feel right to see them in the high school environment, with their subtle changes and their growth from when I had last known them. More so, I couldn’t stand the way that people expected me to be the same person I was when I left. I was far from that. I know that my friends were just doing what they could to help me re-adjust, but I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable at their attempts to bring me back to the past– as if my three years in Switzerland hadn’t happened. I suddenly felt as though perhaps those years of excitement, adventures, struggles, and challenges hadn’t occurred, but perhaps were dreams, figments of my vivid imagination. I knew rationally that I had lived there and that those things had happened, but a part of me was scared that I was going to lose it, and let go of all that I had experienced just so that I could ‘fit in’ at my American high school. At age 16 I had one of several identity crisis’s, wondering where I belonged and if I could belong.
When people did ask me about Switzerland, they often mixed up terms, unsure of what languages were spoken in Switzerland or where the country was located. “So you speak… what is it, Swiss?” I would carry on to explain that French, German, and Italian are the country’s national languages, but most locals speak English. I happened to live in the Francophone region, and my international school pushed both French and Spanish simultaneously, causing me to eventually (to my surprise… it had been a rather rocky start) fall in love with language learning. I couldn’t get mad at these individuals, because Switzerland was so far removed from their daily lives. I couldn’t expect others to just ‘get it’ and know about my experiences without my explanation. At the same time, I couldn’t expect people to always want to hear about my past. I’ve come to learn that it’s hard for a listener to engage if they cannot connect anything from within their own lives to the conversation. Hence, why most of the time I tried to stay in the present and refer to things I didn’t always care about, just for the sake of fitting in and avoiding putting others to sleep with my rambling. Now, at age 20, I can finally say that I think I’ve come closer to figuring it out: It’s important to be true to yourself, but it’s also important to put others into consideration too. It’s challenging to find that balance, but I believe it can be done.
A picture I took while visiting Geneva, Switzerland this summer (shown above). This is the city we lived just outside of during those three years.
Throughout my sophomore year in high school, that first year of return, I did make many good friends. It took time, as I reconnected with some old friends, and found some new ones in classes and on the track team. I found a way to re-shape my puzzle piece slightly, altering it just enough to fit, but not enough to change the purpose of the whole picture. It was a very difficult year, one where I felt alone much of the time, but I wouldn’t change it for my experiences. I’m glad that I got to move to Switzerland, and I’m happy that I got to come back. I wouldn’t know as much as I do about change and adapting to it if it weren’t for that experience. Change is a topic I will talk about often, as it’s something that both frustrates me and fascinates me. I love it and I hate it. It makes me want to run away but it also lures me in. Like with most things, I have mixed opinions. Not everything is as black and white as I once thought it was– but rather a mix of grey and many other colors that overlap and intersect in ways that are difficult to imagine. And that’s just life I suppose.
https://obsessionswordsandeverythinginbetween.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/transition-time/ <— click on this link to read more about my experiences with change and handling transitions!
My house in Chavannes-des-Bogis, Switzerland (below):