When I was eight years old, my family loaded up our things and moved to a new country for the second time in my life. My dad’s company was taking us to Midland, Mich., and we were assigned to live there for three to five years.
Over the course of a few weeks, the boxes were loaded into the large moving van outside my house in Ireland. Every box, large and beige, contained a small part of our lives. The house was empty and no longer the place I recognized as my home. Another move, another house. Each of my toys, items and clothes were neatly packed away and sealed up. “For later,” I was told. “For America.”
Like the things that were packaged, my life in Ireland was sealed up and put away. We were off to a new place across the ocean where I would start the third grade. It seemed odd — we’d only lived in Ireland for a little more than 18 months, and my little brother had just been born. I remember feeling cheated, and throwing sarcasm toward my parents. Thanks a ton, I thought selfishly, for moving us across the ocean, far away from our family and friends.
As an eight-year-old, America was this seemingly fictitious place that you heard about on TV and read about in books. That’s where Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and the other pop artists we jammed to on the radio were from. I had this odd idea that everywhere in America was like Hollywood. I thought celebrities walked around, everyone was beautiful and it was sunny all the time. Touching down in Michigan made me feel like everything had suddenly changed. This wasn’t the Hollywood version of America I expected to see. This was a place where everything was big, everyone talked funny and told you that you have a nice accent. This country was far away from my grandparents, cousins and friends I’d made. The familiar was vanished, making way for a new beginning.
A three-to-five-year assignment has so far turned into 12 and has completely changed the way I deal with discomfort and challenge. Though I previously felt negatively about my move to America, I am now grateful for it and even call Michigan my home. In the beginning, it seemed too foreign and distant from my life for me to adjust. Feeling fully comfortable in this new environment felt light years away. The move taught me at a young age what it meant to be different. It taught me how to adjust, and it taught me to persevere. For a while, I hid my differences, did my best to fit in and mold. My accent and verbiage changed quickly, I grew accustomed to not having a school uniform, and I avoided all possible conversations that might give away my facade. However, as I move through my junior year in college, I am becoming more comfortable with that difference, and even using the experience to my advantage. I never took the time to realize the small things I learned, the nuances my background gives me and how, even as a third grader, I was given the room to grow and gain responsibility.
My move across the ocean has helped me become comfortable with the idea of being alone in a new city. When looking for internships and opportunities for next summer, I have no location preference. Starting a life in a new place doesn’t terrify me, as it may others. I learned what it takes to build a life somewhere when I was in third grade.
I also learned to adjust and be flexible. Moving to a new place requires you to stretch to your comfort zone. You have to be aware that you are different in almost every regard. Even moving across the country will give one a sense of being an outsider that has never been felt before. My ability to work around that discomfort, and even thrive in it, has helped me immensely in stepping out of my comfort zone at school.
Lastly, I embrace that my background makes me different. This year in particular, I have been a lot more verbal and open about my international upbringing. I’ve slowly come to realize that what makes me different is what makes me special. It’s not something to hide, but rather something to highlight.
As I reflect about my move to America, I no longer feel cheated. I don’t feel like my childhood was drastically altered or that I missed out on the things that other kids got to experience. I’m grateful for the way my upbringing has affected the person I am today. Seven years after a three-to-five-year assignment, I am thankful for my immigration to the United States. So, thanks, Mom and Dad, for real this time, for moving us across the world.