As a child, I never knew what to say when people asked me where I was from. I’d reply that as the daughter of a diplomat I was born in Virginia, but I’d moved every few years to places like the Philippines, Morocco, and Egypt. Certainly, a nomadic existence was exciting, but I also felt different in that I didn’t have one place to call home.
Sara Taber, author of Born Under an Assumed Name (Potomac Books, 2012) also grew up overseas, but as the daughter of a CIA agent. In her memoir, Taber explores the joys and challenges of spending her childhood in the Netherlands, Japan, and Taiwan. Through her travels, she learned how to appreciate different cultures, speak other languages, and view her country from an outsider’s perspective. She thanked her father for making her see the beauty of her existence, even as he struggled with a job and agency that would almost destroy him. Taber writes, “My father—the way he talked, the way he looked toward the horizon—offered me glimmers of something else, another way to exist, another realm beyond that of my school; the possibility of walking out into all the hugeness of the world. He gave me a continent where people walked directly into rain, or straight up mountains.”
By nature, Taber was shy as a child, which initially made it challenging for her to make friends in a new place. But with her parents’ support, she learned to embrace each new home. As she started school in another country, her father said, “Just be yourself and they’ll love you, Girl-Child. This is a new, grand adventure. Just wait and see.” Her mother believed that the place where she currently lived was best, though she too dreaded leaving behind close friends. Other challenges included battling illnesses and questioning what it means to be American.
In her memoir, Taber looks back at a past that formed her identity. As an adult, it was difficult for her to accept staying put in one place for years. “The truth is, all my travels would leave me, rather than sated, insatiable: craving other cultures and the stories of other people’s lives. At times during my life this tendency would seem a healthy passion, at other times an addiction.”
I too had a father who extolled the virtues of traveling abroad, telling me, it broadened my perspective on the world and enriched our lives. How many teens could say they’d climb the pyramids, visited the Tate Gallery or toured kasbahs? On a deeper level, I’d learned tolerance and openness by living amongst people with different religions, traditions, and values.
Like Taber, I sometimes feel the urge to flee the land we should call home. Other countries are only a plane ride away, so why can’t we sample the world’s offerings? We’re bound here by friends, family, and jobs, yet we both yearn for the adventure of exploring new lands and people. Certainly, that’s possible here in a country of immigrants, but sometimes that’s not enough. The completely unknown beckons us. Do we dare listen?
Jennifer Nelson recently graduated with an MFA in creative nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She now teaches high school French after spending years writing for newspapers and magazines.