Katherine Lewis is a senior psychology major minoring in applied behavior analysis and sociology. She is a full-time employee at Baudhuin Preschool where she works with children with autism. Katherine hopes to pursue careers in both early childhood special education and family therapy and dreams of one day combining both professions into her own equine therapy program. 

“Where are you from?”

A simple question, easily answered. However, for me, this question opens up an entire conversation. After many years of explaining my story, I have noticed that the conversation can go two ways. If I’m making small talk with someone whom I’ll very likely never see again, my answer is California. But, if the conversation is more meaningful, my answer is England. This second answer brings with it an onslaught of questions: “So where’s your accent?” and “Why are you in school in Florida?” Here is my story.

When I was 5-years-old, my family moved from California to England. My father was an active-duty officer in the United States Air Force, and he had just received orders to relocate to an airbase in East Anglia, a region of England. My parents, who had both lived in England before, were uninterested in living on the base, so we rented and, eventually bought, a home in a little town called Clare.

Nestled in the quaint English countryside, Clare was like something out of a Jane Austen novel. Cottages, pubs, a village bakery and a butcher shop; it was an entirely different world than the one I find myself in today. In Clare, I attended the local primary school for four years, and I acquired an accent.

My mother started working for the Department of Defense schools, which are located on Air Force bases for the children of the military personnel. So, when it came time for me to begin middle school, my mother decided to put me in one of the department’s schools. After this, my accent faded gradually, but, because I was around other American kids who also relocated to the base, I went from being the “American girl” in Clare to the “British girl” overnight. I had close British friends and close American friends, and this often made me feel as if I were living two lives.

We stayed in England for 14 years, and I was lucky enough to travel all over Europe during this time. But, being a so-called “military brat” does have its drawbacks. Even though we didn’t move around as much as expected, especially after my dad retired from the Air Force, all of my friends tended to move every two or three years. I was the constant. I saw a lot of people come and go. I said a lot of goodbyes. I was lucky, however, to have a few very close British friends whom I actually plan to visit this summer, after being away from them for four years.

I left England to come to NSU in 2011. It was my first time living in the U.S., and it all felt so foreign. It was pretty daunting crossing an ocean to start a new life, especially when my family stayed behind on “the other side of the pond.”

Whenever people talked about being homesick I felt a certain pang of resentment; their families were usually just a drive away, while mine were across an entire ocean. But, I quickly grew out of this, as I began meeting others who also had families living thousands of miles away from them. Looking back, I realize that the distance really allowed me to grow independently and figure out who I was.

After living that awkward double life throughout my adolescence, a fresh start in a new place gave me the opportunity to take experiences from both lives and use them shape myself into the person I want to be. I think that knowing so many people from so different cultures made me a much more compassionate and open-minded person. I also believe it may have sparked my interest in both psychology and sociology.

Of course, I constantly miss my parents and older sister, who now live in northern Japan, and I still get jealous when I see people hanging out with their siblings or shopping with their moms on the weekends. Yet, I am so grateful for the incredible opportunities that being a military brat has brought me. I have already seen most of the world before my 21st birthday. Not many college seniors can say that.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of K. Lewis