It was amazing how many of my middle school classmates felt that I had single-handedly caused World War II. And just in case, I, as a twelve year old did not cause enough destruction, my German counterparts would ask about Native Americans and the War on Terror.
Growing up in two cultures meant accepting the history alongside it. When singing “I’m proud to be an American”, I had to embrace all that being an American meant. When celebrating Oktoberfest with friends and family here, I had to remember the good as well the bad. This would be more extreme for me than my American and German counterparts who went to school alongside other American or other German children.
Children are naturally curious. What felt like an attack at the time was really a reaction to what they did not understand. I attended a Catholic school where almost everyone had an American mom and an American dad. My family was a little different. My dad was a veteran who had met my mom while stationed overseas. Upon leaving the army, he brought his German wife and three children back to the States with him.
Growing up, I hated it.
I did not want to be different. Being fluent in two languages required hard work and I did not feel as though I was reaping any of the benefits.
I started high school naively thinking that I could hide this part of me. I did successfully for a while until my French teacher and mom talked about my family’s German background, which ultimately blew my cover. As the word leaked out that I was bilingual however, no one seemed to mind. The curiosity was different this time. Instead of asking me about all the mistakes Germany has made in its history, people were genuinely curious about the country I had visited every summer. It was at this point that I really began to realize what a gift it was being bicultural.
Having two backgrounds meant that:
- travelling was something I had been doing since childhood and….
- I was comfortable in any environment, understanding already from a young age that people with different backgrounds may communicate differently than I do.
In 2011, I left to study abroad for a year in Heidelberg, Germany. Heidelberg has over 2,000 international students attend the school every year. With my background, I was able to easily make friends with people from around the world. I also got to see a lot of the world that year, including:
After school, I continued to travel and landed a job (thanks to my background) in international marketing. My love of seeing the world continued to grow as I continued to meet people with different ideas and cultures than my own. I continued my travels, adding:
to my list of places I have been. As Susan Sontag said, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it on my list.” Being bicultural was not only a gift. It was an opening for new experiences, a great job, and new friends. I am so grateful and proud to be part of two great cultures. But I realize a lot of people did not have the opportunities I did, so this blog is an attempt to help you start your own journey. Check out my other posts to spark your own travel ideas and let me know if there are any places you want recommendations for.