As far as Culture goes, I feel I’ve been exposed to a strange patchwork that has informed a very particular worldview. I know quite a few “internationals” who share my experience. I was speaking to my Venezuelan friend Julian, whom I met and befriended in Panama about this. The defining characteristic of those in the community of “internationals” is the uniqueness of their experience. So I thought the most effective way to communicate my experience within that culture was to share some of the hodgepodge of exposure that made up my time as an international.
I was born in Ohio. I lived there for a year or two, not too many memories from then. We moved to Caracas, Venezuela. We lived in a nice condo, I remember liking the space although the size of it is unclear to me. When I think about the kitchen it feels huge, when I think about watching Pokemon in the living room it feels small. Our neighbors were a British/American family. The father, whose name I forget, was a very nice man. He was missing a chunk of his ear from when he played rugby. Someone bit it off. The daughter, Katherine, was my age at the time and she was a very social child. She always wanted to play with me, her enthusiasm was overwhelming and I came to resent having to keep up with her. The more I’d avoid it, the more she seemed to value my company, going so far as to indulge in temper tantrums until both my parents and hers convinced me to play. I always wanted to watch movies she didn't, and she’d normally get her way. We’d watch the same Spanish dubbed Bugs Life VHS over and over; her parents thought it’d help with her accent.
Bettina Nielsen was my best friend. She was incredibly intelligent, and weird, and she taught me to try eating cereal with every kind of juice before deciding milk was the way to go. We went to Colegio Internacional de Caracas for pre-k. On her birthday I wanted to buy her a cookie but something happened that I couldn’t buy her the cookie, so I broke down in tears and ran to the playground where I hid in the slide and refused to come out until she came out and told me it was ok that I didn't bring her the cookie. I don't remember too many details, but I know that when we’d play house I’d always want to be the Grandpa and she’d always want to be the family dog. Bettina Nielsen is Danish, and she’d often show off all the languages she knew. Something like 5.
I remember my nanny, she was a warm woman, and she taught me to love key lime pie. I remember hearing about how one of her relatives was killed when someone threw frozen eggs at her car during a riot. She was Colombian. I love the Colombian accent.
My dad worked for Procter and Gamble, whose Latin American headquarters at the time was in Caracas, hence the move. They pay ex-pats amazingly and offered up private international schooling for myself and my infant brother. They also helped with rent, and travel costs. Living off of an American company in a third world country is a surreal experience, one which I’d have plenty of time to internalize.
We came back to Ohio after 3 years, and stayed there a year or two. During that time I was raised by Mimi, a wonderful woman whose home was across the street from Little Flower, the catholic school where I went to Kindergarten. I remember watching her garden, her hands trembling but her steps steady. She’d talk to me about her day while I trailed her across the garden. Her two granddaughters were my heroes, and often times my care takers.
Emily was a brilliant, charismatic, and wonderfully kind girl, always running and always playing, she’d make sure we knew how to have fun the way kids did, she taught me to love my youth when it didn’t always sit right with me. She’d organize our adventures, turning over large stools and describing to us in great detail exactly how they would function as our rocket ships. She’d turn off all the lights and we’d scoot around while she hid in corners playing alien.
Rachel was her older sister, and normally she’d stay upstairs in her room painting and watching tv. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up. She was smart because she carried big books, and she spoke slowly and calmly and I wanted to listen to everything she said. Rachel and Emily’s father was black and their mother was half black half Korean. Rachel looked more like her dad and Emily more like her mom. Rachel was sitting downstairs one day, trying to get all the kids to sit and watch The Wizard of Oz. They couldn’t sit still for it, but I loved it.
I think that this collection of memories is a little scattered, and ended up being more about the personal anecdotes that stood out in my memory as opposed to a treatment of international culture. Next time I get the chance I’ll write more specifically about the international schools I attended in some of the other places I went on to live.