Hey, maybe starting over isn’t so bad...

by adonaldson34 /
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Jun 08, 2014 / 0 comments

“A woman is like a tea bag, you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

'I don’t know what I would do if that were me' is a phrase that I have heard repeated back to me almost every time I have told my friends that we’re moving again. For them it is a sympathetic and truthful response because truthfully, they are sort of at a loss for words. For me it is a reminder that that yet again, I am going through something that not everyone can relate to. But at the same time though, it incites a challenge to stop wallowing in self-pity because unlike them, I have had to do this and am going to have to do this.

Due to my dad’s military career, my family has endured the challenge of moving every few years to new towns, cities, states, or even countries. Each move has required us to start over in all aspects of our lives: friends, teachers, school requirements, sports teams, hobbies (all depending on what is popular in that area), climate, our house, etc.


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So, how do we adjust to this culture shock every few years? The answer is simple: you simply do. As a soldier, my dad answers to the federal government’s orders. As the family of a soldier, we too, answer to their commands. Ultimately, what other choice do we have? After so many years, we’ve come to the conclusion that the sooner we accept this, the quicker we can start making adjustments to begin our “new life,” and still manage to enjoy what little time we have left in our current location.

It is an odd thing going through life with a start and end date for how long we can stay in one place until moving to the next. At first, that final date seems so far away and unimaginable. It becomes real when your house is filled with sweaty men taking away your furniture and leaving your house with only the smell of old, musty brown boxes and packaging tape, and you realize that this is only the start of the trials that lie ahead.


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Moving house by Paul Keller, on Flickr creative commons


Have you ever stopped to consider the difference between a house and a home? To me, a house is a structure made up of wood, concrete, sod, and other materials that protects its inhabitants from the outdoors and holds material items—it is a building. A home though, includes the people that live in the house and the memories they have created there. It is the way the light shines through the sun room at 1 o’clock in the afternoon every day and brings the whole room of empty furniture to life, or the warmth from the fireplace during thanksgiving dinner that brings us all so close together after the annual morning football game. It is the place of so many sleepovers with friends who stayed up until 3 a.m. stuffing their faces with food and watching reality TV shows. It is that family picture hanging on the wall from 7 years ago, exposing the fashion styles and haircuts that everyone is so embarrassed to have taken part in, but still hangs up anyway. It is a place of comfort and it is a piece of you.

So again, this summer my family will be uprooted and report for duty in Virginia, where we will live in a house, and slowly transform it into a home.

My sister will experience a new fast-paced, and competitive culture in Virginia as she enters her sophomore year of high school. Since I am in college, after this summer I will return to school at the University of Pittsburgh, where I have been for the last two years, and resume my life there. In the meantime, Alana will have to adjust to her new school, make new friends, and create a new routine in her home.

Alana has done this her entire life. However, this time, it is a bit different because we have had the fortune of living in our current home for four years now. It has been possible to form close relationships with friends that have been by her side during the tough teenage years, and now through their first year of high school.

Since we were first told that we would be moving, I have felt fairly distant from the situation. I was more worried about my sister because it seemed like it wouldn’t be as big of a deal for me as it would be for her since I’m in college and am only home on breaks. I was wrong though. As the chaos of moving took place and our belongings were slowly moved out of place, stacked in boxes, and eventually moved into a 52 foot-long truck, I started to panic. I kept wanting to say “stop, put that back”, “no, that sunflower bowl belongs on the sun-room table”, re-hang all of my clothes in the closet, and put our home back into order.


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I couldn’t though, that’s the thing. No matter how much I protested, nothing was going to change. So, instead I came home from work the next day to an entirely empty house and our house keys placed on the counter for the soon-to-be owner.

As I walked through the house and took in the emptiness of it, I was overcome with emotion. Four years had passed by and I couldn’t believe it. I walked into my room, staring at the light shade of purple walls that my friends and family spent days painting, and thought of the person I was when we moved here, the friends I had then, my priorities then, the friends I have now, the person I am now, and my goals for the future. It was a surreal moment.


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It is amazing what an empty house can bring to light for you. I couldn’t understand why I was so upset. But, then I stopped and thought about it. Our move highlighted the fact that the past memories that felt so alive in my mind were simply memories—reflections on a former chapter in my life. It reminded me that I am now an adult, no longer sheltered by the night-light that used to shine in the corner of my room years ago just down the hall from my parents. It also made me think about how much I have truly grown up and changed since move-in day in 2010. This is the transition period, kind of like when moving from one paragraph to another in an essay, and I was trying to find the perfect word to connect the past section of my life to the beginning of my new one.

Moving is truly bitter-sweet, whether you are a military kid or not. If you’re in the position of moving and you’re weary about it, you have to remember a few key things:

1.    You have the chance to meet an endless amount of people who will impact your life. You will meet people who push you to be better, have a new sense of humor, perhaps are more relatable, but that doesn’t mean that you have to forget about the people that you left behind. You can easily keep in touch with old friends through snail mail (my favorite), phone calls, or even blogs. It will give you a new meaning to friendship and test your creativity. You are expanding your network of resources and friendships around the world by meeting so many new people, not losing a piece of you.

2.    You will experience new cultures, new scenery, and try things you’ve never heard of, like a game of quoits or can-jam. This enables you to relate to people and spark more conversations. For instance, I am a tour guide at my college. It is my job to show families and their prospective students around my school and communicate effectively with them. When first meeting families, it helps to be able to try to find some kind of common ground in order to create a comfortable environment and establish a relationship with them. This makes giving the tour so much easier and also makes the families feel more at ease on campus. There have been numerous occasions in which living across the nation on the West Coast in Washington, to the East Coast in Pennsylvania, and even abroad in Germany, and the experiences I shared in each, have helped me relate to families and in return, make them more responsive to me.

3.    You will gain a more holistic view on life and be more accepting of others. Not everyone has the opportunity to leave town and start somewhere new; if you do though, exposing yourself to different cultures, socioeconomic statuses, and religions, may allow you to be more open to others’. In return, this can make you more approachable and accepted.

4.    You may re-evaluate yourself. It’s natural to get caught up in the here and now of life, but after moving and experiencing a somewhat different environment, you may look back on the things you used to do on a daily basis and think to yourself: why was that so important? Why was that the norm for me? Which isn’t a bad thing! Self-reflection is very beneficial and can help you discover who you are. Without having the influence of friends who have rubbed off on you over the years, you may also start to notice your own personality shining through more, and grow into your own skin.

5.    You can’t sit and dwell on the changes that are to come, and the people and places that you will be leaving behind. You need to look at each obstacle as a task, and complete each task one at a time. That is the only way that you will be able to stay focused and accomplish a smooth transition. Of course you will have emotions about the situation, but at some point, you need to take a step back and think with your head, not your heart, about how you are going move forward with your life. Life around you goes on, with or without you—so as long as you are still alive and breathing, you might as well make the most of it!



1  Note: for some military families, it can happen every year, or even a few times within the same year.


Alexis Donaldson is the Intercultural Editor for Wandering Educators


All photos courtesy and copyright Alexis Donaldson, except where noted