In 1974, at the age of 13, I moved in the middle of the school year to a remote area of Missouri. Even though I was “in the sticks” (the countryside), it was still the third most populated area in the state.
Not knowing the popular culture in America made it incredibly challenging for me to make friends. I had no idea how to have a conversation with my fellow classmates… it was like I had just landed on Earth.
I didn’t know who The Fonze (a character in the famous show Happy Days), or Joe Namath (the quarterback for the New York Jets, who was very popular at the time) were. When I moved, I learned all this and more.
My previous three years I had been living in a beautiful area of Germany, Ludwigsburg to be precise. I was surrounded by country, farms, and great friends. I was a girl scout and I had an active life with safe public transportation, in the form of buses. I went skating with friends on the weekends at the skating rink and explored amazing parts of the country doing Volksmarches (basically 5 and 10 km hikes that ended at a gathering of people downing beers and sausages). My friends and I just had energy drinks, as kids, but could easily have had beer if we wanted to because there was no real drinking age limit.
I listened to European music and never watched TV, simply because there was no English speaking TV shows.
Every Saturday afternoon in Germany, my friends and I went to the matinee. I would get lost staring at the big screen, eating popcorn, watching the most popular American films. To this day, I still love sitting in dark cinemas totally immersed in a great story.
I loved playing softball and was on a competitive team that traveled around Germany. I was pitcher and my twin sister played shortstop.
Thankfully, my sister and I had each other as we were tossed into a new school with nobody else to help us settle. Our parents were busy with other things so I didn’t have any handholding at home or school.
I’d have to say what helped me the most was my athletic ability. When I started to participate in sports, I became the all-star on the track team and a cheerleader. I was voted “Most Athletic” my first year and it really helped me make friends.
What I learned was to do what you love, and in that process, you can meet others who share the same interests. I also learned to build resilience and to keep trying even when it felt like nobody wanted to know me because I was out of touch with what was popular at the time. It was a learning curve, but eventually I began to fit in. I think, for a teenager, fitting in is so important to develop a sense of belonging. Some of my best memories, to this day, are those lazy days with my girlfriends, talking, laughing, driving around, listening to music, swimming in the river, just connecting.