During the first six years of her life, Monika Haderlein lived in the little town of Bamberg. It was a charming German hamlet, surrounded by beautiful hills and forests; the streets were lined with old houses that had peaked roofs and window boxes overflowing with flowers. At Christmas, Monika’s family decorated their tree with real candles; their gift-giving visitor was not Santa but St. Nicholas, who wore a bishop’s hat and robes, not a jolly red suit.
Then, when she was nearly seven, everything changed. Monika’s newly-divorced mother met an American soldier from the nearby base. His tour was ending, so Monika’s mother decided to follow him to the United States. With her went Monika.
“I left everything,” Monika said. “My grandparents, my siblings, my aunts and uncles—everything I knew…I was about six or seven years old, and I didn’t really understand. I was too young, and [leaving] was like going to the grocery store at that age.”
That was in 1972. Monika Haderlein is now math teacher Monika Woods, but she continues to be shaped by her German roots and the move that took her away from them. In that, she is not alone.
Some people are born, live, and work in the same community throughout their whole lives. Some families put down roots in a place and never leave for generations. But then there are people like Woods, or freshman Junyuan T., senior Maria Q., or sophomore Aaron M., who have moved around to different countries and sampled different ways of life. These people are not shaped by neighbors or communities but by an awareness of the world in which they live.
Known to his friends as “Jun,” Junyuan was born in New Zealand and moved to China for six years. He then spent eight years in Huddersfield, a Yorkshire town in Britain, before moving to Alief this past fall.
“I got to know a lot of people and learn different things,” he said. “I went to a lot of places and made many friends. I got to be more open-minded with people.”
For Maria, who moved from the Philippines to Channel Island and then Pasadena, California, before coming to Alief this year, frequent moving has taught her self-sufficiency.
“I don’t usually talk to people first,” she said. “I wait for them to talk to me…It’s kind of hard to make friends. I kind of kept my shyness.”
Aaron has also done his fair share of moving. Born in Indonesia, he also spent a year in India when he was 11.
“My dad’s a chef that’s always hired by hotels in different countries,” he said, “which is why I moved to India and Egypt…
“In India, most of the people I’ve seen live in poverty, and compared to the homeless people in India—American homeless people have it way better than those in India.”
Aaron’s experiences have had more impact on how he thinks and feels than how he lives.
“Knowing about people’s living condition in India and other countries in poverty didn’t exactly change what I want to become,” he said. “But due to my eye-opening experiences, I’ve become more aware of what’s going on, and living there put me in the shoes of other people’s lives.”
Like Aaron, Woods’s experience of other countries allows her to appreciate the plentiful opportunities in the United States. If she had not moved, she says, she probably would not have had the opportunity to get a college education, or to become a teacher.
“I was pretty assertive as a kid,” she said. “I felt like I was held back. [Staying in Germany] would drive me crazy.”
That is not to say that she does not sometimes long for the way of life and neighbors she left in Bamburg.
“The customs are so laid back,” she said. “We would go outside and I wouldn’t be afraid of anything. There wouldn’t be any problem because it was such a small town. Everybody knew each other.
“What I would like to do is have my whole family go [visit]. I think that would be fun.”
Reporting by Krista Lutrick, Hadiqa Memon, Durand Nguyen, Phil Pham, and Nadia Zulfa.