Becoming International

I was born in the lake district of New York state, one of those places of incomparable and majestic beauty on this earth. When I was 7 years old, my family moved to Colorado, at the foot of the breathtaking Rocky Mountains.

I grew up simply in a small town; my grandfather from Holland
lived with us for a while, but I lacked the curiosity to find out more
about his world, happy to play and hike in the natural splendor which
surrounded me.

But when I was 16, everything changed. I went to Europe for the first time on a whirlwind tour of 7 countries in 30 days. I had no idea at the time that those 30 days had changed the course of my life forever. And I thought, “Wow, now I’m

Back I went at 22, to Germany to continue my studies. This time I learnt German, and actually living in the country meant that I experienced some culture shock. And I remember thinking, they certainly have some strange customs and they don’t do many things as well as Americans do. But this was more than offset by my amazement at being able to speak another language, it was like speaking in a code! I found out that the planet I lived on contained more than one world, and I was fascinated by it. I returned after my studies, to Austria, where the Alps reminded me of my childhood home, and for the first time I felt what it meant to have a ‘home away from home”. And I thought, “This is really it, I’m incredibly international!”

Fast forward to France, where I was ex-patriated by the high-tech company I worked for. Multiply my amazement at speaking yet another language, and also multiply the culture shock! At one point I thought I would simply go back to the US after my first tour. Had I not learnt anything from my previous experiences? Why did I continue to
struggle to accept and embrace other ways of life?

But I soon learned to love my adopted country and became a French citizen, joining the ranks of a small group of international citizens affectionately called ‘Franco Américains’. All the other Franco-Américains that I knew were predominantly French or American; I seemed to be the only one stuck in a nowhere land where I didn’t fit
completely into one or the other. But at least, I thought, I’m international! I went to Spain to learn Spanish; now I spoke 4 languages and I was completely sure that I was international!

When I moved back to the United States two years ago, I was certain that I would integrate seamlessly and immediately into American culture. After all, I still had the ‘American’ in ‘Franco-Américain’. Once again I was proved wrong and the adjustment from French to American way of life has been a big one for me. I’ve had to learn all over again to appreciate and focus on the many good aspects of life in the USA.

Through it all, I’ve come to know that there is no “being” international, rather I’m continually ‘becoming’ international. Amid the shifting winds of our life on today’s globe we must shift as well. My 4 languages have played a key role and continue to open my eyes to new wonders while helping me stay grounded in who I really am.

My ongoing wish is that I will always be discovering something new about my international friends, colleagues and family, and that I will never lose the curiosity of that 16-year-old girl who went to a new continent for the first time and embarked on the journey that we call ‘international’. 

Judy Winkler, Former LOS Consultant