In the constant uncertainty of military life, it is not often that we say, “oh, that won’t happen to us.” But I did, and it was a mistake. Even though I watched six of my friends move during their senior year, I was sure that this wouldn’t happen to me.
Not just that, we had 16 days to move back Stateside from South Korea.
I’ve spent a lot of time mourning my senior year. Even though I had only lived in South Korea for less than two years, I made some amazing friends there. I was looking forward to spending all year with them, doing all the senior season things. Senior skip day, senior prank, field trips, spirit weeks, senior days, senior breakfast, senior sunset, and, finally, graduation. All these special things that I’ve been looking forward to. And it’s not about the senior activities themselves, it’s about doing them with my friends. It’s all the special things I wanted to do with my friends. It really goes to show that people make the place. Korea, especially Humphreys, gets a lot of hate. Honestly, some of it is warranted. But I moved to South Korea kicking and screaming - I was leaving the only place that has ever truly felt like home. But they took me away from Korea the same way. Maybe being miserable together builds a solid foundation for viable friendships - it definitely wouldn’t be unheard of. After all, it is the collective misery of the military child that gives us such a special bond.
Regardless, Korea itself was an amazing place to live. The food is amazing, the people are so friendly, and, even though there are 40-50 uncontrolled nuclear warheads less than 200 kilometers away, I felt so safe and comfortable. I miss it so much, and I desperately hope to visit again someday. I moved to Korea just two months before the COVID lockdown (South Korea locked down a good month and a half before the US did), and I feel like I missed so much of the beautiful country I was living in due to the travel restraints.
Taking all of this, the pain, regret, and nostalgia, we left South Korea on Compassionate Reassignment.
Looking back, as much as she thought she knew what she was doing, Catherine in November had no idea what to expect. The last time I lived in the US was in 2016, for a little under two years. Prior to that, I hadn’t lived Stateside since 2007. OCONUS has been most of my life for 12 and a half years of my 18 years of life. I didn’t know the least bit about Michigan, or the Midwest in general.
I was a mess. When I walked into a school building no bigger than Humphreys High School, but that housed more than 6 times as many students, I was overwhelmed. Little, unsuspecting Catherine sat down in her new-to-her guidance counselor’s office. I took in every piece of information I received: a new tardy system, who the Principals (yeah, more than one) are, and what my scheduling options were. And finally, what I had dreaded the most: credit transfers.
Unlike the unfortunate many, I was one of the few who did not have to suffer through repeating a course. All of my credits transferred because of a Michigan state policy called “Personal Curriculum.” Yes, my “Personal Curriculum,” it's like a choir of angels to my ears.
I made it through my five months at a real American high school with relatively few bumps, except for the many, many, many lunches where I sat alone, the classes where no one talked to me, the immense reverse culture shock, the current US political climate, the snow, the rain, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and, of course, ranch dressing.
I can’t say it was all bad! As much as I like to complain about the small town I currently call home, it has a nice aesthetic! I’ve found a favorite coffee shop and I know my way around pretty well. I’ve made some good friends and gotten to experience some small-town traditions, like our acclaimed Senior Survivor (which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, read about it here).
The transition wasn’t smooth, but I am thankful that it was quick. It had to be. I’m here for another three weeks and then I leave to work at a summer camp, with college quickly following that. In a few short months, I was able to connect with all sorts of kids at my school, many of whom could not be more different from me – in personality, background, and experiences. Each one of them adds to the mosaic of my heart, and I will take the lessons I learned from them and the memories I made with them wherever I go. That’s just the military kid way.
To military kids moving right before or during their senior year: I am so sorry. I can’t do anything to change it, but I do know that you will survive. I know you know that too, and everyone around you is saying that, but none of you have done it yet. I have, and it sucks. On your first day, make your connections fast. Do what you do best and force yourself to adjust.
To ALL students, but especially military kids, who will complete senior year at the same school they were at for junior year: it’s your job to find those that moved right before or during their senior year and help them adjust. Help them discover that coffee shop, introduce them to people, and get them involved in their school. Don’t let them sit alone in the library for two months.
I wouldn’t trade my military life for anything, and I wouldn’t go back and stay in South Korea. Being in Michigan has given me new experiences, wrapped up in a Gilmore Girls-esque, small-town life. It made me remember that if I have learned anything in the past 18 years, it’s that you just have to embrace the suck and wait for the sun to come out (literally, seasonal depression is no joke during a PCS.)
Next, it’s on to graduation…with 600+ kids that I barely know. The feeling of being out of place comes in waves, like when your school passes out letters to kids that their elementary and middle school teachers wrote to them. Or when you do your Senior Walk Out through buildings you’ve never been in before. I suppose it's all part of the job description.
There’s no better way for me to leave this military lifestyle behind than with a bang, like moving halfway through senior year. I’m not saying it was easy, because it was anything BUT that. It was tough, but I made it all the way through the same way we do with any other move, one day at a time.