I've always been a girl of adventure, travels, and new things. I mean, I've been so many places and moved around so much that things like that have kind of become a part of me. Suddenly, my life took a turn. Was it for the worst or for the better? At the time, I didn't know and nor will I ever, because I can't rewind my life back and somehow take my life down a different route.
Let's just say, I was none too pleased when I heard the news. Sure, I've heard the words 'Honey, I'm so sorry to tell you this, but we're moving to…' approximately nineteen times (twenty if you include this time), but what followed those words is what hurt me the most. I never expected that they would do this. I mean, I've lived in thirteen foreign countries, and eight different states. You can imagine that I am used to change, but what they suggested was quite a lot for my brain to digest.
Here, let me explain. My mother is a foreign diplomat and my father is a doctor with the doctors without borders program, so my family has had to move around quite a bit. Wherever my mom is needed, my dad gets a job either at a hospital if we're national or with doctors without borders if we're international.
Here's my residence resume:
Boston, Massachusetts, USA: born here. 3 years. All of my family, both mom's side and dad's side, still lives here
New York City, New York, USA: started pre-school. 7 months. My second major city of residence and is one of my all-time favorite vacation places.
Albany, New York, USA: finished first year of pre-school. 5 months. I haven't been back there since I moved, years ago.
Quebec, Canada: second year of pre-school in French immersion. 10 months. Let's just say it was a real experience to get my passport as a four year old, and learn my first foreign language.
Richmond, Virginia, USA: spent summer before kindergarten. 2 months. Back to the United States, but only for a brief time.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: kindergarten in private school (immersion). 10 months. This was first residence that wasn't within North America, but how many five year old, native English speaking children are fluent in Spanish?
Warsaw, Poland: 1st grade in private school (unofficial immersion). 1 year. This was my first trans-Atlantic move, my first time in the eastern hemisphere and my fourth language, including English, all in a year.
Mexico City, Mexico: 2nd grade in private school (unofficial immersion, but I already knew the language, so it wasn't that big of a deal). 11 months. More Spanish, but another dialect I had to conquer. Moving here was the first time I had been to North America in two years.
Houston, Texas, USA: First half of 3rd grade. 6 months. Back to the good-old United States, and despite the fact that I lived in Mexico, I had yet to make a return to the country since I left Richmond.
Sao Paolo, Brazil: Second half of 3rd grade in private school (unofficial immersion). 5 months. Yet another language to conquer, but I did it.
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK: 4th grade in private school. 11 months. This was yet another second trans-Atlantic home, this time in the western hemisphere, and at a place that spoke English—just with a different accent.
Florence, Italy: 5th grade in private school (immersion). 10 months. Well, it was my sixth fluent language, and one of my favorite places to live.
San Francisco, California, USA: Summer before middle school. 2 months. My first trip back to the United States in two and a half years, a whole different area of the country, but our time here was shortened.
Beijing, China: 6th grade at a school for Americans (immersion). 10 months. Beijing was my first trip to Asia, my seventh fluent language, second alphabet, and probably the biggest adjustment for me. It was also when my family's beloved Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in eighty-six years.
Moscow, Russia: Summer before 7th grade. 2 months. This was my first, and only, time living in a country that was in two different continents, my eighth language and my third alphabet.
Kyoto, Japan: First half of 7th grade at a school for Americans (immersion). 5 months. Kyoto was home to my ninth fluent language, which also happens to be my most recent, fourth alphabet and to the beginning of Junior High.
Tokyo, Japan: Term of 7th grade at a school for Americans (immersion). 3 months. Tokyo was probably my easiest adjustment. It was one of the few times since after preschool that I was moving somewhere in a country where I had already lived, so I was extremely familiar with how things worked.
Cornwall, England: One month of summer before 8th grade. 1 month. My first English speaking country since San Francisco, a place I truly wanted to forget about, and probably my least favorite places to have lived, because I didn't know anyone and I didn't really get to know anyone because I didn't go to school there, I was older so it was harder for me to make friends, and the minute we settled down there, our house was back on the market.
Miami, Florida: One month of summer before 8th grade. 1 month. My first time back in the United States in two years, and my first time back since the dreaded San Francisco. Actually, when we lived here, we stayed in a hotel suite the whole time because we knew it was going to be a short stint.
Charleston, South Carolina, USA: Two months of 8th grade. 2 months. When I lived here, this was my favorite school. Don't ask me why, but I really loved that school.
Jaco, Costa Rica: 1 month of 8th grade with tutor. 1 month. This was my all-time favorite place to live--Probably because I got to spend hours on the beach every day.
Chicago, Illinois, USA: 2 months of 8th grade (so far). 2 months. I do really like it here in Chicago, but moving here, I knew that it wouldn't be all that long that we stayed. We never stayed in the U.S for all that long.
The only three things I've gotten out of moving so often are 1) first, I'm fluent in eight languages other than English (Portuguese, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, French and Russian); 2) second, I've met tons of people coming from different backgrounds and cultures, so I'm extremely culturally tolerant; 3) and lastly, I've gotten to see a good portion of the world (while my family was internationally located we traveled quite a bit) and I'm not even fourteen yet.
Anyway, back to my original story. My parents told me they were traveling around Africa for the next four years; therefore they could not take me because they would be moving too much. I tried everything—tutors, online high school, my parents teaching me, staying in Chicago, going back to Boston to be with my relatives, yet nothing worked.
They told me I had to go to boarding school during the school year, and that was final. What I would do during the summer wasn't clear yet. The only thing I had going for me at this rate, was the fact that I got to pick which school I went to.
Knowing that for the first time in my life I was going to go to the same school for more than a year, I decided to begin doing research immediately, to see what kinds of schools were out there. The first two days, I found nowhere where I really wanted to spend the next four years of my life. On the third day, I came across something. This certain something truly made me happy.
The school that I came across technically could not be considered a school—more like a program that got you a diploma. Basically, you spent your four years of high school traveling around the world with fourteen other students and three guides. It was a "hands-on learning experience" as the website said—you traveled to various places, learned some of the local language, and completed required work that was connected to things you saw or learned about at the destinations.
The only negative thing was that I would lose my summers, because in order to cover the entire curriculum we needed to spend them with the program. For a girl who had spent her whole life on the go, this was the perfect opportunity. Needless to say, I would be right at home at Gateway's High School.
That night, I discussed what I had found with my parents, and believe it or not they had seen that school when they had done a little research on boarding schools, and they were waiting for me go find it. The next
day, I quickly yet carefully filled out my application and began my entrance essay. Since the essay had to be about the importance of travel, language studies and cultural awareness, I wrote about how my experiences moving around so much led to my tolerance to all people and about how my experiences affected me and shaped me into the person I am today. On the fifth day, I finished my essay, reread it about a million times, and then put everything together and mailed it to New York City, where the school was based out of.
That was the only school I applied to. I figured, if I didn't get in, I would have to go with my parents to Africa, at least for a year. There was nothing else I could do if I didn't get in, but more than anything in the world, I hoped I would get one of the fifteen spots.
Three months later, towards the middle of April, I was sitting in my room, on my laptop writing my advanced honors French VI (a high school course, that I had been forced to take as an independent study, since I'm fluent in both languages the school offers in middle school) term paper on 'le Tour Eiffel', in French of course, when my mother came in with a thick white envelope.
"It's your letter from the school, Harlow," my mother said as she handed me the envelope. "I'll be downstairs, let me know if you got in!"
I looked down at the envelope, and all of the sudden, I became extremely nervous. That envelope contained my future. All of the sudden, any remaining desire to travel to Africa with my parents, was gone. Quickly, I ripped open the thick envelope and I pulled out the top sheet of paper—my acceptance or rejection letter. I shut my eyes for a few seconds and then I began to read:
Miss Harlow Sofia Hollis,
I am pleased to inform you that your application to enter our program into the Gateways High School Class of 2011has been accepted.
We were very interested in your travels, Harlow, and how you maintained such high grades bouncing around from school to school. Gateways High School also thinks your skills with language and your knowledge of culture could benefit our program.
Please read the information book and follow through with all of the directions, making sure to be on time for all of the deadlines listed in the book. We will be contacting you various different times throughout the last months of your eighth grade school year and throughout the summer.
Congratulations on your acceptance! We look forward to seeing you on August 23rd in New York City, your first destination.
Douglas H. Hope
Headmaster of Gateways High School
I had gotten in!! I was so thrilled I didn't know what to do, so I just kind of sat there for a minute or two before pulling the booklet out of the envelope. I flipped through the booklet quickly and then I began actually reading it.
Around 7:30 that night, my mother brought dinner to my room. I quickly told her that I had gotten in, thanked her for dinner and then sent her away, so I could finish reading the book. When I finally did finish, I was so overwhelmed by all that needed to be done.
Over the next four months or so, I bought my plane ticket, had to go see fifty million doctors to get the okay that I was able to go out of the country for so long (pretty much four straight years, since we don't have summer with the program, we also have a few scattered weeks throughout the year off for holidays
and such), a lot of shopping for clothes (but wait, that's actually a good thing) and other things I'd be needing, and a lot of saying goodbye to friends.
Oh and a lot of sending clothes to New York City. GHS kept each students clothes supplies in a separate room, like a massive closet and every week, we had to get on a special program on the computer and pick what we wanted to have clothes-wise for the next week, by dragging a picture of the item and putting it in a column that said 'Packed Clothes'.
The clothes that we selected were then packed by the employees of GHS and shipped to our next hotel, and the day before we depart, we send back anything we won't need next week to New York City, and what we will need, we take with us in a different suitcase. It's really complicated; sometimes I wonder what on earth I'm going to do.
With all of the preparation, I became more and more excited, and more and more stressed. I knew all of the things I needed to do would eventually pay off. I was excited to meet the fourteen others that I could call my graduating class, hopefully I would like them and they would like me. I was excited to get to see more of the world, and most likely revisit what I've already seen. Sure I was a little sad that I wouldn't get to see my parents for more or less four years, but I could live.