From time to time, I am afflicted with nostalgia. It was originally seen as a medical condition. From Wikipedia:
The term was newly coined in 1688 by Johannes Hofer (1669-1752), a Swiss medical student. The word is made up of two Greek roots (νόστος = nostos = returning home, and άλγος = algos = pain/longing), to refers to “the pain a sick person feels because he wishes to return to his native land, and fears never to see it again”.
I was lucky enough to go to high school in England on an American Air Force base, RAF Lakenheath. I say lucky because it is a valuable thing to see your culture from someone else’s perspective, and growing up overseas gives you that gift.
It’s also a great advantage to study Shakespeare and then go to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see a play, or to pop down to London to see the Rosetta Stone and the Mildenhall Treaure (a large collection of Roman silver buried in the 4th century and dug up “on a bitter afternoon in January 1943” – here’s the scoop from the Mildenhall Museum). We had a ditto sheet with questions that we had to answer (to prove we had actually seen the item) – I remember finishing quickly then walking around outside in search of a pub.
The fear in my nostalgia is real: I can’t go back to the England I grew up in. First, RAF Lakenheath is now a fortress, and you can’t just walk on base like we used to. Even when I visited in 1999 (pre-9/11), I needed all kinds of clearance to visit. But secondly (and far more obvious), the England of 30 years ago is gone, just like the Pasadena of 30 years ago is gone.
Still, something essentially English remains (far away from here, expensive to get to, more than a weekend jaunt). Essential nuggets of Pasadena also remain (City Hall and Pie ‘n Burger). I left England, but I don’t think I’ll ever leave Pasadena–I already have a case of double nostalgia and if I have to watch Pasadena change, I’d rather it happen under my nose.
I helped organise (lapsing into British spelling now) my 30th high school reunion this past August – photos here.
Since then, a wonderful thing has happened. Bill Paul (he’s still ‘Billy Paul’ in my mind) started a Lakenheath network on ning. Better than Reunion.com and Classmates.com, ning has allowed Lakenheath alum to connect (and to see who is connecting with whom). There is a Lakenheath group on Facebook too, but somehow the ning thing has been the better catalyst for people to connect.
Back to me feeling lucky. It’s almost embarrassing to talk about how much fun stuff I got to do in high school. Trips to Cambridge to go punting. Trips to The Hague for Model United Nations (MUN). MUN was by far the most fun thing I did in high school. The first year, I was on a team representing Australia and the next year I was Bangladesh. I learned about stuff like desertification in Africa and how clean water coming out of a tap is luxury.
I’ve been hanging out on ning with my Lakenheath buddies because even though we had Lasting Experiences of Great Value — we all got back here and this thing called “Roots” happened without us.
Teens feel uncomfortable when they return to their “home” country and they cannot recognize the top rock songs or TV shows.
from Third Culture Kids
What’s more, when we got back here, we weren’t sure that this was our country at all:
The parents are inculcated with the values and mores and assumptions of the passport culture and they have an international overlay, whereas the children who grow up in one or more countries are enculturated in that international culture…. This means that sometimes when the parents are returning to their passport culture, the parents are returning home, but the children are leaving home. Children from this environment will never be totally U.S. American or Ugandan or Malian, never totally of that passport country. They will never be monocultural. (McCluskey, 1994, p. 25) (emphasis mine)
So it’s a bittersweet lucky. My high school friends and I—We left England and lost our home. Some feel it more than others, some have parents who are still in England (so they visit often–lucky!), some have English parents who live here now and probably feel the loss too. Not everyone feels the loss in the same way, but your nostalgic narrator feels the loss of home. I’m sure that’s why I’ve lived in one place for the last quarter century.
My previous blog post about this topic is here. There’s lots more to write about this, but enough blather on the subject for now.