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Growing up military-style

Student shares ups and downs of life on the move
Hennessy family photo
Change of Command in spring of 2022, days before we moved to Nebraska.

Being a military child, I’ve had to move every two to three years. I’ve had to go between schools, states, and even countries. I was born in England, and lived there until I was three. From there, I lived in Oregon for 10 months before moving to Alabama, where I then moved to Guam, a U.S. territory out in the middle of the Western Pacific Ocean.

While in Guam, I went through grades one through three. I had many unique experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise, like traveling to Japan, Australia, Hawaii, and just getting to learn about new cultures and see how they differ from place to place. Mind you, I was ages six to nine. Getting to experience new and unique cultures was very important to who I am today. Without them, I don’t think I would have been as empathetic and open minded as I am today. At the elementary school on base in Guam, we were exposed to Chamorro (the people native to Guam) culture. I had the opportunity to learn the Chamorro language and immerse myself in their culture. It has by far been the most unique place I’ve lived. However, when it came time to move back stateside for the first time in three years, I didn’t want to go. I was five or six years old the last time, and I hadn’t been stateside for longer than a few weeks other than to visit family. At that point, I was nine.

When we moved back stateside to Virginia, I was hit with major culture shock. In Guam, we didn’t have access to many common stores and restaurants. There was no Starbucks, Chick-fil-a, or Target. I vividly remember being sick my first few times eating Chick-fil-a simply because I wasn’t used to it. However, the largest culture shock came when I went to school. Up until this point, I had only been in private schools. Imagine only attending private schools all your life, spending a good chunk of your life overseas, and now having to go to public school in the states for the first time. Everything that was commonplace on Guam wasn’t a thing in Virginia. I still remember my first day of fourth grade, when I had shown up in sparkly shoes and glittery shirts. Nobody in Virginia wore clothes like that. Everything was different for me and I had to adapt. While in Virginia, where I spent my fourth and fifth grade years, I had many experiences that have had a major impact on who I am today.

Me sitting outside one of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. overlooking the water.

 Once I had adapted to both school and the states after two years, we had to move once again. This was the move in which my long term anxiety began. I loved Virginia and our lifestyle there so much that moving was something I could not fathom. I vividly remember having my first anxiety attack during the road trip from Virginia to Texas because of the stress of moving and the change that follows. When we got to Texas, I faced yet another culture shock. The way kids acted in Virginia was vastly different from how they behaved in Texas. I spent all three of my middle school years in Texas. Going from elementary school to middle school is already a huge change all on its own. At my elementary school in Virginia, they didn’t start middle school until seventh grade, so there were no middle school visits or prep, in contrast to the schools in Texas where middle school started in sixth grade. I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with the idea of middle school, living in a new state, and starting over once more. 

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Things in Texas were actually going fine, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit towards the end of my sixth grade year. Seeing as we lived in San Antonio, we were in online learning until eighth grade, and even then we wore masks all of eighth grade year. This obviously set me back a year or so in English or math. After seventh grade, we thought that we would move to Tampa, Florida. However, that was not the case, and we ended up staying in Texas until after eighth grade. That year, I ended up having such an awful experience that when it came time to move to Nebraska, I didn’t even mind it. In fact, for once I welcomed the idea of moving and starting over. 

When we got to Nebraska, I had a hard time adjusting. Papillon is the smallest town I’ve ever lived in, and now I was faced with high school in a new town. I had a really hard time making friends since everyone here had been in their respective friend groups for years; it was hard to breach the social barrier and make friends. For all of freshman year, I didn’t  have any friends and I sat alone at lunch. Sure, I had people I would talk to in class, but never any friends I’d hang out with outside of school. 

We moved to Papillion in early August, and by the time I had registered for school, every class I would have wanted to take was full. As a result, I got stuck in drama class. Drama class was my absolute worst nightmare since I’m a very quiet and introverted person; however, I took it anyway seeing as it was my only option. Because I moved here so late, I never got a proper tour of the school nor did I have the opportunity to select classes for myself. Prior to moving here, I had looked into the school’s academies and was able to apply to the Media academy. I later found out that I had gotten in, but once we moved here and sat down with the school counselor, we found out that it was impossible for me to be in the academy because of my limited schedule options. 

Throughout the year, I began to realize that I was a bit behind with some concepts in math and english seeing as I was out of school for much longer than everyone else was. I didn’t have a solid foundation of algebra nor did I know grammar rules well. Of course as the year went on I adapted and caught up quickly as I have before, but it was still a bit hard to come to terms with the fact that I had fallen behind because of COVID-19 after being in gifted programs my whole life. 

While I did have many struggles with finding friends and adapting to the new school, my freshman year wasn’t all bad. All of my teachers were some of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and they really made my year special. Many if not all of my teachers were aware of the fact that I had just moved here and made it their goal to make me feel comfortable, which I greatly appreciated. That brings us to today. I am now a sophomore, preparing to move once again. I finally have friends to sit with at lunch and talk to during class. I caught up on everything I missed during COVID, and I got to take every class I wanted to take from the start. Last fall, I hadn’t known that I would be moving, so I applied to the Zoo Academy. To my surprise, I got in! But unfortunately, right after I had done my Zoo Academy interview, I got the text that we would be moving to O’Fallon, Illinois. I had to decline the Zoo Academy and began looking for new schools.

 This past semester has been immensely stressful. Between looking for new schools, a new house, and accepting the fact that I have to move again, it was a lot. Looking at new schools has been especially stressful for me. I’m constantly worried that my credits won’t match up and I’ll have to extend my high school experience, or that I’ll have all of the credits I need and will have to graduate early. The biggest worry is that I’ll have to go back and do all of these classes required to graduate because they won’t accept my credits. I’ve already gotten all of my PE and language credits to graduate here, but will that transfer over? Do my credits align? These things are always in the back of my mind as the time to move draws nearer. This past month has been especially stressful because we only just found a house last week. Prior to that we had been house hunting, and considering all of our options. I began worrying that we’d have to live on base, an idea that didn’t sound appealing to me at all. In addition to house and school stress, my mom had two TDYs (Temporary Duty) back to back for two weeks. I was worried that the offer we had put on a house wouldn’t go through, I was worried about my mom on her trip, I was worried about not getting into the school I wanted. These past few months have been full of constant worry. And that’s just from the move. That doesn’t even account for the stress of AP exams coming up and all of those end of year exams and group projects. 

While being a military kid comes with incredible, once in a lifetime experiences, it also comes with a vast amount of stress and anxiety that has been a constant for years. However, despite those struggles and worries, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Because of my experiences, I’ve gotten a broad education and perspective on life. Without the military experience, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

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