By Fiona Whalen, FCLC ’19
This is a speech I wrote upon leaving the only home I’d ever known, the American International School in Israel (AIS). The equation of home and high school may seem a bizarre, if not pitiable analogy to some. But as the Montana-born product of two international school teachers, I desperately, unconsciously needed a headquarters. The transplantation of our stateside family abroad occurred in second grade. First came Berlin, then Israel two years later. Though I am profoundly grateful to my parents for all the opportunities a childhood abroad beckoned, there were a few drawbacks for my sister and I. No city or countryside fits just right. The winding streets become familiar enough to politely remark, “You don’t really belong here.” Not so at AIS. The hallways, the people, the occasional feral cat, welcomed all the wanderlust. So I gradually adopted AIS. Or rather, she claimed me.
One of the most revered yet humble goddesses of Grecian antiquity is Hestia, daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Unlike her siblings, Hestia rejected lusty antics and moronic power plays, choosing to tend the sacrificial fire on Mount Olympus. The maiden nurtured the godly estate and warmed visitors by the heavenly hearth. Because of her devotion to the home, Hestia was believed to have stood sentry at every house in Ancient Greece, protecting those within from harm.
I recount the tale of Hestia today because, to us, the sons and daughters of diplomats, soldiers, business people, teachers, the concept of home is elusive. Our labels are unfitting, deceptive. “Global nomad” smacks too much of romance, a citrus sun slipping below desert’s horizon. “Third-culture kid,” though impersonal, is closer; we are a specimen between thin cuts of plastic, a species apart.
Neither term hints of the loneliness. Buffeted about from post to post, some of us have three, five, seven first days of school where not a face is familiar or seemingly hospitable. Three, five, seven days when we cry on the walk back to an empty house full of boxes. But home is not a house.
Neither word speaks of the alienation. When summer rolls around, we duck back to our parents’ town, the nation on our passport. The streets are familiar enough from past visits, we have a favorite dive or two. But as the waiter slides the piping feast in front of us, as the trainer spots our bench-press, as the teen at camp sidles into our room, we wait for the question:
“Are you from around these parts?”
There’s a separation between this local stranger and ourselves, a transparent film that a deeper sense perceives. We know that “yes” is a half-truth. But, home is not a birthplace.
Some of my peers have wandered their entire lives in want of that intangible assurance of safety, of belonging. Though I cannot speak for all upon this stage, I am blessed to know home. My hearth is not a Tel Aviv street, not a state of Stars and Stripes. My hearth smolders at AIS.
This campus is more than an institution to me, and, I believe, to my fellow seniors. Our wander-weary hearts quieted for a beat when we nestled into the art room or a library bean bag. Our solitude dissolved while losing Jenga to an underclassman, while screaming support for a fellow teammate. In a flurry of passion and sincerity, our teachers transformed us into true scholars, athletes, men and women. We found Hestia in those groan-inducing puns and the murmurs that stemmed the tears. We found a home in this school because we found a home in one another.
In the years overseas, we have struggled for definition. Post-graduation, we will discover that identity ebbs, and what defines us morphs as new people and places settle into our hearts.
For now, though, the class of 2015 shares an identity. Hestia is fittingly our mascot for she represents the oldest values that are still new to us, the uprooted. As time unwinds and the miles float farther, this campus will retreat in our minds. Such is the natural course of events. But the core of AIS – those ideas of the hearth that latched onto us here – will remain. For we leave here knowing love.
We leave here knowing home.