[Christopher Harris was born in Rota, Spain. He moved all over as a child because his father was a Chaplain in the U.S. Navy. He went to fourteen different schools in Kindergarten through 12th grade. That's about one year per school!]
What was it like growing up in so many different countries? How many languages can you speak?
Actually, with my dad in the Navy, we mostly moved all over the States, though I was born in Spain. We went everywhere from California to Illinois to South Carolina and New York, and many places in between. I loved moving around - I've grown to believe that it's hard to truly appreciate where you are until you've looked on the other side of the fence. It was the beginning of my life lesson in how to gain perspective. I'm working on filling that out now - seeing many different parts of the world, since I was lucky to experience different areas of my own country growing up.
It interesting the little differences that people think are so big and important - I remember getting in a fight with some kid when I was in 1st grade when we had just moved to Illinois because I asked for a soda instead of a pop. Really a coke is a coke, in South Carolina, Illinois, China, or Mexico. I still have friends on the West Coast that think the East Coast is a foreign land and vice versa....weird when you know both.
As far as languages, I speak Spanish and rudimentary Russian, and may be learning Armenian soon.
What was the shortest and longest time you ever spent at one school? Where did you graduate from High School?
I went to one kindergarten for no more than 2 or 3 months. I was lucky enough to complete all of high school at Lafayette H.S. in Williamsburg, VA. The first time in my life that I did not start the year at a new school.
Is it difficult for you to follow your wife's State Department assignments, moving when she gets reassigned? Do you think it would be more difficult if you had been raised in a small town as opposed to spending your life moving from one location to another?
Luckily I was never one of those people that said, "when I grow up, I'm going to be an....". I mostly wanted to see a lot and satisfy my curiosity - which kept me in a lot of trouble when I was bored in school. It is difficult to have a traditional career path - but it is also liberating because you can't force yourself to fit into a career that doesn't really fit you. You have to figure out what your good at - know that it is more than one thing - and find ways to use you gifts without someone always there to tell you what to do. Luckily I have my family business, www.Tienda.com, to take with me wherever we go. The Internet really opens up a new world in that respect.
It has definitely made it easier learning to be adaptable as a kid, moving every two years. It becomes a habit - honestly I think it would have been harder if I was forced to settle down because of my wife's work. You get the itch to go new places...."yup, it's been two years, time to move". What I really liked about moving when I was growing up, is that every couple of years I could reinvent myself - shed the old and move on as I matured. I have friends that went to the same school K through 12 that are still remembered for embarrassing things they did in 2nd grade. I never had that problem.
Moving around and not just living in a small town makes it easier to take the first step. If you've always lived in the same house and known the same people that first build up of courage to go out and see what else is out there can be really tough I imagine. But in some ways I think coming from a small town might fuel your curiosity more. You know there's so much out there you haven't seen. Some of the most addicted travelers I've met come from small towns or small countries.
Do you have children or pets?
We do not have kids yet, but we do have a pet and will soon have more. We arrived in Guatemala with a 19 year old Siamese cat named Coco. After living here awhile, we were struck by how gentle the street dogs are, so we adopted one. Her name is Coney (after Coney Island) and she is super playful, a "jugatona". Her mom and eight siblings were rescued from a garbage dump. Being a little Guatemalan weasel hound (as we call her when people ask what type of dog she is) her favorite foods in this order are pineapple, mango, shoe insoles, socks, and meat. Unfortunately Coco died last winter. We are going to adopt two Guatemala street cats next week.
We plan to have kids eventually, and I think globe trotting is a great way to raise kids. Why go to the museum when you can visit the pyramids yourself - the zoo, nah, we have Zebras in our back yard. I think moving around so much not only exposes children to other cultures and helps them gain perspective early (a trait I feel is missing in many) but it forces adaptability and nourishes curiosity. The idea that the US is the only safe or good place to live is ignorant. It is a great place to live, but the rest of the world is pretty darn neat and fun as well.
How many different countries have you lived in or visited?
I lived in the US, Spain, Russia, Germany and Guatemala, and have visited France, Britain, Honduras, Mexico, Belize, China, Korea, Portugal and El Salvador
What were some of your favorite places?
Charleston South Carolina, loved the pace of life - the old houses, and the Spanish moss. Granada, Spain, the history the culture and the food. NYC, so much energy and endless cultural things to experience. The Blue Ridge Mountains, beautiful but not rugged - it feels like home.
What advice do you have for children who have to move to another country because of their mother or father's job?
Get excited. You will experience things that will open your eyes like never before. The kids you'll meet will be different in neat ways, but still going through the same things you are. Look forward to having friends around the world. Don't worry about what you're missing in the U.S., enjoy the stuff you can't have, see, hear, taste back home....you'll always be able to return to the US eventually. Learn the language.
What advice do you have for families that might make the transition from one "home" to another easier (and their stay more enjoyable) if their jobs take them to different places?
It sounds silly, but, unpack right away. This is passed down from my dad. Nothing makes you feel more unsettled and impermanent than a bunch of boxes and bare walls. Even if you're tired, the moment you step in to your new house, but up some things or organize some furniture so that it feels at least a little bit like home - right away. Also, read as much as you can about where you're moving before you go there. It won't feel so strange when you arrive - you might find yourself looking forward to seeing what you've read about.
What do you enjoy most about your nomad life?
In general there is nothing like the feeling of adventure you get from being abroad and learning something new through living it every day. Right now I am looking out the window of my apartment at four volcanoes, one's smoking....you can't imagine the beauty of the purple haze surrounding the active one, Pacaya, as the sun sets. Or waking in the morning and seeing Agua (the tallest one) reflected in the nearby lake.
When I'm standing in a line, I'm not just standing in a line, I'm standing in a line in Guatemala. I'm doing my homework in Russia!!! I'm riding a horse in Honduras.
The kids in my class at school go our at break and pick fruit from the trees growing in our school's yard - in December. My class includes kids from Peru, the US, Holland, Belize, Korea....etc. Once you get over your initial fears you sit back and think about all the stories you are going to have to tell. That's a big part of life... collecting stories.
- 18 January 2002
15 November 2014
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