2018 Winner

Austin Easterly

Johannesburg, South Africa

Three significant moves. At the young age of 18, I’ve made three moves (well, technically six going on seven if you count the moves within the U.S., but I digress) - all of which have impacted me in distinct ways. From Dallas, Texas, to Stuttgart, Germany, to Johannesburg, South Africa, and now to Boulder, Colorado.

My journey down the rabbit hole of internationalism began in Dallas at the age of 13, when I came home and found my parents waiting for me, telling me that we needed to talk. Thoughts raced through my head trying to analyze what I had done wrong. Did I get a bad grade in math? Although in those few seconds before I entered our family’s living room I had thought hard about what I could have possibly done wrong, I ultimately found nothing out of the ordinary. After I anxiously sat down, my father asked me one simple question: “How would you feel about moving to Germany?”

At that very moment in time, I had no idea what to say. A resounding “uhhhm” filled the room as I processed this plot twist to my life. I knew almost nothing of Germany. Despite this fact, the strangest concoction of fear and excitement filled my body; a feeling which fueled my love for the unknown and ultimately allowed me to somewhat look forward to the move. In truth, it mattered little how I felt about moving to Germany, as my father’s company had already decided that we needed to move there. Although I was completely unsure of what the future held, I found myself on a flight to Stuttgart, Germany, in the summer of 2013.

With this move, an entirely new world revealed itself before my eyes. The diversity at my new school amazed me. At my middle school in Texas, “diversity” meant a new kid from somewhere else in the school district who probably looked just like me. In Stuttgart, the plethora of new names - most of which were foreign to me - the new styles, backgrounds, religions, and cultures all helped expose me to just how vast the world is. Even our house seemed foreign, as its 80s-esque white tile and its cracker box shape pierced the German hillside.

Before moving, I thought that letting go of almost everything I knew and moving to an unfamiliar place - where English was not the primary language - where I knew nobody - where I had to learn to use public transport - was supposed to be a terrible tragedy in which you must mourn the loss of a previous life. However, that was far from the truth. In fact, taking that great leap into the unknown and moving to Stuttgart was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Not only did I meet some of my closest friends to date, but I also became an overall more independent person, purely because of the nature of German culture. Instead of having eagle-eyed parents watch over my every move, I was afforded the luxury of freedom to ride the train to almost anywhere in the city - a freedom that German society grants to children as young as four. This freedom became increasingly important to me, as my time spent in Stuttgart included three of my most formative years (ages 13-16).

My next move flipped this upside down. I was yet again called into our living room — this time with a familiar feeling of uncertainty creeping down my spine, and was asked: “How would you feel about moving to South Africa?”

The strange feeling I’d felt three years prior returned, however, it had changed. Instead of feeling equally fearful and excited, I felt anxious. Although I had only spent three years in Stuttgart, I considered it my home. Those three years had yielded me so many new experiences, and I didn’t know if I was ready to leave the place I loved. Yet again, my feelings were pushed aside, as, according to my father’s company, we needed to go to Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite my sentiment for Stuttgart, I decided it was better to again embrace the unknown, and as such, found myself on a plane to South Africa.

I’m currently living in Johannesburg while I complete high school. The experience is unlike any other I’ve had thus far. The diversity in “Joburg” is incredible, as it is a melting pot of many cultures across southern Africa. While I appreciate the opportunity to experience so many cultures, I do miss the freedom that I was granted in Germany. Due to the high crime rate in Johannesburg, families are forced to live in secure compounds or estates with high walls, armed security, and electric fences. Despite this lack of freedom, I’m very appreciative that I can experience this mixture of cultures first-hand, as no textbook could ever have the same impact that my time in Joburg has given me.

The third move hasn’t happened yet. Two days after I graduate from high school in May, I’ll be on a plane heading to Denver where I’ll again restart my life as an economics major at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Although I’m excited to move back “home,” I’m rather scared of what I’ll think of it. I left my homeland when I was a child, and I’m not sure if I will feel the same about the U.S. as when I left. With that in mind, however, I’m very excited to be able to bring my experiences with me and see my country through a fresh pair of eyes.

Having lived in three distinct societies, I can safely say that I am among some of the luckiest people on Earth. Although not every minute of this journey has been enjoyable, the experiences that I’ve had in the past five years have proved to be incredible, and for this I’m deeply thankful.

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