Boarding School

Going “Home”


I just returned from a school reunion in Lugano, Switzerland. I went to boarding school there many years ago and this year about 65 of us gathered to retrace our steps and relive old times. Some people  brought their spouses, some were from different classes so we didn’t know everybody going in but we made new friends and our family expanded.

We ate risotto, cannelloni, pizza, spaghetti, and ended the trip with a six course meal. We drank Prosseco and lots of good wine. The first night we were entertained by a local group of Italian men making traditional music. One of our friends put together a slide show of photos of all of us when we were in high school.


We spent a day in the Versazca river valley. Our buses had trouble making some of the hairpin curves up and down the mountain. We stopped in a small village and hiked to the river and some went to the falls. Our second stop was at the famous Roman bridge that everybody jumps off of. It was a tradition at school every year and we would cheer people on as they jumped. This time it was even more impressive to see the over 50 crowd jump into the icy cold water.


We took the funicular up Monte Bre and enjoyed the spectacular view. A group of us walked back down the mountain and were sore for days but they had a great story to take home with them.

On our last day we took a boat cruise to the nearby town of Marcote for dinner. It was raining on the boat but we had a live band and dancing and it was still beautiful.

That last night we gathered in our common room and I was sitting next to an old friend of mine. She said, “I hate good byes. We never put down any roots.” I knew exactly what she meant. I looked around the room at people I had known most of my life. I said, “ This is our home. These people are our home. We are a family”. And I started to cry. It was so hard to have to say good bye to the people who understood what it was to be a third culture kid, where no explanations were needed, where we could be ourselves with no compromise or pretending. Some people call us chameleons because we adapt and adjust to our surroundings but we are never truly comfortable and never feel completely relaxed except when we are together.

It was hard to leave Lugano, one of the most beautiful places on earth but the hardest part was saying good bye to each other.




Memories and Speeches

Lake Lugano

Lake Lugano

When I was sixteen I went off to boarding school in Switzerland. My parents were living in Nigeria. My roommate traveled from Tanzania. My best friend’s parents were living in Tokyo. Walking down the hall in my dorm there were people from Saudi Arabia, Germany and various US cities. In a couple of weeks I will be going back to stay in the new dorms of my old school for a big reunion. I will see several of my old dorm-mates. We will haunt the old stomping grounds reliving old memories and making new ones.

One of my tasks for this reunion is to write a speech. I am having trouble sitting myself down and focusing on this task. Do I draw on the memories of particular events from those days?

Duomo, Florence

Duomo, Florence

The time Kelly saved my life at the Duomo in Florence. I didn’t know I had vertigo but turns out I did and he took my hand and guided me through it. The trip to Dachau and how quiet everybody was on the bus home. Leaning to drink warm beer at the HofBrauHaus in Munich. The other great thing about Munich was we saw our first McDonald’s in Europe and became “American” for a weekend. In Venice we got around on water buses and discovered a small disco. Plus a pigeon landed on my head in St Mark’s Square. Hiking up the side of a mountain just to lie in the grass and stare at the sky. Instigating “all school skip day” that stuck as a tradition.

Traveling through Greece having to hear about every single ruin by the side of the road and never getting to listen to rock and roll music. Taking a cruise through the Greek Islands and being bombarded by wet toilet paper rockets in the hallway outside the girl’s cabin. Listening to boring lectures about the mosaics of Ravenna and Giotto’s Chapel. Wishing there were horses in the square in Siena.

Palio Di Diena

Palio Di Siena


Or do I talk about the overall experience of living with an exceptional group of people, teachers and students alike who influenced the rest of our lives.

We were taught to be independent, curious, adventurous, supportive and respectful. We were only 16 or 17 and we traveled the world on our own without thinking twice about it. We would seek out art and architecture wherever we went. We enjoyed each other’s company, had fun together and sometimes tolerated each other. We became a family.

And now many many years later, we are still family. We have a unifier that brings us all together. That time in Switzerland made us all different. We experienced something together that other people could never understand. It was our unique world and we came out of it as a unit. So when we meet each other now, even if we didn’t know each other then, we immediately have a connection. We have a common ground to work off of. In some cases it was a jumping off point to forge new relationships. Even now the family continues to grow.

Or do I just tell a story and thank everybody for coming. Of course all memories are subject to change and embellishment. I could probably make something up. But I won’t. I will keep it simple and short. Who wants to listen to a speech when you are sitting eating French food on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world?

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On another note, I am going bi-coastal.  My Baltimore Post Examiner blog, Eclectic Global Nomad has been picked up by the Los Angeles Post Examiner so you can find me in both.

Facebook and the TCK


My schoolmates

I know several people who say they just don’t get Facebook and what a waste of time it is. I agree it is a pretty strange concept but for TCK’s (Third Culture Kids) is it an amazing thing. I went to a small boarding school in the Swiss Alps when I was a teenager. I bonded with my schoolmates and my teachers. We all knew each other, we had good times and bad, we helped each other with school and with life, we traveled together, we ate together, we hiked together, and we cried when we said good-bye.

Years past and we lost touch. I would run into people from time to time but they would come and go. We all moved around too much. Many of us did not grow up in one place or even in the US but most of us came here for college. It was too difficult to keep track of people.

Around 2007 I asked the school for an email list. It was pretty sketchy but it was a start. I started an email list and invited people to join. I built the list of names up and organized a reunion. For those who went it was like coming home. We picked up where we left off like we had never been apart. The connection was still there.

With Facebook we were able to find more and more people. We had a couple more reunions and now we are old friends again. We are connected. Facebook is virtual and kind of annoying sometimes but it gave us the venue to come back together and reunite with old dear friends. For a TCK, that is pretty special.

Now we see each other more often as well. We still have reunions but we also have lots of mini-reunions and get-togethers.  We are still splattered all over the world but we all travel and it is nice to know who we can call when we land in Sydney or London.

There are several “groups” on Facebook for my school and I saw this post recently:

“It’s moments like these that make me understand what TASIS was really about! We were just kids, we lived together, we laughed together, we had arguments together and we graduated together! Then, for many years we lost contact but when we found each other again on FB it seemed that not even a day had passed and …we lived together, we laughed together and we had arguments together! We exchanged pictures, ideas, memories and thoughts and were just happy to have found each other again. We are blessed to have lived this experience because it’s definitely not normal!”

No, it isn’t normal, but we aren’t exactly normal people. So for those of you who hate Facebook, I understand. But for some of us, it has made a difference.


(photo courtesy of Kent Oztekin)


Four Days in Miami


I went to Miami for a high school reunion of sorts.  A bunch of us went to boarding school together and we still like each other so we gather every few years for a weekend of fun.  We don’t all know each other but we are all from the same era so we can relate to each other.  Plus we have the common bond of having been to boarding school in a foreign country and many of us are third culture kids.  We click right away whether we met before or not.

Day One – Arrival

Dined at Doraku Sushi.  Japanese Restaurant.  Crowded and loud.  Arrived 9 pm, had to wait for a table.  Good food, good music, good vibe.















Walked down Lincoln Road.  Lots of shops, restaurants, people.

Cool window display.

Drove alone Ocean Drive.  Hotel after hotel after hotel.  Bar blasting music filled with people after bar blasting music filled with people.  Dancing girls with go go boots and little else on.  Just starting to hop at midnight.

Day Two

Breakfast at The Front Porch right on Ocean Drive.  Packed, had to wait in line.  Nice hearty breakfast.  Apparently “the thing to do” in South Beach.


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Walked along the beach.  Cloudy and windy.  No swimming or sunning.

Sat around the hotel and greeted old friends as they arrived.

Cocktail reception followed by a two hour ride around Miami on a bus with no windows and music blaring.
















Day Three
















Piled onto a bus at 10 am and headed for the water.  Boarded a catamaran for a two and a half hour ride off Miami.





























Had fresh orange juice delivered by jet ski.

Saw how the other half live….

Where they filmed Serpico


Where they filmed Serpico 




















Al Capone's lookout tower

Al Capone’s lookout tower

Don Johnson's Miami Vice house

Don Johnson’s Miami Vice house















Give me a break… I was in a moving boat….


Five million dollar landscape job…

Afternoon nap.


















Dinner at Barcelonaeta Restaurant

One of our friends has a daughter who owns this restaurant so it was special for all of us.  We would have enjoyed it no matter what it was like but take my word for it, it was good!!  We had a wide variety of tapas that just kept coming and the wine was flowing.  Some of the dishes I remember – fried potatoes, seared calamari so it had a crusty outside – delicious, salmon carpaccio, sweetbreads, sliced tomato with onion, eggplant and tomato, chorizo on a pizza like bread, escargot with pastry puff.  Plus the ones I can’t remember.  If you ever get to Miami, check it out!

Day Four

Departure.  Miami airport was crowded with long lines.  The only other time I had ever been to Miami, I was just at the airport for a connecting flight to Bogota.  I almost missed the flight because since I was in transit I thought I would get my boarding pass at the gate.  They called my plane, I went to the gate, and they told me I had to go back to the main terminal to get my boarding pass.  Luckily the airport wasn’t as big as it is now, but it was big enough.  I ran all the way there and back and barely made it!  I was 14 years old.

No traumatic experiences this time.

I had a wonderful time with old friends and new friends.

TCK Resilience

Photo on 11-26-12 at 8.32 AM

Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back quickly, to cope with stress and adversity.  According to some people Third Culture Kids are very resilient.  I never thought of myself that way.  I just dealt with things as they came up and moved on.  It was like being on auto pilot.

When I landed in a country I had never been to before and there was nobody to meet me at the airport, I didn’t hesitate at all.  I changed money and went looking for some kind of transportation.  I wasn’t going to sit around worrying about it.  Although, had I sat around for a while, I might have seen my father come looking for me instead of missing him as we crossed paths.

When I went to boarding school at 13 and people thought I was weird I did whine about it a little.  But I moved on.  I slowly figured out that I needed to adapt and try to fit in.  I was young for my age and had lived overseas all my life.  I landed in the USA in the middle of a cultural revolution I knew very little about.   I absorbed all the information I could and not only did I adapt to it all but I embraced it.

When we moved to Africa a few years later and I went off to boarding school in Switzerland, I was prepared to live away from home and up on world topics.  I was ahead of the curve.

Once again it all broke down when I went to college in the USA.  I was too international now.  I had to rein it in and become more local.  I had to adapt to another culture.  I was so used to discussing travel, European art, and world politics with my peers that I didn’t think before I opened my mouth and blabbed about my high school experiences.  My new peers could not relate and thought I was bragging.

My new persona emerged and I was quiet inside my shell for a long time.  No more story telling here.  But I managed to eventually adapt to that as well.  I made friends and existed on a different level.  I became one of them.

So who was I?  How could I find myself and figure out what I should be doing?  All I wanted to do was get out of town.  To move on.  That’s what I had always done, wasn’t it?  Just dealt with the immediate problem and moved on.  I didn’t know why.  I never really thought about it that much.  I just knew I was not comfortable.  I was searching for something but didn’t know what it was.  I was living between cultures.  I didn’t feel American but I didn’t feel Mexican or Colombian or Nigerian, or Swiss.  I was unique, I was different.

Years later I learned I was a Third Culture Kid  – somebody who grew up in a culture not their own.  I discovered  I was not the only one who felt this way. Norma McCaig of Global Nomads wrote:

The benefits of this upbringing need to be underscored:  In an era when global vision is an imperative, when skills in intercultural communication, linguistic ability, mediation, diplomacy, and the management of diversity are critical, global nomads are better equipped in these areas by the age of eighteen than are many adults… These intercultural and linguistic skills  are the markings of the cultural chameleon — the young participant-observer who takes note of verbal and nonverbal cues and readjusts accordingly, taking enough of the coloration of the social surroundings to gain acceptance while maintaining some vestige of identity as a different animal, an “other.”

I wish I had read that when I was eighteen!  🙂

Does knowing all of this solve my restlessness, make me more comfortable?  No, it doesn’t solve it but it helps me understand it.  I know what it is and why I am the way I am.  It isn’t a bad thing.  But as I grow older, I think I have become less tolerant of ignorant people.  If somebody doesn’t know where France is or hates Muslims, or thinks Berlusconi is a type of pasta, I just don’t really bother to put any effort out.  I let it go.  When I was younger, I would try to educate or sometimes I would just brush it aside and try to make myself acceptable to them.  I don’t do that anymore.  I move on.

I recently published a book about all my trials and tribulations, joys and challenges and adventures growing up all over the world.  But it was not easy.  I spent a lot of time writing with tears streaming down my face.  I suppose I need deep psycho therapy to figure that out.  But when it was all done.  I felt better.  Something had been resolved.  I had accomplished what I set out to do and I felt positive.  I still do.  Although I am now facing another hurdle.  Being single for the first time in many years.  Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad one.    Oh, well.  I guess I will just have to deal with it and move on….

I’m feeling resilient.



Dr Spock.. the other one…

Dorms at Kokai

Dorms at Kokai

Kodaikanal International School was established in 1901 as an American residential school for the children of missionaries.  It was in Tamil Nadu State at the southern tip of India.  Located high in the mountains, the weather could be very cool.  On a clear day you could see across to Celyon (Sri Lanka).  Lake Kodaikanal covered 60 acres and was good for boating while the surrounding areas were good hiking territory.

In 1957 my two brothers went there for boarding school.  By that time there were more than missionaries in the region.  My father was working in Burma establishing an agricultural school funded by the Ford Foundation.

My brothers traveled about 2,000 miles.  There was no flight from Kodai at that time so they took the bus to the train station, a train to Madras, a flight to Calcutta where they boarded another plane for Rangoon, and then went by either train or car to Pyinmana where we lived.  They were 9 and 11 years old.  There were several other children who went there from Pyinmana so they usually had people to travel with.

One year only one of my brothers showed up in Rangoon.  My other brother had the mumps and had to stay behind along with a friend of his who also had the mumps.  As soon as he was well enough to travel, his housemother took him to her home in Madras.  Once he was fully recovered he flew to Calcutta where some friends of the family met him and saw him off on the plane to Rangoon.

My mother was to meet him and take the train home but the train was cancelled that day and she and my other brother went by car.  This meant they had to stay the night in Rangoon.  They all finally made it home okay.  A few days later my other brother complained of a sore jaw.  Now he had the mumps!

Getting sick in Pyinmana could be a problem.  There was a good hospital and doctors in Rangoon but it was 250 miles away and was about a 10 hour trip by road.  There was a good Indian doctor in Toungoo which was about 75 miles away.  He could easily make it to us in a day but the problem was getting a hold of him.  There were 3 or 4 telephones in Pyinmana and we had access to one of them but it almost never worked.  There were times when we had to send somebody to ask him to come.

Otherwise my parents relied on Dr Spock’s book: The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care.   Also referred to as their medical bible.  When I moved to Russia many many years later, it was one of the books I took with me.

“Change is the essential process of all existence.”

–SPOCK, Star Trek: The Original Series, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”


Boarding School


Lugano, Switzerland – the view from my window








My senior year in boarding school in Switzerland, I lived in the bottom of a house in two big rooms with six other girls.  We had two bathrooms and lots of windows and a large patio.  The view of Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains was spectacular.  I woke up to it every morning.  When it was warm out we would open all the windows and the door and it was like we lived outside.  We were pretty isolated from the rest of the campus so people rarely came by to check on us.  After supper everybody had two hours of study time when they were to be either in their rooms or in the library.  We usually had the stereo going and somebody always had a card game going.  It was rare to see anybody studying.  I did my studying in the afternoon or just before class.

The teacher who was on duty went around and checked up on people to make sure they were studying but they rarely came by our room.  And if they did it was to escape or because they wanted something.  There was one teacher who spent the entire evening in our room copying our Rolling Stones tapes whenever he was on duty.  We hardly knew him and we thought it was a little odd but he never hassled us about anything so we just let him do his thing.

There was a small village grocery store that sold sandwiches and drinks just up the road from our house and everybody knew the guy who owned it, Angelo.  He would also come to the snack bar in the evenings to sell sandwiches and chips.  He made the best ham and cheese sandwiches.  I usually slept through breakfast and skipped dinner but I often was hungry in the evening and if I could scrape the money together I would go to the snack bar and get something to eat before going home for the night.

Seniors were allowed to travel by themselves instead of hooking up with a school trip and so my friend Choni and I decided that we would go to Corsica in the spring.  We were hoping it would be warm and we could lie on the beach.  The night before we left, four of our roommates caught the night train to Amsterdam.  Another roommate had her family visiting and they were sleeping in the back room.  Well, Choni and I decided we would pack for our trip and just stay up all night since we had to leave so early the next morning. People kept dropping by to see us and some of them were loud and obnoxious.  The people trying to sleep in the back room didn’t appreciate all of this and kept coming out and asking us things like – “is there a cheap hotel near here that we could move to?”  We promised we would be quiet and we really did try but we were not in control of the situation.  It took us about four hours to get Choni packed.

My friend Suzie stopped by and the people in the back really started to complain so we decided to go home with her.  When we got to her room it was all dark and she just crashed on her bed but the stereo was hooked up so it just kept playing the same record over and over again.  I don’t know how long we sat there. When we got back to our room the sun was just starting to come up. We gathered up our stuff and sat outside and had a cigarette and watched the sun come up.

From there we went over to the gym teacher’s house because he had agreed to give us a ride to the train station.  He gave us coffee and I burned my mouth on it.  We took the train to Milan, a bus to the airport, a plane to Nice, another plane to Bastia, Corsica and arrived at about four in the afternoon. Once we found our pensione we fell on our beds and slept.  It rained the whole time we were there.

It turned out we pretty much could see all Bastia in one day.  After a couple of days of rain we decided to leave early and head for Nice.  We pooled all our money and sprang for a hotel room in one of the best hotels right on the beach.  Everybody looked at us weird but all we wanted was a hot bath and a comfy bed.  It was money well spent, but the next day we didn’t have enough money left for a cab to the airport so we threw on our backpacks and walked.  It turned out most of the way we could walk along the beach so it wasn’t so bad!


Last summer I went to visit my brother who lives in Switzerland.

I have a soft spot for Switzerland.  I went to boarding school at the American School in Switzerland in Lugano.  It was an amazing time in a beautiful place.  We traveled all over Europe, hiked up mountains, skied, figured out train schedules, learned to drink beer, and generally had a great education.  In 2000, I went back to the school for the founding Director’s 90th birthday party.

Mrs Flemming (we always called her Mamma Flemming) started the school in 1956 with 12 children, three were her own.  When I graduated in the 70’s there were 200 of us.  And now there are several schools around the world and many more students.

The birthday party in 2000 was a lot of fun because some of my dear friends were there.  Two old roommates and an old boyfriend.  We hiked up to see Herman Hesse’s house.  There was a lovely garden at the bottom of the steps where people would hang out and smoke cigarettes and make out.  Now they have a small museum next door dedicated to him.  We looked around for our old stomping grounds and found that the “hole in the wall” where Serafina served us wine and beer out of her own kitchen was now closed up.  But the main restaurant in the small village of Montagnola was still there.  We spent a pleasant afternoon sipping grappa that the owner had made himself.  He even sold us several bottles.







Now I was back in Switzerland with my teenage son.  Mamma Flemming died at the age of 98 and is buried in the cemetery just down the mountain from the school.  The same cemetery where Herman Hesse can be found.

In the 11 years between this and my last visit, the place had changed dramatically.  Lugano was still as beautiful as ever although much more built up and congested.  The piazza was there full of tourists and the pizza was still good.  The local department store where we had purchased my son his Action Man toy in 2000 was still there but had a new name and was under new ownership.

And I almost didn’t recognize the school.  There were so many new buildings!  It has become a formal school with students in uniforms and actual rules.  When we went there it was very much a family atmosphere and we all were encouraged to strike out on our own and explore our surroundings.  Now TASIS is all grown up.

While I was wandering around the campus, I ran into an old friend in the lobby of the main building.  Angelo, the guy who owned the local sandwich shop was now working in the business office of the school.  He pretended to remember me but I don’t know if he really did.

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