There is no place like home

The majority of AAU students know how challenging starting your life over in a foreign country is. Hanna Ripper who is now a 2nd year Law Student at AAU is familiar with ups and downs of moving to a new country and adjusting to the different culture. Czech Republic is the 6th country she has lived in.

Ripper is one of the 15 million “military brats”, children of full-time U.S Armed Forces’ servants,  according to the U.S Department of Defense. Growing up with one or both parents in the army results in a significantly different lifestyle.During their upbringing, military brats frequently move and one may describe it as an opportunity to become a world citizen and experience adventurous and exciting childhood civilians don’t have access to. On the other hand, they need to get accustomed to their parent’s well-being being put at risk every day in addition to adjusting to a different country every couple of years.

Mary Wertsch, an American journalist specializing in military brats points out that although they possess a great deal of multicultural awareness, army kids are also likely to face attachment issues and develop various mental disorders.

Ripper admits that challenges connected to moving and switching schools on regular basic made her an introverted person. After starting at AAU, Ripper realized she sees no benefit in actively participating in the school’s community.

“it is hard for me to go out and interact with new people, there are all these events, barbecues, different parties and I don’t want to go to any of this. I just grew into this introverted lifestyle’’ – she says. When asked if growing up as a military brat can be a factor in developing mental disorders, she does not hesitate: ‘Absolutely!’.”

Due to her father being responsible for running all the operations systems for US Forces in Europe, Ripper was constantly moving back and forth between US, Asia, and Europe. She admits that while as a small child, adapting to a new environment was not as hard for her, going into her teenage years made her realize that fitting in was no longer as easy of a process.

“When you are a kid, nobody cares and there is no formation of groups yet, but once I got into high school, it started to get trickier. I moved my senior year of high school from Virginia to Germany and there people were like ‘We don’t want to talk to you because we already have our groups situated so go be by yourself’.’’ – She says.

Despite her unconventional childhood, Ripper does not fully consider herself a military brat because her father never served on active duty and thus, she did not have to live in constant fear for his life, like many of her friends did.

Another AAU student, Caroline Christopher Beach knows this anxious feeling quite well. Her father, Robert Beach, Retired Major in U.S Army Corps of Engineers was on active duty for 24 years. Beach never had to face PCS orders that are a big part of most of the army brats’ lifestyle.  Her father managed to find a loophole that allowed her and her brother to grow up in Savannah, GA, together with their mother. Therefore, her upbringing differed from the one Ripper and many other military brats have. However, when other fathers would come to their children’s weekly volleyball games and drive them to the cinema, Beach’s father was risking his life in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“During Leave, Dad came home exhausted from overseas travel and constantly being on high-alert; instead of using his leave time on much needed relaxation from his high demand job, he had an obligation to entertain his children and fit a year’s worth of time into the miniscule span of two weeks.” – She says.

Being the only military brat at school did not make things easier as she could not count on support from children in the same situation and it was hard for the other students to relate to her life and problems she struggles with.

Beach says: “Children with a deployed parent face the stress of knowing their parent is in a highly publicized warzone. In the 2000s, in the United States, every magazine cover or news story displayed gruesome pictures, videos, and sound bytes of the War on Terror, a daily reminder of the constant threat of danger faced by the deployed. Every evening came new stories of car bombings with titles such as ’15 wounded and 6 dead.’ Children are sponges and the constant exposure to violence gave me nightmares and great anxiety regarding my family’s safety.”

Both Ripper and Beach admit that growing up as a military brat may likely lead to other problems: social anxieties, turbulent relationship with parents, and attachment issues. Beach admits that her lifestyle was far from perfect. However, she is proud of her father and his service to their country.

“Although we faced unique hardships, many military children join the military and follow in their parents’ footsteps.” – She points out.

Ripper says that although she is jealous of people that have one place they call “home”, one country they can relate to, she would not change her life if she could. Although challenging, growing up as a military brat allows children to become open-minded citizens of the world. When asked if she would choose the same life for her children, Ripper smiles and says

“I think I would, just because of the mindset and how fast you mature. The world now is multicultural anyway, you can’t just stay in your own little bubble for eternity.”