Op-Ed / Opinion / Short Stories / Social / Travel

Why a “military brat” chose International Studies…

By Joshua Kemp

It’s the first day of school, and as I walk through the doors of the main office, I pause for moment to take in the sights and smells of this foreign landscape. I watch giggling girls who’ve known each other for years admire newly purchased summer accessories. I hear unfamiliar bells announce the impending arrival of the next period. I see and feel no one taking the time to welcome the new kid: me. Friends need to be made, and I’ll have to work my way through this junction of nostalgia juxtaposed with completely new faces. Feelings of fear and nervousness are completely normal on the first day at a new school, such as when transitioning from elementary to middle school. Oddly enough I feel none of these emotions, since this is my tenth time having to start over at new school, and that’s anything but normal.

As a result of my father’s service in the United States Navy, I’ve lived all over the world. As intriguing as it seems, the “military brat” lifestyle can be just as hard as it sounds. Every time you think you’ve gotten used to a new environment, you’re shoved back into the scary blackness of the unknown—similar to the experience of trying to catch your breath after your head is repeatedly plunged into frigid water.

Of course, this lifestyle has shaped me into who I am today. To try and take it back would be to try and give up on what my family was founded on. It would mean focusing on what I didn’t have, rather than what I given. And what I was given, besides the obvious choices like adaptability, independence, or an “open mind”, was the direct experience of being forced to mesh with other cultures. Even more so than that, I was able to watch other people do the same thing from a first-hand perspective. These experiences gave me a profound understanding of what it means to be a leader in the international community.

There are many traits key for the success of a community leader. He or she has to be confident and able to bear the weight of his or her community–resilient, determined, and charismatic. However, what’s almost more important than these traits are a community leader’s communications skills. Sometime what we look for in a leader isn’t power or stamina, but their ability to empathize with us; sometimes the most important thing for a follower’s confidence is their knowledge that, if need be, their leader will listen to them. In this day and age, the onset of technology has facilitated a level of globalization never before experienced in the history of man. It’s this fusing of cultures, languages, and perspectives that truly necessitates one trait in a leader of the international community: the ability to listen, regardless of language or background.

That’s where International Studies, coupled with proficiency in a foreign language (or two), comes in. It ensures that we have the skills to really listen to someone, instead of just “hearing” them. This difference is defined by heightened cultural and historical comprehension in addition to advanced language training. It’s a difference that allows a more personal level of interaction and connection, aspects critical for the success of a community leader.

If you asked me what was one of the most important things being a military brat taught me? I’d say it taught me the value of a degree that teaches you to truly hear someone, instead of just listening to them.


Joshua Kemp

William E. Macaulay Honors College at CCNY

B.A. Candidate in International Studies-IR ’17

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