Origins - Part I 

Chantilly, France

I'm not an especially nostalgic person. Looking back at my life is not something I do a lot and I think it's a good sign. I have always encountered new challenges along the way, new areas of interest which keep me facing forward. But at certain times I feel the need to take a 360 look around to try and make a little sense of it all.

How does an American technocrat from the Midwest end up living and working in Northern France?

To answer that question, I think it's necessary to first explore how it was that I became interested in a life outside of the U.S. Afterall, for much of my life I never really considered such a possibility.

As a child I became aware of a world outside of my Michigan home town through a series of family trips. On a number of occasions my Dad would borrow a tent trailer from my Uncle and we would hook it up to our Caprice or Impala as the case may be and the family would go off on an excursion. I remember trips to Ludington, Michigan and the lakes of the Traverse City area. The Sleeping Bear dunes and later on, a trip to the Upper Pensinsula. Sometime during my childhood we made a family trip to Florida and another trip to Colorado both with tent trailer in tow.

I'm not sure that any of these trips was responsible for giving to me the kind of Wanderlust that has led me to live in Europe. But when I was 10 years old, I had the opportunity to live for a year in what was to resemble living in a foreign country, the Southwestern state of New Mexico. For anyone unfamiliar with the state, it borders the country of Mexico to the south and is otherwise surrounded by the states of Texas, Arizona and Colorado. It is a state with a heritage that goes back long before the founding of the United States. Ancient indigenous cultures constructed cities on the semi-arid plateaus which subsequently developed into the Indian pueblos of today. Later on, the Spanish would come to look for gold and conquest and spread the Catholic religion. The ancestors of the Spanish still reside today in the rural communities of northern New Mexico. And after the Conquistadors, the cowboys of the great western expansion of the U.S. would come and add their mystique to the land. New Mexico is a state of great diversity in its people as well as in its sweeping, breathtakingly beautiful landscapes.

{Barranca Mesa Elementary School (Me, second row from the bottom, far right)}

As a university professor, my father had the opportunity to take a sabbatical leave, and that year he had done just that, taking a position in the former World War II top secret laboratory at Los Alamos north west of the state capitol of Santa Fe. Los Alamos is surrounded by Native American reservations, national forest and old cattle grazing land grants dating back decades. Even today it remains fairly isolated. There's only one highway which traverses the town and you can only reach the city on this highway.

In itself, the city is a model of contrast. In its semi-arid environment on the foothills of the Jemez mountains, it attracts highly educated scientists and their families to live surrounded by the Native Americans, the Spanish settlements, the ranchers and the forest rangers.

For me I think it's true to say that it was a foreign place for me in the sense that it was exotic. It was at the same time stimulating. The schools were filled with the children of highly educated scientists. It was truly a different world from the more mundane middle class neighborhood of my Michigan home town. And it was a place full of mystery and discovery.

{Exploring Bandelier National Monument}

Strangely enough, after a year, I had had enough. I had enjoyed staying there but I could not imagine living there any longer. It was not my home. There was, perhaps, a limit to the amount of stimulation I could absorb and it was time to let it all sink in.

Upon returning to Michigan, I felt that I had come back changed from the experience. I began to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with the community I had returned to. As I became a teenager, I felt a growing restlessness. Occasional trips to backpack and camp in the west were not enough to satisfy a growing wanderlust. In highschool I spent a summer working at a Summer camp in rural Kentucky. This too became an experience of discovery and was an important milestone in the transition from child to adult.

I think that the passage from High School to University is concurrent with a passage of a life marked by the guidance of others, parents, elders, teachers, etc, to a life marked by one's own aspirations. It was at this time that a certain bi-polar pattern of a need for security, accompanied by a need for adventure began to emerge as a major theme in my life. My career as a technocrat was determined by my choice of Computer Science as my major. The options for securing a job coming out of such an education seemed secure and the subject matter fit my introverted personality.

At the same time, I was won over by a college buddy who, having spent his pre-college years in Egypt as the son of a missionary, was pining to return there. We made what seemed to us a splendid plan, spending the Fall of our sophmore year studying conflict resolution in Jerusalem and spending the Spring in Cairo at the American University. In the end it was I who went on to study in Jerusalem while he stayed back to continue his new life in America.

I could have spent a University semester in Europe as I would say most students in search of a foreign experience do, but at that time, such a move was not attractive to me. I was not interested in Europe. It did not seem to offer me the kind of adventure I was seeking. It seemed, frankly, rather unspecial and frivolous. In looking outside of Europe I was in search of something more profound. I believed to have found it in the subject of Conflict Resolution...

(To be continued)
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