My name is Leslie, I’m twenty-one and I am what one would call a military child. I was born in Paderborn, Germany whilst my parents were posted to one of many international postings. My family and I spent the next nine years in Germany, moving a total of four times and changing school just as often. The time I spent there at a young age was certainly a great experience … well from what I remember anyway!
What I significantly remember were the massive military camps on which we lived on. These camps were complete with schools, hospitals, housing, sports pitches, shops and much more. It was as if you had taken a town in England, plonked it in Germany and surrounded it in barbed wire! Each camp had its own tight-knit community network, something I don’t quite think you can find outside of military life. As a child this was brilliant to me, there were always loads similarly aged children who were in exactly the same boat. However, on the flip side, moving round a lot means moving away from friends. Friends you may have only just made – clearly a negative aspect. Personally, I found it took longer and was harder to make friends as I was shy and quiet. What really hurt was when either I moved away, or they did after having only just started getting close. School was sometimes an issue too. During one posting in Germany I had to catch a bus at 7am to travel an hour to school every morning... this was because we lived off camp and there were no English schools in the area. Other aspects as a military child have to live with are the times your parent(s) are deployed, away on exercise or even on diplomatic trips. The time can range from a couple days, to a few weeks, all the way up to a maximum of 12 months. These are hard times that no family would want to endure. However, the support from the tight-knit military communities was something that really helped when in those tough situations.
The next posting my family were sent on took us on a year-long post to India – yes India! This would have been an experience for anyone, let alone a 10-year-old child! I still remember the flight over and the gust of warm air after the plane doors opened. We lived near Coonoor, a mountain town in the southern region of Tamil Nadu, this was the location of an international military academy. Unlike Germany, we didn’t live on a camp, but we did live in a similar community of families who were in the same situation. I made friends with Indian, American, Chilean, Australian, Indonesian, Singaporean and Korean kids, one or two of whom I am still in touch with today! A group of us would have to travel in a car share around an hour every morning to get to the nearest international school. This was something I was unfortunately used to now. What made things easier was the great community in which we lived in, from regularly holding evenings and events together to going on road trips, to even carpooling to get to school each day. We also celebrated each other’s different cultural events; this was one of the best and most interesting communities I have been apart of. The whole experience of living in India was incredible, I saw amazing things and made great lifelong connections with people, and this all at such a young age. The only thing that annoys me today is that I wish I had been older, in order to have taken more of it in, but I can guarantee I will go back someday. After India, we moved to the UK. It was the first time I had ever lived in the UK, some 10/11 years after being born.
I first met Tilly in 2009 when my family was posted to Rutland, a county in the midlands. Tilly and her family were of the first people I met there, perhaps due to the fact we lived opposite each other! What I didn’t know at the time would be the start of a great friendship, a friendship that even today continues, something I consider to be quite rare being a military child and all. This is of course is my own opinion and comes from experience. It is unfortunately one of the downsides to this way of life.
This was now the 5th time I had changed schools and because of this I frequently missed parts of the curriculum as schools taught subjects in different orders. Sometimes I had already learned about a topic in class and sometimes it was entirely new to me, something that can be quiet degrading if experienced over and over again. Sometimes when joining clubs, teams and even schools it would be hard to break into the pre-existing friendship groups or cliques, in some occasions putting me off continuing – like a rugby club.
I was having the usual issues like many other military kids. This endless cycle of making new friends, losing them, falling behind at school or even having to travel long distances to school finally stopped in year 7 when I joined boarding school. I can’t say I was keen on the idea of boarding school, but I soon came to realise it was the best option, both for academics and keeping friends.
Boarding school also isn’t for everyone and can be tough in many ways. For example, living away from family for long periods of time, bullying or the feeling of being stuck at a sort of prison are some of the things you may experience. Thankfully, I really enjoyed my time at boarding school, so much so that I spent the next 7 years there as a full-time boarder, although I did experience homesickness and bullying at the start. What helped was that at the school there were lots of military children such as me and most people didn’t know anyone before they started in year 7. Effectively a clean slate for all! The community at boarding school is something you don’t get anywhere else at that age, it’s difficult to explain what it’s like but I’m happy I went. What I found quite amazing was that I was reunited with two other military children I had met a number of years ago in Germany!
In the time between starting school and now in my third year at the University of Reading, we’ve moved a further 5 times – including to Dakar, Senegal and Marseille, France.
These experiences and opportunities brought to me through being a military child are ones I will always be very grateful for. Although a different way of life to most, I am happy it was MY way of life. Of course, you face ups and downs, you lose friends and don’t really have a place to call home… but instead, you get to meet all kinds of new people, live in and see new places whilst enjoy the many military family benefits.
Undoubtedly these events have shaped who I am today, an independent, highly adaptable and adventurous young man. I without a doubt love traveling and enjoy exploring new places, learning about other cultures and meeting people. Who knows, I might even follow in my father's footsteps!