Readers Write-Leaving Home

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Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.

This piece should have been submitted by January 1, 2015, for consideration for the July 2015 issue.

Leaving home had been my goal from the time I learned the world was made up of more than one country. Of course, I had to grow up before acting on such thoughts was possible, but even then my parents and I disagreed on just how much growing up was needed.

My first attempt at leaving home was when I applied to a college in the southern half of the state, one where I would have to live in a dorm. I would have considered such an arrangement to meet the definition of leaving home, but my parents insisted that I instead attend a college in town so that I could stay at home.

After one year of college, our next door neighbors moved to Wisconsin, leaving their daughter, Margaret, behind so she could complete college. Margaret was my age, though she attended the other college in town. Her parents rented out the house. Margaret lived in the basement apartment which she shared with a friend from her work. After one year, her roommate decided she wanted to move back home. Margaret asked if I would like to move in with her, rent free. I was convinced my parents would agree. They didn’t.

Another year passed. That summer, I applied as a volunteer with an arts and crafts and recreation program for children in Jersey City, New Jersey. The program wouldn’t pay anything, but they would reimburse my plane fare and provide housing as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner five days each week. It was only for seven weeks, not exactly leaving home, but my father objected to my going. Fortunately Mom intervened, saying I was over 18 years old so he couldn’t stop me. I think she stretched the truth a bit since I was still under 21. But Dad relented, and I spent the summer living in a house in Union City, with seven other college coeds from the Midwest, and working in nearby Weehawken.

While my excursion in New Jersey lasted only seven weeks that summer, it marked my leaving home more profoundly than my eventual departure. Most of my second grade students that summer were children of Cuban immigrants. And their parents did not all speak English. I had always wanted a career involving foreign languages which led to my studying both German and Russian. But being around my students’ parents, I realized that I already knew a foreign language–English.

When I returned to Minnesota, I remained in my parents home for an additional two years before I left home permanently. I changed my major from German to English and took every English course that didn’t involve reading literature to prepare myself for teaching English as a Foreign Language, a concept I had never thought of before my summer in New Jersey.

It turned out that leaving home wasn’t an event; it was a process that began with a group of seven-year-old children of Cuban origin who helped me recognize I had the knowledge and ability that ignited my passion for teaching English as a language. That was the inciting event that changed the direction I would head for when I finally left home.

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