Like the children of many armed service members, Natalia Lynch, 20, has a convoluted answer to the question “Where are you from?” Because her father served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, Lynch spent the better part of her childhood in Savannah, Georgia and her teen years in Wiesbaden, Germany. She now attends Vanderbilt University as a Communication Studies major. As her father’s assignments frequently kept him from home, Lynch has no memories of living with her father as a child. However, because the efforts of her mother, she did grow up with the understanding that her father loved her deeply despite his absence.
When she was 11, Natalia’s parents explained to her that they were considering moving to Germany. Moving to a foreign country would obviously be a big change, but in doing so the Lynches knew that Wiesbaden would be their home for at least three years. Natalia supported the move and even decided to attend a German school to better acclimate to her new surroundings. Seeing as she didn’t speak German, Natalia found her new school to be very challenging, but her parents’ lessons on the value of persistence gave her the will to succeed.
While in Germany, Lynch made an effort to subsume herself and to German culture to the point where she had no American friends for most of her teen years. However, she did maintain a connection to her homeland through the Army’s Youth Centers. Lynch attended a Youth Center meeting where she showed off her violin playing skills. She soon made friends with a number of other musically gifted military kids and they formed a band called Volition. The group later won a Boys & Girls Club of America sponsored talent show and got the chance to perform in front of thousands of people.
Natalia was profoundly affected by her experience with the Boys & Girls Club. For the first time, she got to spend time with other teens that were in the same situation and with that sense of connection came an urge to give back. As an American kid living in a foreign country, she understood how hard it was to adapt to a new culture and she decided to create German-American learning initiatives. As part of this program, she took American kids new to Germany around the area, showing them where all the best places to eat were, how to use the mass transit system and other tips on how to get the most out of living in Wiesbaden.
When asked about her feelings toward active duty service men and women, Natalia expressed profound gratitude. “I’m really proud to call myself a military youth and a big reason for that is the servicemen and women we have in this country. I think if anybody wants to know what it means to be a real U.S. citizen, they can look at any one of our U.S. servicemen and women and they will have the definition right there.”
Mario McKellop is a freelance writer who has covered the pop culture beat since 2010.