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College puts ocean between parents, kids


Seniors prepare to relocate to foreign country: U.S.

Stars and Stripes (05/20/2006)
By Jennifer H. Svan

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Leaving the family nest for the freshmen dorm is a teenage rite of passage.

Add to that acclimating to a new country far from mom and dad and freshman jitters might just blossom into a panic attack.

Three Edgren High School seniors are prepping for such a transition. They’re excited yet anxious, sad to leave Japan but ready to sample life with a U.S. zip code.

“I’m nervous,” said Cory Doerr, 17. “I lived overseas almost my whole life, so going back to the States is going to be like living in a foreign country.”

He’ll attend Texas State University in San Marcos this fall. The son of Col. Cord Doerr, 35th Dental Squadron commander, and Ophie Doerr, Cory was born in Panama and spent five years in the States. He moved overseas before entering fourth grade, living in England, Italy and, for the past three years, Japan.

He at least has childhood memories of stateside life: “It was big and hot where I lived,” he said of Texas and New Mexico. “There was a lot of stuff to do, like malls. Everyone looked the same.”

Two of his college-bound classmates at Edgren lack such memories: Noah DeBonis, 18, and Shamar Riddick, 17, recall many summer vacations in the United States but never called it home.

But like typical high school seniors, their fears focus more on the challenges of independence and college course work.

“I’m nervous about it because I have to make new friends and meet new people,” said Noah, headed for the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. “The biggest adjustment will be leaving my family behind. I’ll have a whole new home. I’ll have to wash my own clothes.”

He was born in the Philippines, where parents Laurie Kuntz and Steven DeBonis worked in a refugee camp educating Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians bound for America after the Vietnam War. He was 4 when Mount Pinatubo erupted, forcing his parents to seek work elsewhere.

“Luckily, we found Misawa,” he said. “I love it here. This is my home.” Summer vacations in the States are “like visiting another country,” he said.

Shamar said he’s not worried about attending Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.

“It’s going to be easy if we do the work and pay attention,” he said.

The three seniors figure driving may be the trickiest challenge. “Misawa seems like a mini go-cart track compared to driving in the States,” Cory said.

Shamar, born and raised in Misawa, said he doesn’t plan to drive by himself at night because “strange things happen at night.”

For the boys’ parents, the college send-off across the Pacific is bittersweet, fraught with anxiety.

“Over here in Japan, you tend to have that false sense of security,” said Shamar’s mother, Sarah Richardson, Edgren’s seventh- and eighth-grade health and physical education teacher.

“You can go out at night to walk or jog, leave your car door unlocked,” she said. “I don’t want him to go to the States and think he can do those same things.”

The Doerrs will be closer to their son because the family is headed to Langley Air Force Base, Va.

“We’ve talked about being … very keenly aware of your surroundings,” said Ophie Doerr. “There will be so many lessons learned. Hopefully, they’ll be healthy lessons he can take with him for the rest of his life.”

Kuntz, who teaches language arts at Edgren, said she’s grateful for e-mail.

“I can only hope I’ve given my son the tools to be able to choose wisely and live well. I think he goes with the advantage of having a worldly sense of who he is and of the world compared to kids from small-town U.S.A.”