Episode 59 │ Fill in the Gaps (GERMANY/TURKEY/HOLLAND)
"Even though I'm an American citizen, I kind of identify more with an immigrant lifestyle in a way, because I had to learn how to be American as opposed to just being raised here." (Camille, Episode 59)
Sometimes Facebook groups do come in handy! I've mentioned quite a few times that I found a number of this year's guests through posting in a WOC Podcasters collaboration thread back in January. Today's guest Camille Kauer is the last of those people who responded to that particular inquiry. Camille is an actor, model, and on-air personality who grew up in a military family and spent much of her childhood overseas. She was born in the U.S., and when she was a baby her family moved to Germany when her high-ranking military dad was stationed there. She and her parents continued on to Turkey and then to Holland (the Netherlands) before landing in North Carolina when Camille was around 13 years old.
When Camille first contacted me she mentioned having attended 26 different schools before graduating high school, but most of that was after returning to the States. Overseas, she attended German kindergarten and then an American school while in Germany, then an American school and a Turkish weekend school while in Turkey, and then only one school while in Holland. Camille and her parents stayed in each of the places they lived for a number of years at a time, with the longest being their three-year stay in Turkey. During our conversation she recalled living in a high-rise ("the fanciest my life has ever been"), interacting with neighbors who ranged from entertainers to footballers to military attachés, and spending precious moments with her mom and the Turkish nanny who helped raise her. Camille and her former nanny are still in touch to this day, and they have a very close aunt-and-niece relationship.
Moving around so much and being the child of a military officer taught Camille how to adapt. The Berlin Wall was still standing at the time, she and her family were surrounded by Turkish military upon moving there because they were breaking curfew and didn't know it, and she and her parents (especially her dad) had to hide their military status while in the general public for security reasons. Even amidst potential dangers, Camille took in stride because she'd been prepared, or didn't internalize it too much because she was so young. Part of adapting also included learning the local languages, and so she eventually became quadrilingual, speaking English, German, Turkish, and Dutch. Unfortunately, that multilingualism faded after Camille's family moved back to the States.
Adjusting to American life and culture was full of challenges for Camille. "Culture shock" was an understatement, especially since what Camille knew about America was limited to film and TV depictions and occasional trips to visit family. Outside of the protection of her dad's authority and the diverse spaces she was used to in Europe, in North Carolina she became aware of racism and segregation for the first time. She was enrolled in ESL (English as a second language) for a while because her Dutch/German accent was so strong, and her xenophobic ESL teacher planted the idea in Camille's head that being American meant only speaking English. That—in addition to being bullied by classmates for the way she talked and her perceived foreignness—had Camille refusing to speak other languages and begging her parents to get her a speech pathologist. So her proficiency in the languages she learned as a child has waned, but she can still understand some words an phrases here and there.
As previously mentioned, Camille changed schools the most after returning to the U.S., and that was because her parents' work had her hopping from state to state. At some point her mom became a stuntwoman in the film industry and got remarried to a man who's also in the film industry, so they all moved based on whatever production Camille's mom and stepdad were involved in at the time. As an extrovert who loves meeting new people and learning about cultural differences, Camille thoroughly enjoyed this life. In fact, she was somewhat prepared for this because of her previous experience relocating when her parents were in the military. She noted how similar the film industry and the military are in that, "you make these relationships very quickly, but you know they're gonna end". And it wasn't until it was time to gather transcripts for Camille's college applications that all the schools Camille attended were officially tallied up to 26.
Another positive that came out of those years of transitions and challenges was Camille discovering her love of acting and storytelling. It turns out that Camille is dyslexic, but she wasn't diagnosed until she was in college. Add the linguistic challenges of adjusting from European speech and writing styles to American English ones, plus the gaps in education caused by such frequent moves, and one can understand how much of a struggle school could be for Camille sometimes. She was incredibly articulate and had such creative ideas, but reading and writing were a challenge, so her writing assignments were often graded on content rather than form. At times she felt like she had to overcome or even try to hide her learning difficulties by pretending that she didn't have them. However, this pretending, in addition to all the other various ways she learned to adapt and express herself in her youth, have helped Camille to be able to work well in the film industry today.
Staying in one place
Now Camille lives in North Carolina with her husband and daughter, and it's the longest in her life that she's ever stayed in one place. She loves it there, but is also ready to drop everything and move somewhere else (either to California or abroad) whenever her husband and daughter are ready! As a mom who wants to ensure her daughter has the best education and preparation for life possible, Camille shared with me some strong opinions about the American school system. Basically, she is well aware of the American system's flaws (the word "trash" came up multiple times) and doesn't believe it measures up to the effectiveness and well-roundedness she encountered in European schools. Still, Camille is glad that her daughter is in a community and school where she can meet international friends without having to move anywhere, and will leave it up to her daughter to decide if she wants to become bilingual or not.
As for future travels once traveling is possible again, Camille's open to going "anywhere, really", but specifically on her bucket list are Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Italy, and pretty much anywhere that's warm and tropical. Camille can be found on Instagram (@therealcamillekauer), Facebook (@therealcamillekauer), and Twitter (@ckonair1).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Fill in the Gaps (GERMANY/TURKEY/HOLLAND)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.