Bébé Voyage is committed to uplifting the voices of marginalized groups and sharing their unique experiences as travelers. Diane Obryon, a UN volunteer, shares her family’s story and the difficulties of an international move and constant relocation around the world.
Q: Could you tell us a little about you and your family?
A: My name is Diane Obryon, I am 44 years old this year; I am married to Michael OBryon and we have two kids Axel and Iman. We have been living in the US for about two years now and are entering our third year. My son Axel is eight and my daughter Iman is five. I am originally from Cameroon where I was born and lived until 2007 when I left to work as a UN Volunteer in the DRC. I was in Kinshasa for three years and that’s where I met my husband Michael.
Michael and I met in 2008 and got married in 2011. Between 2008 and 2020, we lived abroad in several cities: we met in Kinshasa, and after three years I moved to NYC for work while my then fiancé was doing a two-year tour in Afghanistan. In 2012, I moved to Clearwater, Florida to be with Michael’s family after my son was born. At the end of 2012, we all moved to Frankfurt, Germany for my husband’s work.
In early 2014, we spent six months in Arlington for some training before going to Maputo, Mozambique for a three-year tour. During our tour in Maputo, I got pregnant with my daughter, and due to some complications, I was medevaced to Belgium for six months with my son until my daughter was born, while my husband stayed in Mozambique. At the end of our tour in Maputo, my husband spent another year in Afghanistan and we decided that the kids and I will settle in Tourcoing, a city near Lille, in the north of France, where I have family.
At the end of that year, in 2018, we moved back to the US, stayed in Arlington for a year, and then moved to Vienna, VA where we have been now for two years and will be staying here for another year.
Q: You and your family have lived in a number of different places including Mozambique, France, and DC. How have the kids adapted to all the moves?
A: Luckily, I think it is because the kids were so young, the impact of the move was not as dreadful on them as it would’ve been on teenagers. At that young age, I believe kids are the most resilient human beings ever, at least in my experience. My kids just took every opportunity as a blessing and a way of discovering new things. For each of those moves, I looked at the upside and embraced it to the fullest as there is always something exciting to be looking forward to.
For example, In France, I was living a couple of blocks away from my sister who has two kids that are a year older than mine. They went to the same school and spent as much time out of school as they could together. I also have other brothers, sisters, and cousins who all lived nearby so it was amazing for the kids to spend so much time with my side of the family and establish a bond that can only be built during childhood.
Q: Do you have a favorite place to live in and why?
A: This is a very interesting question. So far I don’t think there is a place I can consider a favorite place to live in, each place had something to it, each place brought something unique to the experience, and each place had its challenges. It was never like “oh I got the trifecta”, like the perfect place where the kids are happy, I am happy, the husband is happy, the house is great, and everything is working out great.
The last year of our tour in Mozambique, we had just moved to a brand new house, my son was doing great at school, we had a fantastic social life with easy access to Kruger National Park and my husband was doing well at work. That was the closest I have come to consider a place a favorite.
France was also great because the kids and I had all that time with the family and the kids got to know their cousins, uncles, aunts and they would never have had the opportunity to do so if we hadn’t been in France. BUT my husband wasn’t there with us so it’s a give and take. As of right now, I don’t think there is one place that could qualify as my favorite place to live in. Still looking.
Q: School experiences for your kids must have been quite different between Mozambique, France, and DC. Could you tell us a little about them?
A: The school experience was indeed different as we are talking about three countries, three continents, and three different school systems. But going back to what I was saying previously about the kid’s age and their resilience, it wasn’t as impactful as it would’ve been if the kids were older. In Mozambique, I elected to have my son attending the French school and it made for a smooth transition when we went to France, as it was the same curriculum.
Coming back to DC was a whole new experience. We maintained my son’s English proficiency in the years prior which helped with his transition from “Grande Section” to 1st grade. During his 1st grade year, I could tell that if my son had gone to an American school in the previous years, some things would have probably been easier for him, but I didn’t really mind that because having learned another language during those formative years is priceless. He caught up pretty fast and came out on top at the end of the year; nothing beats full immersion.
As for my daughter, she only did preschool in France so it wasn’t that big of a difference for her. She always had both English and French at home so coming back to the US was not drastically different, she is just now starting kindergarten. Iman will have her basics taught in English which I’m fine with. Being a native French speaker, I have been trying to keep the French active at home with both kids which has proven very difficult but hopefully, for our next posting she will be able to attend a French school and my hope is that this balances things out.
But I will reiterate this again, kids are resilient and as long as they can make friends they’re really happy and that’s the one thing that I’ve tried to make as consistent as possible.
Q: How do you like living in DC? Do you feel that the city is pretty open to different cultures? Have you traveled anywhere else in the US that is very different from DC, either in good or bad ways?
A: So moving back to DC, I actually had the idea of returning to work, which I did shortly after we arrived. I started working about three months after we got here. I was hired as the executive assistant to the CFO of an international NGO. Six months into it, I had to quit for multiple reasons, the cost of daycare was prohibitive, and working full time with elementary-aged kids affected the quality of our lives. It was a very difficult decision to make, but it was the best decision for my family. Working for an international organization de facto puts you in a pretty diverse environment. We lived in Arlington which is a very diverse area and we are now in Vienna, VA, which again has people from different backgrounds and from different walks of life.
I have traveled a bit in the US, mostly to major cities (NYC, Boston) and I don’t feel like it is that different from DC. I think DC is probably as diverse as New York or any other big city and that’s the beauty of them. It’s a melting pot of people coming from all kinds of backgrounds, a blend of culture. Of course, you lose a little bit of yourself and your culture because you must assimilate some to blend in, but you gain a lot by learning from others and transforming yourself.
Q: Being from Cameroon, how do you feel about being African in America?
A: I was naturalized in 2014 and during this process, I came to realize that there is a difference between being African-American and being an African American. Who you are is dependent on your experiences, what you have been through, how you were brought up, where you were brought up, your cultural references, your comedic reference, pop culture, sports, etc. Also, depending on which African country you are coming from you will experience America differently.
I for one have learned that this country was built on values of inclusion, freedom, and tolerance; this is the land of opportunities and for better or for worse, you have to embrace it. Also, I know myself to have this capacity to adjust to almost anything which allows me not to feel out of place in the US, anywhere really, I have always been that person, even in Cameroon. I don’t necessarily go to a place and stick with people that look/talk/behave like me because for me that doesn’t enrich me in any way.
I like spending time with people that are different from me, that have a different background. It teaches me empathy in allowing me to learn about their experiences in life, I hope it’s giving me an edge and I don’t take anything for granted. It is just not how I was brought up, you have to always fight for what you want in life, never settle, and always aim for more; nothing is given to you so yes, I hope being an African who is American gives me an edge in this country.
Q: Have you talked to your kids about race and the latest events that have taken place in America?
A: My son has been very curious about the issues of race. My husband is white and I am black and my kids are mixed kids. As we know, kids learn by mimicking and by projection. I do believe that because my husband and I have different skin colors, my son became aware, earlier than most kids, of the differences that exist in the world. We visited the Museum of African American History last year, which helped put the current events into perspective.
In line with the conversation about his duality (recurrent since he was 4 years old), and in light of the recent events in the US, we have had to talk to both kids about the issues of race in the context of tolerance and acceptance: find the right words to explain that there are unfortunately people out there who might think less of you because of who you are, the color of your skin, who you love, etc. I know they understand that there are people with different skin colors, different religions, different orientations, and that it should not define how they are treated.
We try to teach them about tolerance, empathy, and respect for others, emphasizing the fact that what should matter is who they are and how kind they are and not what they appear to be or what people want them to be. It is not an easy task but we hope to be on the right track.
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