Destination: Europe. Sterre van den Anker prepares to study abroad

Junior Sterre van den Anker dressed up for Homecoming ’19 with her best friend Wouter Mommers who had flown in hours before from the Netherlands. “He was here for literally 24 hours just for homecoming,” Sterre laughed. Photo courtesy of Caroline van Klingeren.

She reaches her left arm over her chest and grabs her right ear, picking at her small gold piercings with red acrylic nails. A simple necklace with the same gold gleam as her earrings dangles from the open neck of her striped sweater. Her shoulders hunch forward and she rests on her arms, the left still grabbing her ear, and the right folded over the other and holding her side. Her tone is friendly and open, though her posture keeps her a little guarded. She speaks fast and confidently, with expressive eyes and a relaxed smile as she tells light jokes.

Speaking English, no one could tell that it’s the language junior Sterre van den Anker only speaks half the time. When she’s home or travelling with her relatives in Europe, Sterre speaks Dutch and has been doing so her whole life. She was raised bilingually in America by her Dutch parents who lived in the Netherlands for the majority of their lives before settling down in the States to start a family.

In fact, it is solely Sterre, her mother, her father, and her 13 year old sister that are American citizens, the rest of her extended family living in the Netherlands. But she doesn’t think that it makes her any different than the average “American teen.”

Her style is comfortable and doesn’t stray far from the usual trends these days with black leggings and a cropped sweater. It’s not like she makes any conscious effort to hide or display her ethnicity — she has grown up in the States and obviously has the same mannerisms and styles as the majority of teen girls her age at East. She wears light makeup around her eyes with more pale gold tones and her eyelashes are extended with the familiar paste of black mascara.

“People tend to have a bad connotation of ‘different,’” Sterre says. “I wouldn’t say I felt different. I actually thought it was really cool [growing up with different traditions than my friends].”

International travel has never been a stranger to Sterre, having been flying to and from the Netherlands frequently to visit her family her whole life. It is because of this sense of comfort that she has with her families’ native land that she has decided to graduate this year, a year earlier than usual, in hopes of studying the medical field at a university in the Netherlands, particularly with focus on becoming a pediatrician.

Flight log: Field of study

The flaming aura of the sun ignites her hair and emphasizes her ginger undertones. Her shoulders loosen up and she smiles bashfully. Sterre says that a lot of kids say they want to be doctors but, for her, that dream continues on and she is ready to commit to medical school.

“I’ve never been able to see myself working an office job. I can’t sit every day and do the same thing over and over again looking at a computer screen,” Sterre says. “I want to be doing something different every day and I think that’s a big opportunity that you have in the medical field.”

She decides to combine that with her love of kids and is therefore looking specifically at pediatrics. She giggles and explains that it was her part-time job teaching at a Dutch language school in Chicago and her frequent babysitting jobs that she found out how enjoyable her time is working with children. They’re fun and mischievous and many can vouch for her natural connection she has with them.

Sitting on the porch in front of her house, the house to the direct right of Sterre’s, is Farnaz Hafezi, Sterre’s neighbor and very close family friend. Big posh sunglasses block her eyes from the evening sun that climbs down from its day in the sky, as the night slowly approaches. Her hair is a long mix of brunette and blonde variations, all layered and flowing delicately in the light wind.

She watches her kids play in the yard and explains that Sterre has been babysitting them for years. Her English is not perfect, her grammar somewhat broken and her words flowing with a velvety accent. She talks highly of Sterre and emphasizes how much her kids like her, laughing about how they always ask to play with her and get excited whenever she comes to babysit them.

When talking about Sterre wanting to become a pediatrician, Farnaz’s first reaction is a quick and confident proclamation that she will do wonderfully — without a doubt.

“You can see that love she has for the kids,” Farnaz says, using her hands for emphasis and leaning in. “Sometimes you see the other baby sitters and you wonder [if] they don’t even care [about the kids].”

Next to Farnaz sits a glass of white wine and a bowl of light snacks that sit between her and Caroline van Klingeren, Sterre’s mother.

Caroline’s hair is a pale blonde like Sterre’s, but does not have the same fiery reflection from the sun. It’s pulled back in a short ponytail behind her head and her milky skin is dotted with yellow specks from days spent in the golden light. She smiles and squints her eyes, not having anything to block them from the sun.

She speaks in an equally heavy accent as Farnaz’s but with a different dialect that points to the two women being from different backgrounds. Caroline gushes about her daughter, saying that she’s obviously proud of her for working so hard but understands that it can be difficult at first. Sterre is still young and Caroline always reminds her that there will be other options if things don’t go as planned, yet knows that if it is what she desires, there’s no stopping her.

Sterre locks arms with her mother and father. “[Our family] has so many other cultures around us and I think that made [Sterre] a very open and understanding person,” Sterre’s mother, Caroline, says. Photo courtesy of Colleen Olson.

“She was always going for whatever Sterre wanted to do,” Caroline says. “When we moved out here, we took her to three preschools and she’s like, ‘I pick that one’. She went in and she never looked back. Her independence is something I’m very proud of and something that makes me sad sometimes too because I want to be [with her].”

Sterre says that it’s her parents encouragement that has allowed her to do so well and value academics.

“They’ve always encouraged me to do my best,” Sterre says. “Mostly because they know that I have the capabilities to do well when I do my best. I could get an F and if they know that I really, actually, genuinely tried my very hardest they’d [tell me that I] did everything [I] could and that maybe it didn’t work out but I’ll get it next time.”

She smiles brightly and then looks downwards with a twinge of solemnity. She loves her daughter and will miss her when she’s gone but knows that it is the decision she’s made and all she can do is support her. Until then, Caroline is happy to have her daughter around and looks forward to the holidays when Sterre can come back to visit.

Flight log: Friends

It all seems like a big change for her but she reassures that she is more prepared than most would be. Because she is already familiar with the Netherlands, speaks fluent Dutch, and is well a part of the culture, she says she will be fine and plans to stay with her aunt and uncle that live nearby the university she wants to attend.

“I’m not worried about being lonely or anything because I’ll have people there that I know and that I can spend time with,” Sterre says. If anything, she will be even closer to her long-time best friend.

His name is Wouter Mommers and the two actually met by chance when they were both 13 on vacation in Los Angeles.

Sterre subconsciously lets her guard down talking about Wouter. Her shoulders loosen and she sits back, a big smile growing on her face as she recalls their fateful meeting — if you could call it anything less than that.

She stretches out her arm that’s been long picking at her earring, motions her hand, and paints the picture of her and her younger sister in the hotel pool years ago. They were playing around and there were two other boys in the pool that were about her age. She said something in Dutch to her sister, to which one of the boys came over and asked if she speaks Dutch.

“In my head I’m like, ‘you literally just heard me say something in Dutch, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked me that question in another language,’” she says and laughs, her eyes growing wide with mock exasperation. Telling this story back, it easily seems like one of her favorites to relive. She’s animated and knows every small detail about this cherished memory of hers.

The boy named Wouter and her end up talking for the next two hours or so, telling each other about their different lives yet common Dutch roots, him being a Netherlands native and her being born American. They exchange phone numbers and end up keeping in touch to this very day, getting closer than she would have ever expected.

“If I had made one different choice [that day], I would have never met him and [he’s] my best friend,” Sterre says. “It was literally the perfect time, perfect place — if I was there an hour earlier or an hour later I wouldn’t have met him.”

He has made multiple trips out to Chicago to spend time with Sterre and her family, becoming well acquainted with them too. He even made an impromptu flight to the area the very day of this past homecoming to go with Sterre, leaving the next morning to catch a flight to Las Vegas where the rest of his family was vacationing.

She’s also made her fair share of visits out to his home in the Netherlands, being introduced to his friends and family as well. Sterre says having him nearby makes her all the more comfortable and increasingly excited to study in the Netherlands.

Getting in contact with Wouter was troubling because he lives an ocean away, but Sterre was still all the more helpful in trying to give him the opportunity to be quoted.

“I would say [that] she’s a happy [and] reliable person,” Wouter says. “She’s always there when you need somebody for anything.” He apologizes for his English and admits that it isn’t 100% perfect.

He adds that he really supports her decision coming for college because of the benefits she can get with her dual citizenship. But something that he is definitely looking forward to is his best friend being only a 30 minute car ride away, rather than having to take an eight hour plane ride just to see her face to face.

From left to right, Jacqueline Wollschaeger, Senior Madison Weis, and Sterre, hugging at one of her last performances as part of the East dance team. “One minute she wouldn’t know a person, then the next she can be best friends with them,” Madison says. Photo courtesy of Colleen Olson.

Flight log: Arrival

The school year is winding down and the graduates are counting the days until they are officially done with their high school years. Sterre expresses only true joy when talking about making her fast approaching move to the Netherlands. Her eyes light up and it is here, talking about the people, the places, and the lifestyle of the Netherlands, that she is most comfortable. Of course, she has always been a part of it, but she is now going to experience fully immersing herself in her roots.

“It’ll just be so different and that’s mainly why I’m so excited because it’s something new,” Sterre says, her eyes lighting up and her hands reaching forward, trying to grasp something that she wishes were there. “It’s so thrilling knowing that you’re jumping head first into something and you have no idea what’s going to come out of it.”

Senior Madison Weis, one of Sterre’s closest friends in the states and fellow dance team member, jokes that almost all she talks is the Netherlands. Madison says that Sterre loves everything about it and cannot wait to connect with what she calls “her people”.

Unlike the Anker family, Madison has thick dark hair and displays the proper mannerisms of a typical American teen. Her style is trendy and consists of low-profile jeans, a t-shirt, and cardigan. She is a year older than Sterre but still displays the fun youth of a girl who isn’t about to start adult-hood. She’s comfortable and cool, talking about her best friend, and wears a slight grin the whole way through.

She’s sad to see her go and has already tried her hand at begging Sterre to stay, if only be it for the summer before she starts schooling. They try to spend as much time as they can together, like they have for almost three years now, and want to end this year with a bang.

Madison cups her hands in her lap and leans back. She recalls her best friend as very outgoing and friendly, though she might have a hard time opening up about what’s troubling her.

“She’s very caring,” Madison says with a reassuring nod. “She always cares about other people and puts [them] first. She’s always happy and when she’s sad, she doesn’t let anyone know about it. You just have to [be able to] tell [if something’s wrong], and then it takes a lot to get it out of her. But she likes to keep a lot of stuff bottled up inside so that she can always be happy [for others].”

Nonetheless, Sterre says she won’t lose contact with those she cares about and knows that in return, they will always be there for her, only a phone call away. She expects changes and says they’re inevitable once high school ends, even if you aren’t moving a continent away. All she can do is cherish those around her in the moment because, as she says, she doesn’t know what the future will look like or where she will be in five years.

She’s comfortable with that and thinks that after growing up and learning so much through her years at East, she’s definitely ready to take on the world.

“One of the biggest lessons I learned is just to never give up and just keep going,” Sterre says with an affirming nod.

The skies are clear and the runway is set — all Sterre is waiting for is that final signal to takeoff and fly.

Olivia Cluchey is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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