The Foreign Service Journal, June 2007

J U N E 2 0 0 7 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 97 n America, driving is a rite of passage. Think about the iconic film “American Graffiti,” where teens cruise around in automobiles, or the “Greased Lightning” song in the musical Grease . Driving is also a useful skill to have, especially in America, where public trans- portation isn’t always as abundant as it can be abroad. “Driving is a necessary skill in life, because of the way that America has been designed,” says Foreign Service officer and parent Benjamin Dille. “Even in countries with more developed public transportation, cars do not seem to be becoming obsolete.” Dille adds that knowing how to drive is a good skill to have in case of an emer- gency. Another parent, Elaine Lloyd, points out that a U.S. driver’s license is also an important form of identifi- cation. How can Foreign Service teens learn to drive if their parents are posted overseas? This article looks at how some kids who grew up abroad have learned how to drive, as teens or later on, and also offers practical advice for families about how teenagers can learn to drive legally and safely. Learning Overseas My oldest childhood friend, Jessica, whose parents were also in the Foreign Service, learned how to drive a stick- shift on the left-hand side of the road while she was in high school in Cyprus. Jessica’s mom made sure they did this as safely as possible by practicing in an empty sports stadium. Not all kids who grow up outside of the United States learn how to drive in such a safe way, however. One young man now in his 30s, who learned to drive in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, describes his first driving experiences as borderline dangerous. At the time, there were curfews. “My dad worked for the U.N., and had cur- few passes and a big U.N. emblem on the sides and roof of the car,” he recalls. “I remember negotiating with my father’s driver so that he would let me learn to drive that Toyota on back streets [at night]. There was a slight chance we would be spotlighted by a helicopter and arrested (or worse) for breaking the curfew. My parents had no idea that we were breaking the law. Thankfully, we never got caught, though some helicopter search lights came awfully close.” Faith Eidse, the daughter of a tropical-medicine nurse and a Canadian linguist, learned how to drive as a grade- school student in Africa. “There were no driving ages, permits, or traffic law enforcement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and consequently my dad put me behind the wheel when I was 11 — already older than he had been when he learned to drive on a farm in Manitoba,” she says. When Eidse returned “home” to Canada at age 18, she was “a bit of a rough rider.” She recounts: “One night I led the cops on a chase, running stop signs, blinking one way, turning another, dodging through back roads, and trying to ditch them. Not only did I not recognize the S CHOOLS S UPPLEMENT L EARNING TO D RIVE A S AN FS K ID H OW CAN F OREIGN S ERVICE TEENS LEARN TO DRIVE IF THEIR PARENTS ARE POSTED OVERSEAS ? H ERE ARE SOME FIRST - PERSON TALES AND PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR KIDS AND THEIR FAMILIES . B Y I NGRID A HLGREN Ingrid Ahlgren, a Foreign Service kid, is now a writer in New York. She knows how to drive, but she’s happy taking the subway to work. I