Savannah Elenbaas has an atypical life story for a seemingly typical high school student


Junior Savannah Elenbaas has pink hair.

Her eyeshadow regularly has the same vibrant hue. 

These trademarks that Savannah has rocked over the years are a great representation of her personality. 

“I think I’ve dyed my hair every single color of the rainbow, honestly,” Savannah said. “I think it’s just another way to express myself, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Spunky hair colors and bold eyeshadows have been present in Savannah’s life since she was twelve. They’re the first thing you notice about her—but her story runs much deeper than that. 

Savannah was born in China while the one-child policy was still in place. Because she was the second child of her family, she was given up by her parents.

“After [my parents] had me, they went to a primary school and just dropped me off in a basket there and left me,” Savannah said. 

After [my parents] had me, they went to a primary school and just dropped me off in a basket there and left me.

— Savannah Elenbaas

Savannah was adopted by her parents when she was just sixteen-months-old. She didn’t return to China until seven years later to adopt her younger sister, and again when she was fourteen. 

“We went again so we could better understand our birthplace,” she said. “It would be really cool to go back there. I wish I would’ve known just a little Chinese because I would’ve liked to communicate and interact with my foster parents better.”

During her second trip to China, Savannah met with the foster family that took her in until her parents adopted her. She was able to meet some of the people that made the life she has today possible.

“I talked about that with my friend a few years back, like ‘I think I have a brother, and a step-brother, that I don’t know, and they don’t know I exist.” Savannah said. “That’s kind of mind-boggling.”

Although she doesn’t think about it often, Savannah realizes that the life that she could have had in China would have been much different than the one she lives today.

“Living in that culture, and having a different language — what I would have known all my life — it would have been different,” Savannah said. “Here in the U.S., it’s a lot better than a lot of other countries because of pollution. Those other countries have a lot more government controls, and there are a lot of limits on everything the people do. It’s like a dystopian book.”

China is a destination that Savannah has in mind for the future. Traveling and seeing new places is an experience she would like to have in her life, but the comfort that home provides is a shelter that Savannah — like so many others — is reluctant to leave. 

“You’re born, and your parents are already living somewhere,” Savannah said. “That’s your homeplace; that’s where you live. It’s what you’re comfortable with. And I feel like people want to stay in their comfort zone,” Savannah said. “I want to go somewhere else. There are so many other places, but the familiarity of where I am is so comforting.” 

Savannah’s familiar surroundings, comfortable places, and frequent activities include Track and Field at FHC and work at Sentinel Pointe Retirement Community. She has been waitressing at this job for about two months.

“Even though [the retirees] are so much older than us, and born in a different time, it’s so much like high school,” Savannah said. “People know where they sit in the dining room, and you have your couples or friends, and your little cliques, and people still don’t get along with each other. It’s basically like a whole high school that lives together.”

The experiences Savannah has had at the retirement community have changed her outlook on life; she credits the respect she now has for servers at restaurants to her job.

“I have this guy [at work] that sits sideways to his table, so he’s constantly dropping food on the floor,” Savannah said. “Now being a waitress, I kind of understand. I’m really meticulous at a restaurant, so I stack up plates and wipe off the table. I think I’ve annoyed my parents with it.” 

Savannah’s mother and father are a direct influence on the life she leads. Her mother is an especially large role model in her world because of many aspects. A prominent example of her mother’s drive is that she is bravely taking college classes to earn her degree.

“It’s hard to go back to school; I would never willingly do that,” Savannah said. “She juggles a lot of things, and she goes for what she wants, even if she’s not that out-there of a person.”

Perhaps a reason for the respect Savannah has for her mother is that up until 6th grade, Savannah was homeschooled. The time they spent together as teacher and student was a key part of Savannah’s life, so public school was a big change for both of them.

“[Homeschooling] was a lot of fun, actually,” Savannah said. “It was pretty easy to adjust [to public school] at that age. I wouldn’t say I felt left out. I feel like most little kids are really extroverted and just put themselves out there.”

Savannah’s experiences—abandonment and adoption, homeschooling and trips to China, work and life—and the people she has been around—her parents and her foster parents, her coworkers and the retirees she serves—have shaped her into the person she is today. 

…you pick out these little things and you’re like ‘oh, that’s what changed me, that’s what made it different.’

— Savannah Elenbaas

“I feel like after those experiences happen,” Savannah said, “you don’t think about it too much in the moment because you’re seeing it happen or experiencing it. But once it’s over with, after however long it takes to set in your mind, you pick out these little things and you’re like ‘oh, that’s what changed me; that’s what made it different.’”