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  1. Comment on What's the longest running quandary/debate you've had with yourself? in ~talk

    Foreigner
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    I have a lot of these, but one in particular comes back to me from time to time and I don't know if I'll ever find an answer I could be at peace with. It has to do with my username - what do I say...

    I have a lot of these, but one in particular comes back to me from time to time and I don't know if I'll ever find an answer I could be at peace with. It has to do with my username - what do I say when people ask me where am I from? I have a default answer, but it doesn't really feel honest. Where am I from really; what -is- my cultural identity?

    From birth I've had two different nationalities. Two different countries, with different cultures, in two different continents (Africa and Europe). They do share quite a bit of history - one is a former colony of the other. I was born in the former colony, and half of my extended family is from there. However, it was ingrained in me by my parents, for as long as I can remember, that I am from the 'other' country. Ethnically I am a human mutt, so I don't especially look like I am from either place. I look like I could come from a lot of different places and nowhere in particular at the same time.

    We left when I was still young but old enough to remember much of my childhood there. Two other countries later (each on opppsite ends of Asia), my parents decided we needed to get back to our "roots". Around my early teens, we moved to the country of my 'default' nationality. I was bitter about the move - I was happy in country #3, this new place felt like the complete opposite and I didn't identify with "my country" at all. Though the country's language was still my "mother tongue", by that point I'd been in international schools so long, English had taken over as the new mother tongue. Is it even possible to claim two? I still went to an international school, but now I had extended family around. I had grown accustomed to being an expat among expats and this was very different. Though my extended family never really did anything to make me feel left out, I always felt like a foreigner. It took years and moving away for me to grow as fond of this country as I had others before it - but it was here that I first realised I was practically born a foreigner, and would likely never stop feeling like one.

    The story doesn't stop there though. I went to university in England, completing my Master's before inevitably moving on again. I actually felt at home in England and assimilated fairly quickly. If anything, I probably identify most with British culture, but I can't really say that, can I? Ethnically and legally there's nothing British about me. To add insult to injury, I sound generically American (if you've met people who grew up going to international schools, you'll know the accent I'm talking about). Still there was something about England that made me feel like I belonged there. I wondered for a long time if I should have never left - that is until the Brexit vote. It was a cold reminder that no, I never really belonged there either, no matter how much it felt like home.

    Just after the recession hit, I found my first job in the country I live in now (still in Europe). I had no expectations coming here, it really was just for the job, purely transactional. Eventually I met my wife, who is from here, we bought a house together and have two children. It's been 11 years, and I'm about to apply for nationality. If it is granted, it will be my 3rd. I speak the language, I've immersed myself in this country's culture and norms, I've built my life and my family here. But in all this time I haven't grown any fonder of this country than I was when I first set foot in this place. Though there are many things I like about where I live, there are probably more I've grown to dislike and even deeply resent. No telling if the grass is greener elsewhere, or which grass I'd even want to try, but if I could I would leave, fast. Unfortunately, for reasons that are numerous and complicated, I'm stuck here for the foreseeable future. It all still feels very transactional, like a marriage of convenience. Maybe one day the feeling will change, or at least I hope it does.

    Every place I've lived has left cultural marks, some places more than others. But I can't say I'm from any of these places. I barely identify with the country I was born in, and I don't feel like I'm fully from the country I was told I am from. I can't say I'm from both when asked because that sounds odd and pretentious - shouldn't I just pick one and stick with it? I can't say I'm bits and pieces of all the places I've lived and maybe even more than that. That might be the truest answer I can come up with, but in an era where national identity and cultural ownership are increasingly scrutinised, I don't feel I'm allowed to pick more than one side. Some days I wish "I don't know" would be a good enough answer, for others, as well as myself.

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