Culturally rich or culturally homeless?
“Who are you and where are you from?” – these two questions are supposed to define ourselves but for a lot of people they are very difficult to answer. If somebody asks me now: “Where are you from?” what should I reply? I am from Belgium, however I am not Belgian. I am originally from Latvia, I hold Latvian nationality, I did my University studies in Latvian and worked in that language. I have a mother tongue fluency in Latvian and a solid knowledge of history and culture of Latvia, yet… I am not Latvian. I am ethnically Russian, but I have only been to Russia twice and not to, so-to-say, “deep-Russia” but to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, and for a total of less than 3 weeks. What I remember vividly from those trips is that I was culturally shocked in what I believed to be my culture. I consider English to be my home language now because this is the language I talk percentage-wise the most: and with my husband and with a lot of my friends. Those who hear me talk English without knowing that this ain’t my mother tongue based on the accent assume I am American. Yet I am obviously neither American (haven’t even been to the States yet), nor even technically English-speaking as such. I was born in the Soviet Union, however the Soviet Union broke down before I even started elementary school, so for those who understand – I haven’t even had a chance to be oktyabryonok. Wait, it gets worse! Even my name – in my Belgian ID my family name is “Wynants”, yet in my Latvian passport – I am “Vinantsa” transliterated according to Latvian language rules. So who am I and where am I from actually? To think about it - I am culturally homeless.
If things are so complex with myself how am I supposed to raise my kids? And who are my kids going to be? Belgian? Wait, there is no “Belgian” as in this country things are also kinda mixed up. Flemish? But they are exposed to Russian culture and language a lot, and their first words were in Russian. Plus, they hear hell of a lot of English and to my horror (giggle) start to understand it as well, despite the fact that we never directly address them in English. So this is a difficult question that I am still in the process of exploring it for myself, thus I am always eager to hear other people’s experiences and thoughts.
While researching the subject myself I have stumbled upon a term “Third Culture Kids” (there are quite a few TED-videos on the subject if someone is interested). The term “third culture kid” or TCK itself was first coined in the mid-20 century to describe the children of American citizens working and living abroad. The “third culture” comes from the fact that parents have one culture, the place where a family lives has another culture, but the kids raised in such circumstances create a sort of an amalgamation of two cultures mentioned to create something of their own – hence the third culture. However, I do consider that with globalization and with an enhanced mobility this term should be expanded to include all those people who grew up under a significant impact of diverse cultures. It is no longer a 20 km life! More and more people are born in one place, go study to another, then go working to yet another and settle somewhere completely else with somebody from a different culture, and maybe after a while are again on the move. This is a reality already now and it will be even more so when today’s kids grow up. So the question “Where are you from?” is no longer simple.
On one hand this sort of cultural homelessness creates a lot of difficulties in self-identification, but on the bright side this also brings enormous opportunities, such as an expanded worldview, an enhanced cultural intelligence, a 3D view of the world if you will. But then again, consider a situation: a family is sitting in front of TV watching, let’s say, football. Which national team is everyone supporting? Think about it for a moment. This silly example portrays a situation which might be psychologically difficult for parents to accept. We are talking about confused loyalties, about different values, about accepting that your kid doesn’t share your identity. But then again, the beauty is that you have a choice. Nowadays you can choose to define yourself not just based on the ethnicity, not based on the location where you were born or where you currently live. You can choose to define yourself by different categories: by your own personal values, by your own beliefs and not just by a tag somebody placed on you. Thus, there are for sure lots and lots of positive consequences of blending cultures if you approach the subject with an open mind.
Also as a parent there are myriads of benefits that you are able to give your kids (language, traditions, literature, perception, even food habits,…) provided that you yourself are open and willing to expand your personal worldview; if you are willing to explore your own culture and the other cultures you encounter on your way. Without prejudice, without judging, with a sincere wish to understand and enrich yourself. I guess that would help us all a lot and would allow to raise a truly multicultural people of the future.