Welcome to June’s #TrailingSpouseStories. This month we explore our national identity and how it shows in our day-to-day expat life. We also reflect on how our itinerant life has influenced the expression of our national identity and how we feel about it.
I have lived in eleven countries on five continents. I have travelled throughout the world, visiting some of the most remote areas on this globe. I have been to school in the Philippines, worked in New Zealand and Jamaica, accompanied my partner in Pakistan and St Lucia. But throughout every single year of my life, I have never had any doubt about my national identity. I am a Brit.
Over the last few years, especially when researching my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, I have come across an increasing number of articles and stories about what is commonly referred to as Third Culture Kid’s (TCK’s). A TCK is basically someone who moved around – specifically to other countries or cultures – as a child. As the world becomes more global and more and more people take their families to live overseas, so the numbers of these children are rising. Thus, the increase in the number of things I see written about (or by) them.
But I am finding that many of these articles don’t really resonate with me at all. So many of them refer to the confusion these third culture kids apparently feel when it comes to their identity, the battle within themselves between their home culture and the one they have adopted in their new country.
Whether it is because we moved so many times to so many very different places, or because we always kept a house to return to in the UK (and lived on and off there throughout my childhood), or because my father worked for a very British institute (the Foreign Office), I don’t know. But I have never felt anything but British. I’m not fluent in another language, I don’t prefer another cuisine overwhelmingly over my own, I am not divided between my home team and that from another country during the World Cup or the Olympics (although I always cheer on the Cameroonians, Venezuelans, Jamaicans and others from any country I have spent any length of time in). I get British humour, I love British tv and I follow British politics avidly.
Last week I wrote this post about “home”, and about what it means to me. As a result, I have had many online conversations about what home means to others – from those who grew up and have always lived in one place, to others, like me, who have moved around on and off all their lives. Most people agreed that a feeling of “home” usually relates more to people than to a particular place, and that it’s your immediate family who give you the greatest comfort.
But people still want to feel that somewhere is their “home”, their “place”, where they come from and where they will, eventually, return to. I spoke to one mum about her son who is from country x, lived many of his formative years in country y, but now resides in country z. While she still feels she belongs to her home of birth (country x), her son is adamant that country y is where he feels he belongs. How, she asked, does she help him feel more like he comes from country x, which, after all, is probably where they will eventually move back to and, in all likelihood, he will attend university and end up working?
I thought about her question, and why I had never felt like this about any of the countries we have lived in, but I don’t have a clear answer. Whilst there are many reasons why I have always felt British and not that I am from any of the other country’s I lived in as a child, I couldn’t give this particular mum any particular piece of advice about what she could do to help her son feel more like he came from his country of birth.
But what I did say to her was that if, in the end, he decided that country Y was where he felt most at home then maybe that was okay. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter where we come from, beyond that we are happy there and that it feels right. Maybe it doesn’t even matter if we’re not from anywhere and nowhere is home, bar the place where we currently live. Maybe it also doesn’t matter if we don’t feel very much from one place, like I do. After all, the world is becoming more and more globalised every year – and, I suspect, so are the world’s citizens.
So while I have always been so sure of my national identity, I wonder whether my children will? Maybe it will become less common to feel you are “from” one country – perhaps one day, we will all feel we are simply “from”planet earth. And in the immortal words of the John Lennon song:
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
How do you feel about your nationality? Are you very definitely “from” one place? How about your children – if they have lived overseas, especially those who moved when they were very young, how have you manageg their sense of nationality? How important is it that they know where they are from?
Check out other #TrailingSpouseStories in this month’s blog crawl:
Clara of The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide says that although she has travelled extensively all her life and lived in many different countries, she has never felt anything but British through and through in Why I Have Always Felt British All My Expat Life.
Didi of D for Delicious discovered that when she lived outside the Philippines, she learned to embrace the entirety of her Filipino-ness – the good, the bad and the ugly in #TrailingSpouseStories: Embracing Filipino version 2.0.
Photo: Lee Jordan