21 February 2013

A Tricky Question: Where Are You From?

I learned early on that asking an expat
'Where are you from?'
can be a loaded question

Does it mean
Where were you born?
Where did you last live?
Which country do you identify with most?

Vintage luggage via Faye Travis Vintage

There are different kinds of expats I meet here
such as

- foreigners who live here and will return home
- expats who will stay here indefinitely (and possibly become citizens)
- those who have lived in many countries and will continue to live in many more

Where is 'home' if
...you bounce from country to country?
...each person in the family holds a different passport?
...you sold your home and have no idea where you will live next?

There is a term called 'Third Culture Kids'
that describes kids who live between cultures
- feeling like they don't totally belong to their host or home country -

We have lived out of the US for almost 3 years,
which means I have fallen out of touch with current events, 
hometown news, trends, and pop culture in America

Yet here there are a lot of cultural references I don't understand in England
because I've only lived here 3 years

Here's a look at what it is like to live between cultures

So Where's Home? A Film About Third Culture Kid Identity from Adrian Bautista on Vimeo.

We love all the opportunities and life lessons we glean from living abroad,
yet there are interesting challenges as well
Wishing you a wonderful day!
(an unsponsored post)

Related posts:
Reflecting On An Expat Upbringing
Raising Second Generation Expats


HippieGirl21 said...

If I had the chance to live in another country, I'd probably do it. I'd probably make it Eng;and because there really is no language barrier there.

Wendy said...

Very Interesting and I can imagine it is very tough, especially moving to other countries. I didn't move to another country but when I did move from Michigan to Texas it was a totally different culture. I tried to fit in because I want to call this home but to this day I am still an outsider to the locals. They're nice and all but there is still a barrier, I am not a native Texan. I agree with the one young man and yes it might be cheesy but "Home is where your heart is."

Inside a British Mum's Kitchen said...

I can so relate! after living in the US for almost 19 years sometimes I can't remember if something is English or American!
Mary x

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...

Interesting thoughts, my brother lived in London for 12 years and he mentioned the cultural nuances that you never figure out, the slag, the traditions, the folk lore.

I hope you have a great week, thank you for sharing the clip.


Expat mum said...

I find that usually, when a Brit asks someone where they're from, it means where were you born and brought up. (This can still be difficult if you're a global nomad.)
In the States when someone asks another person where they're from, the answer is just as likely to be where the person is living at the moment.
Now, is I'm elsewhere in the States and someone asks where I'm from I say "Chicago, but originally England."

Expat mum said...

*if* not 'is'. Sorry

Tammy Chrzan said...

Very interesting topic Laura, I spend a lot of time in the UK and then return home and our homes are so very different, you're correct there. And being a military brat and ex military wife I have to say that at one time I would say to people "I'm from all over"... Guam, Texas, England...
Loved this, I will have to ask some of my students this question to see what they say.
Have a great weekend friend!

ann said...

I had a student who took all three classes that I teach she introduced me to the third culture child. Her family left Castle Rock,CO to live in Hong Kong. She returned to Colorado to take advantage of in state tuition. She has had an amazing gift of travel,but I couldn't help but wonder were she really called home. I would answer Colorado--born and raised.

likeschocolate said...

I don't live abroad and have a hard time asking this question. I was born in California, grew up in Alaska, I currently live in Georgia and we spend our summers traveling.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

So fun to learn more about each of you through the comments!

Expat Mom - that is an interesting observation, and you are right. I think it is not uncommon for Americans to live far from where they grew up (w/n the US). I think I am right in saying the English don't tend to live as far from where they grew up? Part of this could be due to the difference of size of countries.

Chelsey said...

Thanks for this video! It is really well done. I shared with my friends on Facebook and it has made the rounds for sure! Something I think I knew but just didn't know the name for it. TCK - so interesting!

Kris said...

You hit the nail right on the head, Laura! Especially when you say you have fallen out of touch with things in America, but don't understand all the cultural references here. I feel the same... after 5 years of living in England. I've found I struggle with things to talk about with my friends when I go home to Utah for visits because I am no longer in touch with the local events, tv shows, music, etc... and I can't really talk much about England with them because they don't understand a lot of what I'm referring to. It makes me kind of sad, to be honest.

Also, It's crazy to think that I have two American children, but because they were born in England and will spend part of their childhood here, they really will feel they are English.

Noelle the dreamer said...

Our family consists of 4 people, 3 different passports and we have lived many places Laura. Usually hubby gets a 'Where are you from?' (even after 10 years of island living) long after me. As a woman I still bear an accent, but as he uses no slang, people guess he is not originally from the Pacific NW coast.
My one regret, people (here) listen to the accent instead of the words. It makes for an awkward conversation at times. I still have not reconciled with the 'personal' questions (where I am from is fine, but why have I come here, and particularly how long do I intend to stay is another thing all together).
We found however new ways to blend the new and old traditions!
All the best Dear!

Ali said...

I have both British and Canadian passports, which I keep current. I try to get home to Canada every couple of years. I say "home", but after a decade of living in England, this is home. I'm not sure I will ever totally assimilate, but perhaps I don't need to. I enjoy the best of both worlds and let's face it, the entire planet is rapidly becoming one giant melting pot.


Dave D said...

" Yet here there are a lot of cultural references I don't understand in England
because I've only lived here 3 years"

Laura, would you care to expand on this, do you mean historical things or things that "you just don't get".

Emily said...

Laura ~ Thanks so much for sharing this and the video. It's a fascinating dialogue. I got all teary watching the video because it put words to my own experience, even though I've only ever lived in the states. However, I grew up moving from this place to that (three different high schools in three different states), and to this day, though I'm in my mid thirties, I'm still stumped by "the" question. I think another complication to my situation is the fact that I've only ever lived in the Southern US, which prides itself on place, region, and family history.

However, I would agree that such experiences cultivate a different type of empathy in a person AND hone various other relational skills. Again, fascinating dialogue!

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Dave: I think my grasp of the historical is quite good, as I've been informally 'studying' it for 3 years. Two examples of what I don't understand well are the educational system (when the talk about how the GCSE exams used to be vs how they are now)and the political system with it's different parties (and House of Lords vs House of Commons). And that cockney rhyming is so interesting, but I'll never 'get' it :)

Jeanie said...

I hadn't really thought about where home is when one moves often, though my cousins and I often joke that our northern Michigan cottage is our ancestral home because it was always there and still is. How long do you expect to be in the UK?

lisaroyhandbags said...

This is such a great post! I kind of struggle with that too. I grew up (until high school) in Northern Ontario, Canada but lived about 8 hours away from my family from 19 yrs old until we moved to Ireland at 39. Then 4 years in Ireland and now 2 years in Dubai, where is "home"? We don't own anything anywhere else so..? I've lost touch with so many Canadian things now too and being in Dubai, I'm surrounded by so many people from so many countries and cultures - it's so different from Ireland. I do find it hard to relate now whenever we visit our families and they can't relate to us either which is kind of sad. In a lot of ways I don't really know where I belong anymore.

Emm in London said...

I always struggle to answer this. I tell people I'm South African but the truth is that in South African I was always English, I had an English accent, passport and parents. I never identified with being South Africa and when we moved here in 2007, I felt like I was coming home. But now I sound South African and I definitely have an international outlook on life. I guess I'll always be a foreigner!

Ana Isabel Navarro said...

Hello, I´m Ana Isabel! I have found you by the blog of "El trolley de Nieves".
I was born in Seville, Spain, and have always lived here, but I feel as though I was born in anywhere of the world.

GardenofDaisies said...

I've been reading and learning about "TCK's" for the past 12-15 years. I think the young man who said " we live in this gray zone" really hit the nail on the head. I lived in 3 countries, 7 metro areas, 15 different houses and one college residence hall. I went to 3 different high schools. When people ask me where I am from, I don't know what to say: "Which year?" "Do you mean where was I born?" Sometimes I just tell people, "I feel like I am from everywhere and nowhere at the same time." So confusing, yet an amazing experience all at the same time.

Tracy said...

Thanks for sharing the video. I could really relate to everything those young people said. I spent my most formative years in PNG and returned to Australia as a 14yo at a time when 'TCK' and 'reverse culture shock' were unknown and mission organisations didn't know to assist families re-entering their first culture.

It's easier to say where home is now. I've lived back here now for 28 years and have my own family. But there was a very long time when I really struggled to respond to where 'home' was.

All these years later I still have words that just don't make sense to me in English, and I still struggle with some cultural norms here. For example, I don't allow my teenaged girls to wear bikinis because I grew up with that being absolutely taboo!