“Where are you from?”
This was undoubtedly one of the hardest questions I faced growing up.
The seemingly routine question never failed to leave me at a loss for words; where am I from?
I struggle with answering this question, and I know many others do as well. In fact, this question is notoriously difficult amongst most Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and their adult counterparts (ATCKs), who, like me, move around so often that they cannot simply just give one place as an answer. Their story is that they are from everywhere by also nowhere.
To us TCKs, the question “Where are you from” seems to inadvertently ask “Who are you? What is your story?”There is an unspoken weight to such a simple question.
So, where am I from? – For me, I would start with one word, India. But that’s not where it ends. Despite presenting a seemingly decisive answer, if I stopped there, there would always be a mutual sense of dissatisfaction within the conversation – clearly, there is more to say. Each place that I have lived, cultures I have been apart of, and people I have met, have all impacted who I am. The foundation for all these experiences – and in turn my identity – is found in language. The language we speak, the languages we learn, and the languages around us.
Rita Mae Brown once said, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”
People are at the heart of any culture; and learning their language is the key to understanding them. Living in Singapore gave me the opportunity to authentically learn Chinese in a way deeper than reading a textbook or memorising phrases; I learned through conversations and connecting with people. From a direct contact with the Chinese-Singaporean culture, I grew an appreciation for Chinese culture in general.
Language helps bridge countries together; it helps create a world of global citizens. It seems to connect people across the globe, beyond country borders – I discovered this myself whilst learning French – a language rooted in France but has spread to 29 francophone countries. Not to mention the 120 million of non-french learning french as a second-language. All of who have a sense of unity between them, bound by this language regardless of being born French or not.
In today’s society, we have created a new culture of our own: the internet, and we all speak its language. We are 4.4 billion internet users that share and connect diverse ideas despite our different mother tongues, nationalities, and traditions. In a sense, the internet has created a new age of TCKs – one where our identity is influenced by the culture of our home countries, but also our lives online.
Whether it be the language we speak at home, the one we are learning, or the one we use online, language allows us to explore and extend who we are, beyond country borders.
Now more than ever, our words are being heard louder than before. We all have a voice, and now a common language between us to break the boundaries beyond our borders. We have this chance to express ourselves, but even more so a reason to listen to others. We all have something to learn from each other.
Listen to their words, their stories, their language.