Where are you from?
Where are you from? is a simple enough question to answer, no? Well, not really. At least not for me. Especially not when people want to know what my hometown is. I just about lived to see my first birthday in the town I was born in before my parents decided to move. My mum, my sister and I were all born in different countries. I’m bi-racial (or multi-racial if I trace my lineage three to four generations back) and currently live in a country where none of my family members were born in.
Culture, Heritage and Citizenship
That makes culture everything and nothing in my life. I hold on to bits and pieces from my childhood because they’re comforting but I also take part in festivities of my friends, even though they have nothing to do with my heritage. But it’s expected. Families migrate. Children grow up in countries that aren’t really their own. Eventually they come to assimilate into their adopted homes. Assimilation is the easiest way for a child to fit in in a foreign country after all.
Trouble is, until they become naturalised citizens, they will still carry the passports of their home countries. On paper they are foreigners in the countries they have come to accept as their home. Yet their feelings might differ vastly from the law. This was the case for Mo in The Vow by Jessica Martinez. His father was laid off from his job in the USA, forcing their family to move back to Jordan. For his father, that meant moving home. For Mo and his sister, Sarina, things weren’t quite as clear. They had their reservations; for good reasons.
Importance of Language
One of the concerns that Mo and Sarina brought up were language barriers. They could both still converse in Arabic but switching from an English-language education to an Arabic one sounded very daunting.
I had that very same concern when I first applied to universities. While I spent my formative years at German schools, I was afraid that after eight years of studying in English, I would have trouble adjusting back to German. I did take German at A Levels but I knew that the standard didn’t match up to that of Abitur.
In the end I didn’t apply to any universities in Germany, although my mother suggested I would be able to live with my aunt and the tuition fees would have been insignificant.
Although, I wasn’t too worried about sticking out. Mo and Sarina knew that as teens raised in America, they would be seen as deluded Jordanians who think they are Americans among their peers. I don’t have a foreign accent, as several German exchange students at my university noted with surprise when they first met me, so that was comforting.
One semester I even had a German exchange student as a roommate. Talking with her often felt like a part of me came alive again because she and I could relate to each other about things my local friends couldn’t. Maybe it’s because culture partly shapes our views on life.
Still, when people ask me if I plan to move back to Germany, I feel hesitant. I’m sure I’d be happy to be back there but I’ve also made a home here. Plus, I’d miss my parents and my sister a whole lot.
Where Home Is
Over the years, I’ve come to answer this question to myself as, home is where my heart is. I’m happy where I can do the things that I want to do, where I have my family, and my friends. It’s confusing sometimes when your heart is divided. Occasionally I wish we lived closer to relatives but even that makes for tough pickings because they live all over the world. Name a country, and there is bound to be someone part of my extended family, even if I have never met them.
Inevitably, that means for me that I don’t have a fixed home. Maybe my heart was born to have a wandering nature, latching onto any place that makes me feel the most welcome and comfortable at any stage in my life.
Dreaming in a Foreign Language
Another thing I picked up on in The Vow was when Mo said he stopped dreaming in Arabic. I predominantly dream in English but sometimes things aren’t so clear. I’m not sure if I dream in German sometimes or even in both English and German.
I should go and find out more about dreaming in multiple languages. From what I remember, we dream in the language we’re most comfortable in. I’ve always wondered what that means for bilinguals.