Article by: Alina Glaubitz (UWC AC ’15 – ’17)
“Where are you from?”
“I am half German, half Russian, born in the Netherlands, having lived there for fifteen years, also having lived for one year in Russia, and currently living in Wales. What about you?”
“…Well, I’m just from the UK!”
I’ve been asked this question a thousand times and I’m used to see perplexity on people’s faces when they hear my complicated response.
‘Where are you from?’ is an ice-breaker commonly used during introductory small talk between strangers. The reply has changed tremendously over the past years, as it is increasingly common to meet people with dual nationalities, who have lived all over the world. If fact, there are over 200 million of us: people, living outside of the country where they were born. “Where are you from?” is a question that often does not have a single-worded answer, but rather initiates a story.
Unfortunately, sometimes stereotypes are shaping the way people correlate the appearance of an individual with their nationality. Ariana Jessa, my co-year at Atlantic College, and a person I am fortunate to call my friend, often experiences stereotypical prejudices.
“Where are you from?” Ariana is asked.
“I’m Canadian!” she responds.
“No, where are you actually from?” they reiterate.
Ariana is a Canadian by nationality, was born in Canada and has lived there her whole life. Nevertheless, her physical appearance does not coincide with the stereotypical facial features of a Canadian. Ethnically Ariana is Indian, and thus she is often confused for an Indian, a Pakistani or Bangladeshi. In the age of globalization it can be a nuisance to explain yourself and justify that nationals of any given country can have a variety of physical appearances.
But are these inquiries into one’s ethnic origin always bothersome? A study conducted by National Geographic on the contrary, complemented the question “Where are you really from?” National Geographic followed Alex Sugiura, the son of a Japanese father and Jewish mother of Ukrainian decent. Although he considers himself an American, he is often identified as an Asian or Latino. Despite or even due to this perceptional confusion, Alex sees an opportunity in the question “Where are you truly from?” Alex believes that this question allows him to demonstrate that there are many ways to be Japanese, Jewish or American. He elaborates how the mix of mentalities, influences and beliefs he absorbed growing up in his multinational family enriches his life and shapes his life path. Your nationalities do not define you. You define your nationality, or rather your connection and belonging.
So how do we refer to people like me who have multiple nationalities? Multinationals? Yet we aren’t corporations, organizations or companies. Mixed breed? But we are humans, not animals. Where do we belong? In my view, we should not be defined and labeled by the nationality in our passports, the languages we speak or the way we look. We are truly the citizens of the world, the connectors and conductors of variety of views, approaches and modi operandi. We are the result of a merge of different upbringing styles, religious beliefs and priority systems. We incorporate and fuse all the intricacies, contradictions and inspirations of several cultures melting within our family and it is a privilege – but also a challenge! – to grow up being influences by several national traditions.
I was glad to notice that there are many people like me here at UWC Atlantic College. Many of us have two flags and two national costumes hanging in our wardrobes. We are not forced to choose which UWC national group we belong to – we are welcomed and made to feel at home everywhere. We do not have to explain ourselves or feel uneasy giving a long reply to a standard question about our national affiliation – we are accepted and appreciated just the way we are.
In today’s society asking “Where are you from?” is outdated. As Taiye Selasi so wisely stated in her TED talk, “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m local”.