Identity. How do we know who we are?

« Where are you from?… « where are you from? » 

You know that question, don’t you? The question that many Expats and Third Culture Kids don’t know how to answer… Sometimes in the Expat Community, you will be asked : « Where do you come from? », meaning: « In which country have you lived before moving here? » 

Oh, and here comes the other disconcerting one:  « What is your mother’s tongue ? » 

Why do we ask these questions? I mean, even in the Expat Community where almost everybody struggles with the answers? Because we need an identity, and we think that cultures and passports can give us one.

But you know and I know that it’s not that simple.

I have two passports: French and Romanian. Do I therefore have two identities? I have lived in six countries so far, where do I belong? I have a mother tongue. I mean: my mother speaks Romanian, but I think in French and write in English. I count in Romanian.

Identity is such a complicated issue when we live in different countries and embrace different cultures; when we immerse ourselves in those cultures and let ourselves be transformed by what we experience. What makes it so complicated? 

It’s precisely the immersion. What we experience becomes a part of who we are, of our souls. And it transforms our identity. For some of us it is the constant need of adapting to new countries, cultures and situations, the desire to « fit in » that generates this confusion of identity. For others, it’s the fact that they need to define new career paths, question their values and start that process all over again each time they change countries. For small children and young adults, it’s sometimes the loss of friends and familiar environments. For many of us it is that we don’t know where home is anymore or that we change our mind all the times about where home is or should be. We feel like we belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I’m sure that you have already heard some of these statements, especially from Third Culture Kids:

 « We need to lose parts of ourselves to belong », 

« I need to hide parts of my identity to fit in », 

«  I cannot connect with anyone here, I feel so different ». 

Identity is a tricky issue when we have a nomad life or live a global life and when our children are born outside their passport country, and I have no perfect recipe to give. 

But for a moment, just for a moment, think from this perspective: You are a river…

Your identity is fluid-  you carry in your soul all the life experiences of the places where you have lived

Your identity is rock- you know your values and needs and dreams better than those who never left home

Your identity is flexible- you can adapt to the new situations you come across

Your identity is a lighthouse - by being who you are you give others permission to be who they truly are


 « I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being".- Hafiz 

Struggling with identity is hard, isn’t it? And only by shining our light can we deal with it. There is no other way. There just isn’t.

PS: I was asked the question in the tittle by Andrea Balcar, the editor of "Connect", the magazine of PWN Vienna (Professional Women Network)