Friday, 3 April 2015

A word on Identity

Apologies for not updating this little space of mine for a long while…Revising for end of year exams and spending time with the family (after 6 months away!) has just been eating up my time. Anyway, this post today is going to be slightly unique as it is quite personal and I’ve never written anything of this sort on here before. Ever since I attended a TEDxWarwick talk on ‘Identity’ a few months back, I’ve wanted to share this – my own interpretation of ‘identity’ - but have never quite known how...

  I am what some people will call a Third Culture Kid. What this means is that I was raised in a country that isn’t my nationality. Sounds confusing? Don’t worry, I can assure you that you’re not the only one. *cue Sam Smith* As I have mentioned it a couple of times on my blog already, some of you may know that I am Malaysian but have lived in Vietnam for 16 years of my life; and like most Third Culture Kids, I went to an international school. Whilst I completely acknowledge that I am incredibly privileged to have lived that sort of lifestyle and was given this experience/opportunity, I will admit that one of the biggest problem is the trouble with identity.

  Being a citizen of one country but living in another is like having one foot out of the door and the other one in. In other words, it’s as if I am ‘sandwiched’ between 2 cultures. The seemingly simple question, ‘Where is home?’ is actually quite tough to figure out. Whilst Malaysia is my home country, being away from it for more than 75% of my life, only visiting twice a year and not properly immersed in its culture, can I really consider myself a Malaysian? To me, Malaysia is associated with holidays – a place that I go to visit my relatives, indulge in its cuisine and occasionally do some retail therapy. Although I travel with a Malaysian passport, I don’t possess the well known ‘Malaysian accent’ and am unfamiliar with the various slang phrases that others can so confidently slip into conversations.
  But it’s not to say that I am completely comfortable in the country that I reside in (Vietnam) either. Although I was practically raised there, schooled there, all my friends are there, and I can get around independently, it doesn’t exclude the fact that I’m not from there. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, I don’t speak the language. Yes, I do know enough to get around - ordering food, bargaining and asking for directions…all the basics you need to survive. But being able to hold a steady conversation? Not going to happen. Even though I am more able to recommend to others which places to visit and which foods to try in Vietnam than Malaysia, I will always be considered an expatriate.

  As I attended an international school, the whole ‘coming from one country but living in another’ was the norm. Being in the same situation as I was, they understood. But when I started university in the UK last fall and had to step out of my little bubble, I realize that maybe my scenario was not that simple. Which society do I join? Vietnamese or Malaysian? Either way, I will never be able to fully relate to either. In the end, I did make a decision to become a member of the Malaysian Student Association and I will admit that I am still testing the waters. A typical conversation that I have encountered goes something like this,

“Where are you from?”
“Which college did you go to?”
“Umm…I actually studied in Vietnam…for the past 16 years.”

And after that, the conversation usually dies down. Maybe it’s because they think I won’t be able to keep up with their Malaysian culture references and slang. Even though I’m pretty sure they meant well, I even had someone said to me, “But you’re not a real Malaysian though” Even those that aren’t Malaysian get confused as to what nationality I really am, what passport I hold and if I am definitely not a ‘halfie’ (a person that has 2 different racial backgrounds).

  So why am I writing this? This ‘unique’ situation of mine has made me more open-minded and given me unlimited opportunities so I would not change a thing. But despite all that, I am still struggling to decide which ‘identity’ I identify with more. Where is home? I will have to say, both Malaysia and Vietnam - but for different reasons. Culture is a tool that enables people to separate one country from another. Yet I think it's more than that. Identity is a fickle thing and holding the passport of a country doesn’t make it any easier.

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