“Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?”, an apparently innocuous I’d like to get to know you question, can sometimes start off conversations on a precarious footing.

If you look perplexed, fudge or don’t answer right away, the question is generally followed by “well, where were you born?”, as if the specific location necessarily creates the basics, even if it wasn’t followed up by living there beyond infanthood nor ever living in the related language or culture.

With a complicated life story, how do you explain you’re not really “from” anywhere? your mixed origins, dual mother tongues and other home-spoken languages, many countries and especially, reasons for it all? I struggled with answers until I managed to organize it all in my own mind and feelings. Until I fully realized I could not and did not need to fit in with anyone’s pre-organized categories, and could create a whole new set of items for my personal file.

The process has been a decades-long process, the same I’ve observed in close friends and family. Many expats still struggle with this type of identity conundrum as everyone has a desire to “belong” somewhere. In our global world today, for both positive wished-for but often tragic reasons, a huge percentage of people move to new countries and cultures. It’s disturbing how the disruption often tips their sense of formal and inner identity out of kilter.

I believe the problem is precisely feeling or thinking one must necessarily correspond to some kind of bureaucratic standard (citizenship, ethnicity…), yet the answer is probably that if you’re a modern nomad, you simply don’t. You’re made of haphazard shards of this and that, put together by a random timeline, the depth of emotional connections and the modes of thought picked up along the way. Until you feel confident finding your own answer outside of the box, you won’t reach a plateau of self-belief. Nor will you manage to adapt to your new country.

You can actually free yourself from limiting concepts you have trouble fitting into in the first place. The point is, I’ve found we can actually choose “where we’re from”, though it can only come about by breaking down accepted modes of thinking. You can choose which colorful shards and bits and pieces are really yours to like and to keep, to create your own personal stained-glass window? How beautiful is that?

To give an example, my personal answer to “where are you from?” is that my heart is American, my mind European and my spirituality Asian.

I also coach people. Coaching is the perfect tool for this type of situation, but coaching in it’s original art-form, with emphasis on the “where-I’m-at / where I want to go” focus, not subsequent past-oriented/psychology-based versions of life coaching (which seem predominant in my 14th country). I love coaching people with “where are you from?” issues, helping them get to a place they feel grounded in their new multi-cultural lives: it’s both fascinating and so very fulfilling.

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3 Responses to “Where are you from?”

  1. Bea dM says:

    ah yes, that’s the question! past moves were mostly beyond my control – family etc. But circumstances seem to have jelled here, so now i’m looking forward to just visiting countries like most… normal human beings, without packing a container each time! At least for now. Gorgeous pictures of far-away places like your pictures of Sydney certainly stimulate the wanderlust 🙂 many thanks for letting me share them here

  2. Lignum Draco says:

    I read your ABOUT page. I can imagine this to be a difficult question for you. Maybe a better – not easier -question would be, Where are you going?

  3. “My heart is American, my mind European and my spirituality Asian.” I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THAT! It is so you and such a wonderful way of explaining something that is un-categorizable (I just made up a word, apparently). Personally, I dread the “where are you from?” question. I am so tired of the “wow, how could you leave Italy, it’s such a beautiful country!” response. Too much to explain, on so many levels….It gets exhausting.

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