How does travel change your culture?


I’ve lived in different cities. Home has always been a tricky question. I’ve not underestimated growing up in a conflict zone, but I do think I got over-protected as a child by parents. But now I do also realise how it was a good thing. They made me live out and think out of my own cultural experiences, not theirs. What they felt shifting in a truck could never be similar to my 7 year old feelings. I do not hence have hard-liner feelings about the shift, and I never understand how people much younger than me end up fixating with those vicarious feelings. Sometimes I do tell myself how life is all about travelling and creating my own experiences, to define who I am, and what my culture is. Travel expands my definitions and understanding.
Susie comes from Canada. Her parents are from Egypt. She has lived in S Korea and now lives in Germany. I really like her. Her niceness apart, what makes me smile the most, is how diverse and nuanced her culture is. She is most unassuming about it.
I asked again: What is home?
Susie: Home is a sense of belonging. Home is where I feel at ease. Home is where I can breathe and feel light. Home is where my heart is and my heart often finds new places to belong. My home (today) is Pforzheim, Germany. My home six months ago was Seoul, South Korea. It’s funny because as I write this I am sitting in the living room of my childhood home. The place that I grew up, (my first 23 years), and yet, I feel like this place is no longer my home.

Home was absolutely easy to define when I was growing up. Home was Canada. Sure, my parents are both full Egyptian. And yes, I was (and still am) very proud to have Egyptian roots. But I never felt the patriotic attachment to Egypt simply because I never really lived there (aside from a 4 month internship). I didn’t have that sense of belonging.

So Where’s Home? A Film About Third Culture Kid Identity from Vimeo.

I wondered: Does travel reaffirm your cultural identity or do you relate to a more ‘global culture’?

Susie: To some extent traveling and moving to different countries really did reaffirm my cultural identity. I began to fully understand what being Canadian meant when I experienced other cultures and countries. Being outside of my home country allowed me to see how I was similar and different to those I met. As I grow (mentally and physically), I do embrace a more global culture. Yes, I am Canadian – born and raised, but I was also raised on Egyptian social values and Islamic religious values. I speak English and Arabic, which also hold drastic cultural nuances. I have lived on four different continents in my short life and have learned various family, country and corporate-oriented cultures. As I grow and l feel like I embody all of these various cultures.

I suspect, I collected Susie’s story just like others I’ve seen to think through mine. Maybe the reason people do like to associate to groups and others is truly to find validations of who they are. Although at times groups are also constraining [Stets and Burke, 2000].
Recently an Indian girl asked me where I were from. I explained. She concluded. Oh so basically you’re from Delhi. Yes. I love Delhi. But my culture is far beyond that label. Like Susie’s and that doesn’t make her less Egyptian, Canadian or German. Besides, I am not sure any longer that culture is contained in a piece of land. That’s for us to make simplifications.

How do you answer these questions?  Does travel change how you view your culture?

8 comments
  1. @ gargi- I like that. peaceful sleep. We call you people ‘firangs’ 😛 I think i haven’t been far away from India enough to get that tag yet 🙂

    @ ru- more so when you learn so many new languages. I feel i became some else after marathi

    @ Dush- yes sorry I didn’t mean to be confusing, travel did mean moving into a new place. so i buy your argument, you FCA you 🙂

    @ Y- on some days i’m trying hard to not be someone who’s constantly only missing what I left behind 😉

  2. Sometimes when I travel I am very aware (made?) of where I am coming from. In Pune I was often someone from Vidarbha. Not much cultural difference but I realized as time passed I gradually felt I ‘liked’ belonging to Pune. I know a lot of people who travel, move to different places but never quite ‘belong’ there. I remember I struggled for my identity as a student in the US and when I did decide to move back to India I had the sudden pangs of how ‘home-like’ Chicago had become. I still have the distinct characteristics of someone who misses that home once in a while 🙂

  3. Upasna: Thanks for the link! Although as TCA going on to FCA (Fourth Culture Adult :-)) I must take a slight objection to your title. While I am certain travel does open up your mind to newer cultural influences, I am not sure it allows enough time and monotony for it to embed. One must move there to be influenced. It is in the common daily routine you see the most blending. At the Taj Mahal, everyone is a tourist!

  4. I have been pondering about it for many years and have come to this conclusion – home is where I get the most peaceful sleep!
    Traveling and living in different geographies refines your thinking & attitudes far more rapidly than it refines your culture. And for the most part our culture will be heavily weighted by the culture of the place where you have spent the most time, but always be blended.
    We become “Indians” in U.S.A. and “you foreigners” in India 😉

  5. @ shanaya thanks

    @ shruti i’ve always viewed peths with a sort of colourful glamour. Very attractively. To me those parts were so distinctly different as well. I like the focus on all that I’m collecting on the way- to think back on the days I feel I am losing something.

  6. Since most of my childhood was spent in a “peth” in Pune, my exposure to a cosmopolitan culture was pretty limited. Traveling definitely changed me and how I view the culture I grew up in, since it brought me face to face with very new thoughts and ideas, some of which were almost opposite to the ones I had seen around me, growing up. Thankfully, my parents did a good job raising me to have a flexible mind and heart that is able to adapt and absorb. My culture now, as cliched as it sounds is sort of global. I am part Marathi, part Indian (yes, Marathi and Indian are quite distinct), part Minnesotan and part Texan. Right now the weights on these parts may not be uniform. But I think, the more I travel, the more parts I will collect and at some point the weights will sort of even out, for the most part 🙂

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