This is my addition to the May Multicultural Kid Blogs May Blogging Carnival, hosted by Stephen of Head of the Heard and the topic is a great questions: “Where are you from?”. For a long time, I looked for a way to answer this question. And apparently I can’t do it without writing a lengthy blog post. I could even write a book about this! So in this post, I try to explain where I am from and how I could answer if I was given the time.
“Hi, my name is Olga.”
“Hi, Olga. What an unusual name. Where are you from?”
“Do you want the short answer or the long answer?”
OK, they probably need the short answer, so I smile and say, “Poland”. You know, the land of kiełbasa, pierogi, barszcz and maybe Lech Wałęsa. But if you like the long answer, here it is.
The long answer is that it will depend what you’re asking. For example, do you want to know where I was born? Or maybe, you’d like to know where I was before I came to see you- and again that answer would depend on whether I’m in the Netherlands or not.
Unlike many TCK’s- Third Culture Kids – I don’t mind being asked that question. I just wished I had an answer that would be satisfying to both of us. If you ask me, “Where are you from”, I’ll tell you what you need to know at this point- where I was born, what other country I came to the Netherlands from.
But are you asking where I feel I’m from? Are you asking for that one word that could help you understand who I am? That is not so simple.
I speak Polish, German, English, Dutch and French. For the last 10 years, I have lived in Germany and the Netherlands. My parents speak Polish, German, English, French, some Italian, some Spanish, a little Russian. I spoke German with my parents when I was a child. I occasionally spoke English with my mother when I was a young adult. I speak French with my cousins.
So when I have to tell you that I am from Poland, this answer, while it’s true, doesn’t really cut it. Oh yes definitely, some part of me is Polish. I can make good pierogi, and sernik and twaróg! Our Christmas is not always a traditional one (oh wait, it’s almost never a traditional one), makes the world’s best barszcz. But she also makes the world’s best blini– and that’s not necessarily Polish, that’s Ukrainian or Russian. Or did I mention my paternal grandmother was from Ukraine? And that my maternal grandfather was born in Lviv (now in Ukraine but used to be Poland), and he was born there as a subject to the Austrian emperor?
So now I am scratching my head. How to call this?
But I think I know. I’m European. As in, from Europe.
Unlike many TCK’s, I haven’t really lived outside of Europe for longer periods. The exception was Canada, but I only lived there for 4 months. I lived in Germany as a child, in Germany as a student, in Germany as an expectant mother.
And in the Netherlands, as a wife and mom of three children.
But as rich as this heritage is, I never knew many things that are quite normal for many TCK’s: living in a third world country, moving every few years, or having an identity crisis (I always knew where I am from, it’s just that no one else did).
My identity isn’t global. It’s European. Which means it’s big because it includes many countries and languages, but it’s also small as it excludes even more countries all over the world.
I like that, to be honest. It’s like having a nice cosy, “gezellig” house where you feel comfortable everywhere but you have tons of space for all your different needs. For me that house is not too big and not too small.
The languages my children learn are all European as well. I think my eldest is already very aware of her multiple identities. She says she’s German but at this point, her favourite and best language is Dutch. She speaks Polish as well and likes that’s she’s able to speak so many languages.
And did I mention that my husband is German?
K is also always asking me to teach her how to count in different languages. She can count to 30 in English, to 10 in Spanish and Russian and asks me to teach her more. Somehow she thinks I speak all the languages in the world.
And I can’t tell you how much I love it.
Are you still there? Oh good! Thanks for listening to my story. I gave you the long answer, but I could have given you the short one. The short answer is not “Poland” after all. It’s “Europe”.
One doesn’t exclude the other. After all, Poland is in Europe (and it’s in the EU as well, I must add). In many ways, it differs from other European countries, and I guess it’s an interesting country with a position at the border of the EU, and in the middle of Europe. Polish people like to see themselves as mediators between Western and Eastern Europe as she shows (in case you’re wondering, Polska is a woman, and a mother at that) characteristics of both.
And, just a little bit, I’m like that as well: I’m a translator, intercultural communication trainer, a writer and blogger who lives her life across cultures and languages. So yes, I have a short answer after all. Thanks for making this clear.
Now tell me, where are YOU from? Will you tell me in one word or will you need a blog post?