“Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?”

“It’s complicated.”

That’s an answer that is becoming more frequent in our globalised world.

Many people are born in one country, grow up in another, then move to yet another in their adult life – and oh yeah, their parents might have been from two (or more) different countries themselves!

I was reminded of this at a training session I did last week. How do we understand cross-cultural communication with each other, when the cross-cultural influences in our own individual lives are so, well, crossed?!?!

I can’t speak from personal experience on this one (I’m something like 10th generation Aussie), but from speaking with friends, I gather that they can resonate with certain aspects of each of the cultures that have been part of their lives.

I remember once doing an exercise in a language teaching class in Germany, where the activity was to colour-in the outline of a human body with where you thought each different language you spoke resided (one colour per language). For example, someone’s mother-tongue might be at their heart, and then the language they use in the office environment might show in their brain, and then they might use a different colour on the hands to show the language they speak in everyday life for practical things.

Image Source: Unsplash – Scott Webb

Definitely a unique exercise, but I think it was trying to express how all the different pieces can, in fact, fit together in the one person.

I think it might be a similar situation with individuals with multiple cultural identities. There is definitely a tension when they hear “where are you from?” – because really, this is like forcing them to ask “who am I?” – they know their answer will mean people form preconceptions in their mind of what they are like.

BUT apart from having an existential crisis of identity, I think in some ways this could be very freeing. People would have to get to know you more – they couldn’t just assume what you would be like when you have multiple cultural influences (of course you are amazing, because I’m sure you’ve picked up the best from everywhere 😉)

So…where are you from?


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