Beyond Borders #1: personal accounts exploring how identity is found when you are living between cultures

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[Written by Viva Gikaite]

[Image by Dalia Sara and Aike Jansen]

I don’t think there’s anything particularly interesting about my upbringing, despite its relative diversity. I was born in Lithuania, moved to the American Deep South as a baby and lived there until the age of 11 when my parents divorce and my mum’s desire to escape the States brought us to Scotland. (Scratch that, the fact that my mum was brave enough to start her life over in a new country with an adolescent daughter is pretty interesting. Snaps to mama. But not to me.)

Inevitably people will tell me that it is though, after they ask where my accent is from and I’ve provided this well-rehearsed summary of my life story. I am interesting to them in the sense that my life experiences are different from theirs. But many people seem to think that each place plays a lot into my identity. I’ve theoretically got a lot of cultural influences to draw from, but I don’t feel connected to any of it. I’m one of many who don’t feel right identifying as any one nationality.

I’d love to be Scottish because I love the life I have here but that feels dishonest. My Lithuanian is alright but I can’t have an intelligent conversation with most of my family so that doesn’t feel right either. And the only American things about me are the fact that I sometimes say “groceries” and my tendency to offer unsolicited advice (sorry, America). The most accurate identity would be “Northern European” which is very broad and still suggests many experiences very different from my own.

My experience has been one of instability, and a desire for guidance from science, astrology, boyfriends etc. It’s been uncomfortable at times. I don’t really know how other minds work but I experience relatively a lot of self-doubt and existential angst. Maybe it’s an age thing though. But I do know that moving about and seeing the world through multiple cultural lenses has made me a more open-minded person. I think it’s also developed my empathy. I’m still trying to figure out all the ways in which all this movement has affected me though. Globalisation guarantees that a lot more people will be experiencing the same thing.

Living in multiple places isn’t the only way to feel like this. A sense of global citizenship seems to be increasing as we feel the need to help people hundreds of miles away from us. We fall in love across time zones and communicate unlimited by geography. Extrapolating from my experience and the experiences I’ve read about, I truly believe that being open to new ideas is more important than ever. The stability and communities that we seek will be found wherever someone will listen and take us in. I’m lucky in that I’m a white woman who speaks excellent English (sometimes) and I have a breadth of communities in Scotland that will welcome me. We need to be careful not to narrow down the selection for minorities and those still working on the language.

Ultimately though, I gained a sense of global citizenship. That’s the interesting part I think. Not thinking about the discrete places I’ve lived, but seeing that, really, we’re all living in the same place.

[Image Description: A photo of an American skyline, with water in the foreground, merged with a photo of trees and the sun. The text ‘Beyond Borders, personal accounts exploring how identity is found when you are living between cultures’ is placed over it.]


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