Beyond Borders #4: personal accounts exploring how identity is found when you are living between cultures

Beyond Borders #4: personal accounts exploring how identity is found when you are living between cultures

[Written by Maria Jeleńska]

[Image by Elena Roselli and Aike Jansen]

Moving out from home can be a very difficult experience. I left Poland three weeks ago, and it is my first time at a new university, city, and country. This situation is about standing on your own feet.

Missing the reality you have been growing up in can be very difficult.  It can leave an empty hole in your heart. This hole can be quiet for a week and then scream at you all of a sudden, reminding you of the old good friends, the usual habits, your daily coffee with your mum, your dad making you sandwiches to take to school every morning, tea-with-rum talks with your grandma, knowing your city, knowing where to go and which bus to take, understanding every single word, joke and context, having an understanding of local politics, an opinion on many ongoing issues. Just being a local. Just knowing how things are done there. Just feeling comfortable and safe.

But here it is also okay. Here you have to use google maps, meet new people (yes, have to, because you are totally alone when you arrive), buy your own food, a new sim card and an umbrella and remember to take it with you because your mum is not there to remind you, buy toilet paper and bread, think about everything in advance and set up your own routine.

It is not even about the new adult responsibilities. It is about the change in your emotions and relationships as well. Some of them will prevail, some of them may not. And this can hurt. Being in between, waiting. It is crucial to be open to little pleasures of a new reality. Enjoy your coffee in a bakery around the corner. If you don’t feel like going with a new classmate, go alone. Enjoy a talk with a bus driver in the morning, listen to them, when they tell you that everything is going to be alright until you are happy and relaxed.

I thought that it was wrong to stay in between these two realities; that if you are between two points, you are in neither. This is not true. I realised that the fact that I am 14,416 miles away from home does not mean it’s not my home anymore, that I can’t come back. It does not mean that my reality is not there as well. What is reality? For me, it’s not only the time and situation you are in. It’s also people who are around you, mentally or physically. I always felt loved by my family and friends, and now, away from home I feel it even more. They are always there for me – and even if they can’t hug me, they are up for hours of talks to reassure me. Talking with people I love makes a significant impact on how I adapt to my own reality here. I don’t feel alone, I don’t feel like I was ripped from one place to another. I know my home is always waiting for me. Even though I can’t pass through its doors anytime I want to, I can always be there with my mind, while talking with my beloved ones. Some people are home.

I know I am building my little home here as well. My new ‘here’. Beginnings are always hard and always will be. We would love to have everything set at the start. To have friends, our favourite places and our usual routines – to feel safe and comfortable. But it takes time. Everything takes time. And it is completely okay to wait – to be in between.

[An image of a path through some mountains overlaid over a streetscape. “Beyond borders” is written in the top left-hand corner, with “personal accounts exploring how identity is found when you are living between cultures” in the lower right-hand corner.]

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