Beyond Borders #5: personal accounts exploring how identity is found when you are living between cultures

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[Written By Anastasija Svarevska]

[Image by Dalia Sara and Aike Jansen]

How often do we get stuck? Stuck in a queue for food, in an elevator, in an awkward conversation or a complicated situation and so on. For quite a while, I was stuck when asked “Where are you from?”

I am Anastasija, or Nastia for short, and I am Russian born in Latvia, one of the Baltic States. Both countries were once a part of the Soviet Union; however, they are two completely different countries with different mentality and customs. Despite being exposed to Latvian culture on a daily basis, I could never really relate to it, and since I was growing up in a Russian family, I was spending my time exclusively in the Russian community. That is, I was quite aware of who I was (who else rather than a pure Russian).

The situation got complicated when I moved to Austria on my own at the age of 15. For the first time in my life, I dived into the international community with no previous experience of diving and was presented with a major challenge of being away from home and family. When introducing myself as a newcomer from Latvia, I was immediately perceived as a Latvian. Although now I appreciate the country and the culture because of what it gave me, back then I wasn’t particularly happy about being recognized as such, and having a very emotional character, I was rather vehement in assuring everyone that I have no Latvian roots at all. Ironically, I also realized that I was quite reluctant to call myself Russian. I mean, why would I if, in comparison with my classmates with Russian citizenship (who indeed were kind of reluctant too), I have never even lived there? Eventually, because of constantly questioning these meanings of nationalities and cultures and mentalities, I found myself stuck in-between two realities in which I saw myself as two different beings, not knowing what my home was and, most importantly, who I was. Russian? Russian from Latvia? Latvian? Latvian with Russian roots? Pardon me but let’s just skip the “coming from wherever” question please.

It took me a while to realize what the actual problem was. The wrong definition of “culture” as being associated, fundamentally, with a country.

Coming to Glasgow was a turning point for me. Having met a huge amount of people whose background is even more broad and varied, I came to an understanding: when we move between countries and when we are exposed to new cultures which we have to integrate into, we grow to encapsulate some of their qualities which we appreciate and which we might perceive as valuable for us. However, despite that movement, we never abandon our own culture, the one where our roots come from, the one where our home is, and when I say our home, I mean our family.

When I think about a culture I belong to, I think about three countries: Latvia, Austria, and Scotland. All these three countries are my home, they all shaped me as an adult, increased my global awareness, and broadened my mind. However, there is only one culture that I spiritually identify myself with; that is, Russian. And does it really matter if I don’t come from there? No. Because my family does.

[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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