Beyond Borders #3: personal accounts exploring how identity is found when you are living between cultures

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[Written by Elena Roselli]

[Image by Dalia Sara and Aike Jansen]

When you set out for Ithaka
Ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
Ask that your way be long,
At many a summer dawn to enter
-with gratitude, what joy-
ports seen for the first time;

They say that “home is where your heart is”, but a statement like this comes with complicated implications. We live in a cosmopolite world where globalization led us to question our definition of “home”. Is home the place where we were born? Is it where our family is? Our friends? Our loved ones? Is it where we study or work? Maybe it’s all of them, maybe none.

In this new world with less barriers many people find themselves in the absurd situation of living two lives, none of which fully belongs to them. It’s not easy to share your heart and soul between two places. On the one side, you have been given the chance to explore new horizons, get to know cultures and different points of view. You can learn a new language, get to know people from all over the world, have opportunities that you would have never had where you lived before. On the other side, you can easily find yourself in the peculiar situation of not feeling at home anywhere you go.

The new place you live in welcomed you with open arms, it represents your future, a big question mark on the white page that is the rest of your life. But it’s not quite home yet. While the place where you lived before is rich of the memories of your childhood, the warmth of the love of your family, the roads you walked so many times and you know by heart, the long-lost friends you spent your best moments with. But it’s not quite home anymore.

You come back there and the lives of everyone you knew went on without you and you feel like an old picture, a spectator watching life going by from the outside, hoping that somehow time could stop with you, reliving those memories again and again, trying not to cope with the irrefutable fact that life goes on, and we grow apart from people we love, from the person we used to be.

I’ve been feeling like that since I moved here, a place so different from the one I was used to, and that I learnt to love day by day. And I finally realized what Ulysses felt like, dreaming about his Ithaca when he was away but feeling the urge to leave again once there. In an infinite circle. Feeling at home nowhere and everywhere, feeling like a stranger in your own house, but at the same time feeling lost when it’s time to say goodbye.

The Greeks understood the real meaning of Nostalgia: nóstos, “returning home” and álgos “pain, suffering. The pain felt from the longing to return home. Wherever your home might be.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that this living in between several versions of yourself is necessarily a bad thing. Here I’ve found myself a second family, a lovely work environment. I made new friends, but I never forget about the old ones. I also learnt to live everyday knowing that the unexpected doesn’t look so scary anymore, and I can live every new experience with the same excitement Ulysses had in each one of his journeys. Knowing that whenever I need it, once I’m ready, my Ithaca will always be there to welcome me back home.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But do not in the least hurry the journey.
Better that it last for years,
So that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth. .

Ithaka gave you the splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

(C.P. Cavafy, Ithaka)

[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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