Photo Credit: Ian Sane
One day when I was on holiday back in Germany, my mum told me that she was sad because to her it seemed like I was a tourist in my own country, and that it felt to her like I was loosing my roots. Truth is, I did not have anything to reply to her at that time. It struck me quite hard.
I soon realized that the reason why I did not have anything I could reply to her was that she was right – I was indeed behaving like a tourist in my own country. During my stay back home, I did have the realization that in fact I was happy not to stay there permanently. And don’t get me wrong, this is not at all because I do not like it there. Germany is a beautiful country, and there are many amazing memories tied to my hometown, especially to my family, whom I will always love, and my local friends, who I will see as my friends for the rest of my life.At the same time, however, I knew that if I was to stay back home, it would hold me down. It would not allow me grow, and I wouldn’t be able to live the life I wanted.
This experience was two years ago. This year, I went to Germany again. Again, this had a powerful effect on me emotionally, but this time in a different way. Again, I had a very important realization. To me, I am in no way loosing my roots. While it is true that I am behaving differently and that I have taken over certain values from the countries I have moved to, my German background will always form an important part of my identity. Indonesia, Australia, and any other country that I will move to in the future, will always be part of me as well. But I will never completely loose my German roots.
During my stay in Germany this time, my father mentioned that my grandfather now spends a lot of time working through our family tree, as well as our family history. It is one of his main interests at the moment. Ironically, I was the first one from my family who immediately became interested in this family background. In fact, I had often wondered about where my family had originally been coming from. For most of my other family members, they do not seem to show a particular interest. I believe it is exactly this experience of living abroad that sparks an interest in me to learn much more about my own personal history, so that I can learn more about myself.
The experiences of having our values shaken up by living in a foreign environment will sooner or later spark our interest in our past, because these roots have shaped who we are today.
Consequently, I would argue that by living abroad we can potentially learn more about ourselves and our roots than if we had stayed in our home country throughout our lives. We first have to get exposed to a different environment in order to start questioning our own background and where the values are coming from that have been ingrained into us.
I know that many people are like you: they are struggling with who they are. They are struggling with forming an identity that elegantly combines the values of their past and present. Often, this is out of fear of loosing who they are.
Don’t worry. In my experience, once you are opening yourself up and embrace the positive values of your host society, you will automatically move closer to your real self. In my view, our real self is, and will always be, a work in progress. Our hometown makes up an important part of it, but so do all the different environments we have exposed ourselves to throughout our lives that follow. What becomes important then is reflection. Real reflection on who we are, what our values are, and which of the values of our host society we feel like adopting without loosing ourselves.
So, in summary, these are some of the questions that you should ask yourself when you want to conquer the fear of loosing yourself:
- How has my past (family, friends, home country, social clubs etc.) influenced who I am today and what my values are?
- Which of the values that have been ingrained into me throughout my past have been detrimental to my own personal progress? Which one’s are positive for my progress and important to keep?
- Which of the values of my current country of choice are in conflict with my own personal values? What can I do to find a way of bringing congruence into these differences?
- Which of my values are absolutely non-negotiable, so that I would never be willing to let go of them?
- How have my experiences overseas changed me? In what ways do I feel close to- and in what ways to I feel distant from the values of the different groups I belonged to throughout my life?
These are just some questions to ask yourself in your development. In the end, what is the most important is that you constantly keep on reflecting on who you are, and how you have changed throughout the time that you were living overseas. One very powerful tool of doing so can be by using a journal – one to which you can always go back and compare your feelings then with your feelings now.
Lastly, I would be very excited to hear more about your experiences. How has your stay overseas changed you? Do you feel more- or less connected to your home country now compared to your past? Have you ever gone through an experience of being lost? Thanks a lot for sharing with us!