I have always dreaded the question "Where are you from?" For me there are only two options. I can um and ah and seem horrendously self-obsessed. Alternatively I can spare myself the hassle and just go for the easiest, least controversial option: I'm from Birmingham. What a copout...
My dad is French, mum English and last name German. By the time I was eighteen I had spent equal chunks of my life in each country. My first-year university professor, voice dripping with sarcasm, labelled me a 'piece of posh Anglo-French totty' as I quivered before him, all bespectacled earnestness. Weirdly, even this didn't sit quite well with me.
Whilst I would never wish to change my background it does add a layer of intensity to any three-minute party introductions. In his poignant Ted Talk 'Where is home?', however, Pico Iyer dissects the meaning of the word 'home' within the context our fast-paced, multicultural 21st century community. Home, for many people weaved out of a mishmash of cultures, is "a work in progress, a project on which they are always adding upgrades, corrections and improvements." It is less about soil, more about soul.
On the one hand, this notion of home is incredibly liberating. On the other, what happens if, like myself, you live in a country where you really should, for all intents and purposes, 'belong'? I would argue that the idea of belonging becomes ever more complex when you have spent disjointed slabs of your life living in that country, you speak the language and/or one of your parents is from there. The level of expectation, both from yourself and from others, is just too hot to handle.
I didn't go to an international school. I'm not a third culture kid ingratiated within a community of expats and the suchlike. Wherever I have lived I have always had some hope or expectation that I would fit in. But something has always been missing. Whilst I have spent enough time in each country to get subtle cultural references, speak in a way that sounds like I know what I'm doing, neither France, the UK or Germany has ever felt like home. I am merely adept at blending in, at quietly collecting gestures, lilts and habits for my 'look like you fit in' toolkit.
Strangely, the country I felt most at home in was Chile. Why? Simply because there was no expectation that I would belong. I didn't look right, didn't sound right and every day was marked with a new discovery. Yet by taking away that pressure, I was able to move beyond being Sophie Bauer, that 50% British and 50% French girl, and actually just be 100% Sophie Bauer. As Pico Iyer touchingly says, "Home is not just the place you happen to be born, it's the place where you become yourself."Suggest a correction