Being a Cultural Chameleon

Scientists call a baby’s brain the ultimate tabula rasa, or blank slate. Everything that makes our culture uniquely ours, such as language, traditions, customs, etc. are imprinted on a growing child as part of the nurturing process. Children that grow up bilingual tend to pick up a third and fourth language easily; similar to this, I believe that a child that grows up immersed in more than one culture is more readily able to adapt to a new country and culture. We are created to be able to adapt to any situation and culture – it is really amazing. I could go on and on about the plasticity of the newborn’s mind…but I will save that for a more technical neuroscience entry in the future.

Back to this article: having spent my formative years in Singapore and on Long Island and being forced to adapt again and again in new cultures such as the armed forces, Rochester, and now London, I like to think of myself as a sort of cultural chameleon. What do I mean by “cultural chameleon”?

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Being homesick (for a place that’s not really your home)

As humans, we crave intimacy – whether it’s from our family, friends, or lovers doesn’t matter. Having many intimate connections and suddenly being uprooted from them can be traumatic for those that are mentally unprepared or lacking in a support network in their current location.

As someone who has gotten used to picking up my life and moving it to another country, I stopped thinking of individual places as home. Instead, I began viewing home as where my friends and family were. However, I am now faced with having my family in Singapore and my friends scattered between Singapore, Rochester, and many other places. In a way, I’m homesick for a place that, by my own previous definition, doesn’t technically “qualify” as my home. I’ve asked myself on many occasions, “how is this possible?”

If you read one my previous articles, you know that I love U of R and miss it. However, what I’m talking about right now is that I miss its people more. Not just the people that were there last year, but every person I made a meaningful connection with the five years I was there. I also miss everyone that I grew up with at Waldorf and it’s so strange seeing some of the younger people I saw growing up so quickly. In a way, everyone goes through what I go through when graduation rolls around – I just think I have to do it more often than most.

The most difficult part of moving is saying goodbye, especially to your best friends. A much younger version of myself even attempted a long distance relationship because of my own reluctance to say goodbye. I’d like to say that it gets easier as you get older, but in fact, it doesn’t. You never know what you’re going to say; you don’t know if you’ve said enough or if words are even necessary. Sometimes a hug, a squeeze of a hand, or a kiss is all you need to do to say farewell. You are most definitely not going to be able to say goodbye to everyone you want to say goodbye to; don’t worry though – eventually you’ll realize that that’s okay.

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