Having grown up in the US for twelve years and India for a good six years of my life, I like to call myself a “global citizen.” I am Indian by ethnicity, but my childhood was spent in the US. I watched “That’s So Raven” on Disney Channel and tuned into the Super Bowl only to watch the commercials. In India, I laughed at inside jokes and performed to Bollywood songs during traditional Indian high school occasions. When I moved back the US, I was no longer a regular Indian-American. I was a weird Indian/American hybrid, who suddenly started identifying more with the world than a single country— a global citizen. Life as a global citizen can be difficult, but I never regret having my unique world-view.
Here are 7 realities global citizens often face, but ultimately accept and appreciate.
1. The innocent ‘Where are you from?’ question is my worst enemy.
Usually people who ask me this questions are strangers trying to get to know me better, and they expect a one word, at the most single sentence answer. But this question for me digs way deeper, because I honestly haven’t figured it out yet. Every time I get asked this question, I become occupied with a very deep, extremely personal reflection about my identity. Rather than tell people “I don’t actually know,” I just say I’m from India. I get a “oh wow, so cool” and we quickly move onto the next topic.
2. Keeping up with pop culture is unreasonably difficult.
Do I listen to the songs from the latest Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone movie on the internet, or do I memorize the words to Beyonce’s “Yonce?” I’m always a step behind most conversations about pop culture because I need to keep track of multiple countries.
3. The options to connect are endless.
Having wonderful friends on two different continents is beyond fulfilling. I can delve deeply into both Indian and American history, without feeling like an outsider. At college, I can connect with the international students and the American ones. After all, they are both important parts of my identity. I’ve realized that, in the hyper-connected world we live in, often what’s keeping most of us from interacting with other cultures isn’t the geographical separation, it’s ourselves.
4. I am critical of cultural norms and expectations
I don’t have the undoubted comforts of accepting cultural values without question. I don’t really have a “home.” No single language is really my own. But because I am often forced to participate in and also step back from different cultures, I am highly critical of human beings’ desires to define groups, stick to a them and then be unreasonably negative about all the others. This isn’t to say people who belong to a society cannot be critical of themselves, because they can. It’s just much easier in my case.
5. I have become a more accommodating person
I think anyone who has chosen to live in a different country will agree with me when I admit that living in a culture that is a near-polar opposite of the one you live in, and also making friends, is way tougher than it seems in the movies. I could start an argument with my international friends many conversations, and often times it has happened. While there are superficial differences between clothing and music preference from culture to culture, there are also deeper, more significant differences in decision-making, parenting styles and political preferences— all of which are extremely sensitive topics. Cultures, though, also share universals. I’ve learned to focus more on what I have in common with my friends, and when required, to appreciate our differences.
6. I am no stranger to being in the out-group a lot of the time, but there are enough of us to create supportive communities
In India, I am the American girl who doesn’t understand Hindi (despite my numerous attempts to convince everyone my accent doesn’t mean I don’t understand the language my parents speak). In America, I am a woman of color, who has difficulty interacting with women of color who have lived in the US their entire lives. This situation may make me a more accommodating person, but it’s also very tough when I just want to relax in a group where I fit in. Unconsciously, my best friends tend to be people who are also cultural-hybrids and understand what it means to be in the out-group all the time. In a globalized world, we are not uncommon, and we have extremely close friendships.
7. I am prepared and excited for an even more diverse, globalized (perhaps more peaceful) world
I love that I am the beginning of a new group of human beings who do not fully associate with a single culture. Being able to step over man-made boundaries of country and culture is extremely liberating. I often think about whether I could ever join the military, and realize cannot. I respect people who sacrifice so much to protect the ones they care about. But if my identity isn’t restricted to geographical boundaries, I could never convince myself to attack other human beings on the basis of those boundaries. I am excited and prepared for a time when there are many more people like me, and we are able to relate to many different groups of human beings.
Honestly, we’re all very similar, and that realization really does change everything.