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“Let me get this straight…” says, well, just about everyone when I answer the dreaded ‘where are you from?’ question.

Seems straightforward, right? No heavy lifting required, it’s not a trick question. Yet, for those whose sense of identity is a scramble thanks to an amalgamation of journeys your upbringing has taken you on, it becomes a little sweat-inducing.

“You’ve lived in Dubai your entire life…but you’re technically from the UK…even though you’ve never actually lived in the UK?” Indeed, I am.

I’ll tell white lies and change my story as I go, like many other third-culture kids. I think, ‘do I give you the simplified or the complex answer? What can you handle?’ Sometimes I’ll go for the quick response, an expression of fleeting convenience: “England.” Other times I’ll tell the whole story: “I moved to the UAE in 1993, however both my parents hail from the UK, but I empathetically call the Middle East home.”

Coined by American sociologist Ruth Useem in the 1950s, the term “third-culture kid” was given to individuals who have spent a significant portion of their formative years overseas and cannot denote where ‘home’ is. We relate to our shared ‘third-culture’ better than to our parents’ culture (the first) or that of our host country (the second).

I feel lucky to have grown up in Dubai, where being a global nomad was the norm. We share a beloved type of disorientation that home is everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

The past three decades of my life here have been shaped by my peers from nations far and wide, whose customs, languages and beliefs, are globe-spanning and diverse. I attended an international school that practised globalism but also bequeathed Arabic culture on us through its curricula and teaching staff. I had weekly Arabic lessons from the age of four; we frequented the Pearl Museum and

The Heritage Village for our history trips; and we celebrated Eids and National Days in favour of Easter or bank holidays. At home, though, my parents instilled our own British culture in me.

Yet as I’ve grown older and more removed from the UK, I question my identity more and more. I feel especially removed from my first culture roots, but also know that I may never be granted citizenship in the Middle East. It’s a cognitive dissonance and a complicated journey I rarely talk about, aware of the many privileges I’ve enjoyed during my life in Dubai.

My cross-cultural upbringing has been a sum of parts that have made a whole, and this issue unpacks many iterations of this experience through three powerful chapters: Beginning, Middle and End. The reason why we so desperately try to find the answer to ‘who are you?’ is because every human being has a need to belong.

We have to have some place that we know and are known – for every part of who we are – all the strokes and stripes. The self is not singular but a compounding of many identities – and the idea of ‘home’ operates with the same sense of plurality, too. The beauty of a global nomad, whether from birth or not, is that home really doesn’t have to be where the soil is, but where the soul is.

MILLI MIDWOOD
@MILLIMIDWOOD
MILLI.MIDWOOD@ITP.COM

 

This Editor’s Letter is published in the third edition of GRAZIA Middle East. Click here to discover more from THE JOURNEY. 

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