I know that writing this will upset some of my friends, but I want to share this because it came up many many times in the last weeks. At the latest FIGT (Families In Global Transition) conference we talked about identity and sense of belonging and as we all agree that having to chose between one or two of “our” cultures is difficult for most of us who grew up in different places or simply abroad, international days are a challenge. And later, at a talk I gave about embracing international life I shared what these international celebrations felt for me, who grew up and lived in different cultures my whole life.
What for people who grew up in one culture – let’s call them “monoculturals” – can seem like a lovely way to celebrate many cultures, to taste different foods and get a visual impression of what that other culture can look like, and a taste of it if food is involved, a “hear” of it if music is played, is a very difficult time for someone like me or my children who grew up abroad, never lived in that country we’re asked to represent, and only have a temporary experience – during holidays – of what life looks like, tastes and sounds like in that country.
Of course, one can “chose whatever country they have any kind of relation with”, and so my children once dressed up as Dutch, as German, as Italian, as Swiss, but we always cringe at the thought to have to chose.
8 years ago, when my son struggled with deciding which country to represent, I told him what I tell now all internationals who come to my talks and workshops, and their children and teens: you don’t have to chose! You are all of them, so combine them in your very unique and fantastic way!
And so he did. He put on a French cap (on aime bien la France chez nous!), an orange shirt (omdat we van Oranje houden!), blue trousers from Italy (perché amiamo lo stile italiano!), hiking boots and a rope (will mer immer gäärn i’d Bärge gönt go wandere!), and I honestly don’t remember what part of his outfit was German (aber das ist hoffentlich kein Problem…). I didn’t take a picture of him, but I remember that other parents and their children were confused and some even quite upset that he combined some European cultures/countries in his outfit. But he felt better!
– He felt better but not “great”. And I know why: because we perceive it as a very superficial way to show what others expect you to show.
Others want to see colors, to smell spices, taste the otherness and have the illusion of “all is fine” and “everyone is different”.
You are expected to celebrate the bright side of that culture and society, the traditional outfits that you may never wear in that country because you don’t live there and you don’t connect the history, the tradition that comes with wearing them, the pride to be part of that culture, because you experience it from the outside, as a well prepared tourist who only visits it during holidays. You may feel you belong for a few days or weeks in a year: you speak the language, know about beliefs and traditions, adopt the values, but for most of the time you’re “the combination of many”.
Like my children I also attended a very international school, but we never had an international day and I am extremely grateful for that.
The reason for this is because when you live internationality, embrace diversity in your daily life, wearing a dirndl means to reduce your identity to only one, often the palest facet of your colorful self of your manifold identity!
I know that what I’m saying here is not shared by most parents and teachers at our school and other international schools, and you may think that I have an identity problem.
No worries, I don’t. I thought for many years that me being not only German but also Italian, French and Swiss – even British to some extent! – was weird, a problem for those who try to put you into boxes, label you with only one label, that I had to silence part of who I was to fit into groups, but I, we don’t have to.
Like TCKs, CCKs, those who honestly and wholeheartedly embrace diversity and internationality, don’t need an international day. They live it every single day of their life.
If you don’t believe me, try to ask the children and teenagers, the adults who thrive among internationals: How would their way to express internationality look like?
I know what my answer is: stop pointing out the differences! Instead of having separate stalls at these international events with Indian – German – Chinese – Nigerian – South African – British – Irish – Italian – French – Dutch etc. food, unite them all on long colorful table and let the truly international feast begin, where everyone eats from all plates without questioning, judging, comparing, pointing out the difference, but simply enjoying.
If you organize games or activities from all those cultures: find out what they have in common, what the children like to play and do, and why – and with games I mean board games or games played in groups without electronic device!
– I don’t like international days because they are only one day (some are a week): I prefer embracing this every single day!