Whenever we hear the word immigrant we firstly assume it is an adult in search of better prospects. With the word immigration being rife, which has become part of local and national political debates, we often forget to reflect upon second generation immigrants.
It was at the age of 8 when I moved from Egypt to Italy with my mum and brother, where my dad was already living and working. That, for me, meant being exposed to a completely different culture, an unfamiliar language and, above all, different norms and values.
On my first day of school, I had the feeling of having lost all points of reference, a feeling of lack of approval, a feeling of fear and vexation, which resulted in me becoming a tearful infant. I had to immerse myself in an unfamiliar cultural environment, I was stripped of the security that comes from my cultural framework, which defines me. I was like a fish out of water, swinging between a multiplicity of worlds which compose me and continuously challenge me on a daily basis. My trajectory was not only spatial but mental and psycho-social.
I gradually began to adapt to the new social environment, I adopted the host country’s language, customs and habits, and although I had continued to cultivate the hope of returning to my country, I was not living my condition as a second generation immigrant dramatically. Rather, I undertook to consolidate my integration in order to improve my condition of being away from Home. In fact, one thing had become certain: I started to feel part of that country.
The first advice I was given by my mother was to be able to fully accept any kind of culture I encounter in life without ever forgetting my roots and, above all, my religion. Given the lack of a pedagogical approach that allows multiculturalism in schools, I never dared to share my thoughts about my culture or religion with anyone. I would adjust my way of thinking to a more Italian/Westernised way whenever I went out with friends. I’ve developed a receptive mind, I’ve learnt to respect everyone and everything as long as it does not affect my strong appreciation of my culture and my religion.
As the need for the acquisition of a global language kicks in my parents’ mind, after six years, the cycle repeated itself. I moved to London with my mother and brother in search of better education. At this point, saying goodbye to old friends and moving on has become part of my life. A transition from a monocultural society to a multicultural one was, I had realised, what I truly needed. Needless to say, London is a city where all cultures and religions are welcomed and collected, where the prevailing culture does not overpower the smaller, but they all complement one another. It was then that I started to think in a more sophisticated and much broader way. As the language barrier presented itself for the second time and the exposure to many other ideologies automatically imposed itself on me, the thought of not being the only one out there with a sense of strangeness had supported my force to further challenge these struggles and fears. I forged a bond with the new society quite comfortably.
Life as a third culture kid may be unsettling. It can become hard to maintain relationships with old friends or integrate into new cultures but it is reassuring that the positive outcomes would outweigh the negative ones.
A third culture kid may adopt many elements of any culture they get to live in. However, they may also create a sense of belonging towards those who have similar backgrounds. Sometimes, you may even get an instinct feeling that you relate to people from certain countries you haven’t even lived in. It is for these reasons that the sense of wanting to forever return to my home country has gradually faded: I have proudly managed to resist uprootedness, which can effectively occur to any third culture kid. I still love and prefer my country of origins’ culture, customs and traditions, but, by now, I would feel like a stranger there too.