Shifting Identities

Shifting Identities

After more than a decade my wanderings finally bring me back to the country where I was born and raised, Canada. As I wait for my connecting flight in Paris listening to Pakistani Sufi songs, I can’t help but wonder. After years of bumming around the world, do I still consider myself Canadian?

Maple Syrup Over Bratwurst

I was born under a lucky star. My German mother and my Canadian father gave me each one of the best citizenship a traveler could wish for. I’m very grateful for that.

Growing up in the suburbs of Montreal, I developed a strong sense of identity. I was proud of my Quebecker culture and French dialect. But my parents also made sure that I learn to read and write in German. I hated the extra classes on Saturdays as a kid, but fortunately it kept me in touch with my German heritage.

Because of my father’s work, I also spent twice a year in Germany as a child. I keep very fond memories of that time. But I could never fully identify myself with German culture. To this day I’m not particularly fond of rules and weekend cleaning sprees.

Widening Horizons

As a young adult, it was time to move. For my postgraduate studies I crossed the Atlantic and stayed for over three years in the United Kingdom. Surrounded by people from all over the world, my Quebecker identity began to fade.

When my student days were over, I found a job in Switzerland. I became more European. My cheese consumption certainly matched and probably even exceeded the Swiss average! But when asked, I still said that I was Canadian.

Five years ago the travel bug bit me hard. I headed out to roam far and wide our beautiful world. The German passport is the clear winner when it comes to visa-free countries and fees. I therefore never renewed my Canadian travel documents. But something else happened, something I barely noticed. I started saying that I was “originally” from Canada, or simply, “It’s complicated”.

A Better Question

I might be biased, but I keep observing the same thing among young people around the world. As our mobility increases and technology transcends borders, it seems that an increasing number of people feel like they belong to much more than a country or a region. Like the question “what do you do?”, the “where are you from?” is also becoming gradually less relevant at defining who we are.

As an alternative I already much prefer “where is home for you?”. It reminds me of a beach in Dahab, Egypt. There was a colorful collection of signs beneath the palm trees. One said “Home is where the heart is”. It made me smile every time I walked past.

I’ve felt at home laughing with my artist friends in Tehran. Or sitting around a camp fire deep in the Patagonian mountains. Or sharing a meal with that lovely family I stayed with in Sri Lanka. It’s this deep connection with nature and my fellow humans that I can truly relate to.

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