After leaving my home in Florida and moving to Paris, France I was haunted by a deep and undeniable feeling that only part of me had arrived in this new land; some pieces of the person I had been, perhaps most of who I was, had been left behind.
It can be terrifying and confusing to realize that without our culture we are not whole. Most of us never stop to think of the ways our culture affects our personalities, hopes, fears, likes, dislikes, opinions, or beliefs. When we are completely removed from our culture, it is nearly impossible to not also feel removed from ourselves.
As children, we don’t take classes to learn about our own culture. We have no need for it. We are subconsciously and constantly learning our own culture from an early age without ever realizing that these constructs may be specific to our country or people group.
The first few months I lived in France I felt like who I was in the deepest and most personal parts of myself was being torn apart. I was unfamiliar with myself and afraid of discovering who I was away from all that was familiar to me.
As I began trying to understand who I was in this new place I realized that without my culture, I had a new and unexpected lens through which I could see myself. Crossing cultures is often seen as a journey of learning about others: other places, other people, other perspectives. However, the more I learned about others, the more questions I had about myself.
There is a unique freedom that can come from crossing over into a new culture. The burden of conformity is lifted as we explore the facets and functionality of this new world. The Association for Psychosocial Sciences says that “Culture is much more than foods, festivals, and costumes. It’s the set of ideas that coordinate the actions and construct the meanings of a group of people.”
While being removed from our culture can be deeply painful, seeing who we are in a new world creates an opportunity to understand ourselves in a revolutionary way. The process of living in and adjusting to a culture different than your own is a gift. It leads us to know, understand, and appreciate others in a deeper way, but can also open doors within our own hearts for us to learn more about who we are.
Living in another country often felt like a dream: hazy, surreal, and unpredictable. Everyday tasks became insurmountable feats, my jokes weren’t funny in French, and people laughed at my accent, however, the beauty of becoming reacquainted with who I was and who I could be, helped me love the perplexities and frustrations of learning a new culture.
Questions to think about or discuss with friends:
- Do you feel some of yourself was left behind in coming to a new culture?
- What is something that is “normal” in your home culture but not in American culture?
- What is something that is “normal” in American culture but not in your home culture?
- How have you been surprised by yourself in this new country?
- What things have you done here that you never would’ve thought you could do before leaving your home country?