Where are you from?
It’s the question often most asked when you live abroad and often the one that is most difficult to answer.
International school students have connections to several continents before they’ve hit double digits in age. Their parents might be from different countries, they might be born in a third and now the family lives in yet another land. Teachers also have personal histories stretching over multiple countries and languages.
Where are you from?
It depends on who is asking the question.
Where my bills get sent, my accent and my country of birth straddle 3 continents.
I generally say New Zealand – that’s where my family lives. Except I was born in Canada, spent vast tracts of my childhood moving around New Zealand domestically, lived in Korea for four years in my early 20s and now find myself in Singapore. So when pressed to find a home town that becomes difficult.
Is it where I spent the most time? Is it the place I last lived before moving to abroad? Is it the place my parents live?
Again 3 different towns.
Where others have strong roots to a place that have accumulated over time I often feel most disconnected when I’m not moving. The longest I’ve managed to live in one place ever has been 5 years and that was when I was a teenager.
There are benefits and drawbacks to this lifestyle.
You get happy birthday updates across multiple time zones on Facebook but you might spend your real time celebrating the occasion with complete strangers.
Friendships are both intense and superficial at the same time – I’ve met some incredible people living abroad but at the same I’ve lost contact with so many friends the minute they cleared customs. In big cities there’s an odd feeling of being constantly surrounded by people and still feel lonely especially in the first few weeks.
The process of constant moving means that you don’t tend to acquire vast amounts of possessions. Every move I end up throwing or giving away a lot of stuff that I no longer need.
The bonus to teaching in this context is that long-held assumptions about learning and life are constantly getting challenged. This process can be both professionally invigorating and threatening at the same time.
You constantly do a double take.
Do I teach the way I do because that’s how we do things in the place I trained or is it because it is good for learning?
My first class of students all had rich personal histories. Singapore for many children is their first trip sojourn into the unknown while others might be seasoned veterans in the art of the big move.
Nevertheless that question, where are you from, is one we must frequently answer.
I am definitely the same – it was weird when I came back and started teaching in Australia because I’d developed a British accent!
“Where are you from, Miss?”
Cue some confused looks!