For a long time throughout my childhood, I always found myself confused and questioning my cultural identity. In particular the question of “so where are you from?” which had me subtly struggling to find a ‘proper’ answer for. Being born in England, attending English schools, enjoying Western food, watching Western TV, and taking part in English culture was natural to me – after all it was where I was born and where I have grown up my whole life. However, when I came home from outside, it was anything but. My language becomes Urdu and Punjabi, not English. My cuisine becomes Pakistani, the jokes, idioms, colloquial expressions, and social interactions all take their inspiration from Pakistan. On top of that my parents brought with them Swedish culture that they had adopted in some ways from their time living there. This only further contributed to the smorgasbord of cultures I was exposed to and their worlds I experienced side by side, as I’m sure many other people have experienced as well.
With these two worlds at my exposure, as an impressionable child I found myself confused with that exact question – where am I from? In all honesty, prior to university I felt as though our social commentary was not overly concerned with cultural awareness and internationalisation as it is today. I didn’t feel excluded as such but I, like many of my friends, never experienced true pride to be where we were from. That’s not to say we rejected our ethnic cultures in fact it was the opposite; we loved them for what they gave us in their own respective worlds just as we inherited British culture because we grew up here. But there always remained a difficulty in bringing the different cultures together into a sort of ‘whole identity’. Saying I was British and Pakistani always meant two separate things that were distinct realms of my identity until I realised that it was in fact better to incorporate both into a combined identity. Both had their distinct and unique features, but both also combined to give me a sense of unique identity that I could feel proud and confident in, expressing all the cultures that are part of my life. Funnily enough, loving Mum’s homemade biryiani just as much as I loved fish and chips in a pub was one of the early ways I realised the both cultures were just as important to me. It also made me realise that I was incredibly lucky to have access to a whole different world that many people do not have, whilst simultaneously showing me how valuable exposure to different cultures can be (particularly as you can try loads of new foods!). Overall, I found that it was in fact better to express and promote our cultures together to help us form global identities we feel proud of and improve our cultural awareness as a whole.
University has really helped to develop this idea of celebration, expression and promotion of cultures. Being a Global Officer, meeting people from not just all over the country, but all over the world who celebrate their cultures has inspired me. The power of having access to a brand-new world just through meeting someone from a different country fascinated me and I was hooked. It gives you the ability to explore the world without having to step foot on a plane. Experiencing new foods, new languages and expressions, new music, new celebrations and events, and having the access to that through building a great relationship with someone is virtually unbeatable. Personally, I was able to share parts of my culture with others in turn giving them the chance to see or ‘travel’ to England and Pakistan through me which made me feel proud to be from both cultures, almost as if I was an ambassador for them. The best part is, by expressing pride for our different cultures we also gain a much better ‘insider’ feel for different cultures – what better way to experience a culture than with people from that culture itself!
Internationalisation and global engagement programmes exemplified by GOLD, such as the talking cultures workshops, have helped fuel this new emerging environment of cultural pride and expression for us all. Going back to the previous point about travelling through the people you meet; internationalisation programmes have become even more important in keeping this momentum going in the current COVID climate where we can’t travel. This only amplifies just how important it is in forging global and diverse relationships so that we can see the world through people. Most importantly however, it improves our respect and awareness of different perspectives from different parts of the world which helps us to build a respectful and tolerant society where we can celebrate each other and forge togetherness rather than divisions.