Below is an interview with a former classmate of mine at the University of Toronto — she was born in Poland, but has lived in the United States and now resides in Canada. She is definitely a cultural chameleon. How does she do it?
Where do you currently live?
How do you define “home”?
I associate home with my loved ones, my closest family, and friends. Or places where I feel comfortable, and like myself.
Where do you consider your “home”?
Oh so many places! Currently I’d say Canada, because I’ve been here for the past few years. I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy living here.
“My home however, will always be this little city in North Eastern Poland where I grew up and where my grandparents still live. I love going back there every time! Also, I have to say Warsaw is another home, I spent a year there recently studying at the University of Warsaw and absolutely fell in love with the city.”
How many countries/places have you lived in?
Three: Poland, United States, and Canada
Why did you move around?
My family first moved from Poland to the United States in search for better opportunities – like any Eastern European family. They had similar motivations when moving from the U.S. to Canada; especially after the 2008 financial crisis.
Do you think of yourself as an expatriate?
At this point no. Perhaps when I was younger I’d say yes. Having lived for such a long time outside of my native country however, I’ve adapted to so many different environments, and taken on so many different cultural identities.
“I rather consider myself a global citizen, or someone who is a bit ‘out of place’. I don’t really belong to one nationality or country, but to a blend of different cultures.”
What impact do you think moving/living abroad has had on you?
I think it has made me a more understanding and open person. It has also made me appreciate individual differences, as well as inspired me to be a curious person. Unsurprisingly, it also made me want to constantly travel — to soak up as much of a place as I can, and continue exploring others.
Do you have any regrets about how you grew up?
Absolutely not! I feel very grateful for getting a chance to grow up in different countries.
What is the most outrageous question you’ve ever been asked about the country/countries you’ve lived in?
When I lived in the U.S., people would always ask me how I could be Polish since I didn’t have blue eyes and blond hair. (Because apparently everyone in Poland looks the same.)
When you went back to your native country did you ever feel like a foreigner?
Yes! Whenever I go back to Poland people always say ‘oh you’re so American” — whatever that means. It’s actually quite funny, because when I’m in North America I feel like I’m more Polish, but whenever I go to Poland I feel like I’m more North American.
Essentially, I feel like a foreigner wherever I am.
Was it hard for you to re-adjust?
The first time I moved was the hardest. I went through culture-shock, especially because I had to learn a new language.
Would you want your kids to grow up the way you did?
“I feel like growing up in different places and seeing what the world has to offer is a really valuable experience.”
What is the coolest experience you’ve ever had?
This is not super cool, but I always found it funny that when living in the U.S. a lot of Spanish speaking people would always approach me and just start speaking Spanish. Even though I could never understand a word of what they were saying, it would always happen because I tend to look more Latin American than Eastern European.
Do you think other people should have the same experiences? Why?
Yes! I mean it’s not for everybody, but I think it makes you a richer person; you get to learn different languages and experience a variety of cultures. I think that first hand experiences like that, help you understand the world better.
If you could change one thing about the world today what would it be?
Empathy! Understanding! I feel like interactions with other people that appear different from ourselves, allow us to learn that in reality we’re actually not all that different.