Have you ever wondered how it feels jumping between cultures?

On that August day in 2014, I stepped out of my home and left for the airport. The details, I’m not really sure how. Nonetheless, that was the day, for the first time in my life, when I would be taking a flight longer than 2 hours, for real. I left for Canada, which took me about 24 hours to get there. I only knew where Canada is by looking it up on the map. But, I had the tough task to, yet, figure out ‘What is Canada like?’, ‘How are the people like over there?’ or ‘How do they go about their daily lives?’ when I get there.

I did hear about Canadian stereotypes from The Family Guy, but you gotta see it yourself without making any judgments, right? Haha… And maybe it’s not a good source to learn about any culture (though you should admit that they carry some truth in it). 😉

Fast forward, it’s been exactly 2 years now. I flew there, studied, lived, and learnt about the society. I didn’t stay the entire 2 years there, though. In fact, even when I’m writing this, I’m sitting at my desk in my bedroom in Indonesia (see, I have 2 bedrooms. This will be important. Foreshadowing like Shakespeare). Nevertheless, the time I spent there gave me enough, to say the least, glimpse of what Canada—a Western culture, is like. This blending in to and learning of the culture were even filliped by the essay topics that I had to work on regarding Canadian culture and identity. Nerdy me!

I learnt, and will still be learning, a lot about their people. I should really be thankful with my roommate and, of course, all of my friends there for being the floodgates to reach into the deeper turf of Canadian culture. I’m very happy to know you guys! Kudos!

Besides proving those more obvious stereotypes, one thing that really intrigues, and has changed me one way or the other, is the exposure to this Western culture. It’s really an eye opening experience. People have different way of thinking and doing things, sometimes opposing, from where I came from. I have witnessed it. My horizon has been extended much much farther than I would be able to hadn’t I come here. That being said, I think I’m fortunate enough to have this opportunity. The society is much more structured already in many ways. Your opinions matter more, you’re more respected of what you do, not who you are. And a number of other more intricate dissimilarities.

I tried to learn as much as possible about their sports, way of communicating or behaving—the savoir faire, and manners; all the things that would define them as Canadian. They express themselves uniquely. Everybody has more sense of mutual respect. Some things, even the small things, came to me as a surprise in the beginning though. I did experience a period of culture shock, but over the course of time I familiarize myself with the fact that there are more possibilities of what things can be and slowly accepted how things are going on around me in this new place and society. Even, some of them are now engrained in me. I have a much better understanding about, let’s say, the most discussed and debated topics, such as same-sex marriage, LGBTQ, sex, religion, marijuana, feminism, or racism, as I hear many rational explanation, and opinion, regarding those issues.
Or, perhaps, on the lighter matter: Which is better: beer, wine, or spirits?

That’s me diving into this new society, trying to decipher what they got. And the problem now is when I come back to the original culture. I’ve been gone and back, literally. But nothing has changed back home. Nobody really understands what I’ve seen and gone through. They’re still the same people. The same old way of life and thinking. And this is the moment where I find the two clash.

When I came back, the first 2 weeks were quite challenging. I’m not exaggerating—they really were. I’m happy to come back to Indonesia for this short period of time. It is always good to be surrounded by many familiar stuff for it, still and all, where I was born and raised. However, on the other hand, I also got irritated by things that, first and foremost, are different between Indonesia and Canada. For instance, I hate how some people are irresponsible when they’re on the road, many people’s terrible ability to do this simple task called lining up (God knows why), or the fact that I now think and do some stuff differently.

I never gave any tip. I went to Canada and started tipping. Now, I give some tip here, and some of my friends were bemused. I met some old friends and had some talks. I realized that we have a quite contrastive view over some matters now. If I’m to make an analogy, I may be this mix breed between, I don’t know, Pomeranian and Husky. Pomsky! Yes. Haha… I have some lousy jokes, but you’ll get used to it. I promise!

For some reason,coming home gives me this taste of weirdness. I’m in a state of what people call the limbo state. I’m not completely who I was before I left nor am a brand new guy. Having both my feet wading between the two cultures feels kinda strange. Canada is great. Indonesia is awesome. Canada starts to become dear to me. And I can never un-love Indonesia, for it’s where I was born and raised. I regard them highly. I simply cannot define my identity as just one of the two.

I think, or more like hope, it will get to a point where I don’t see the two as discrete and unassociated, but instead as a new mix that would later be my identity—old and new culture wouldn’t be relevant anymore; a point where I can accept the distinctions and carry with me the values that I want to keep. A spectrum of culture. Cuz, why not?

It reminds me of one TED Talk by Taiye Selasie: “Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m local“. It gives you insight on how to comprehend yourself as a multicultural person or help people understand multicultural person better. One example about how I’m confused with how I should identify myself is when I went to other cities in Canada for a trip and someone ask me where I’m from. Should I answer Indonesia? They would think I’m a tourist! But, I’m not a tourist—not quite. I’m more familiar with Ottawa more than most people who live outside Ottawa, anyway. I would go with Ottawa most of the time. It’s not just for the sake of avoiding longer questions about my identity in this world, but something more complex than that. What are you looking for by asking ‘from’, anyway? Which culture do you live in? Where you were born? Where you grew up? Where do you live? Or what? I can be born and raised in Indonesia and UK, study in Canada, and perhaps settle in Sweden. How do I explain about myself?

Anyway, I guess I’m just going through this stage of mixing two different, sometimes opposing cultures, together. In time, it will be okay I’m sure. Maybe one day, I would be able to call the two of them home, because in those places are where I can grasp the intrinsic essence of the society—where I’m local.

So, this is how it feels jumping between cultures.

Do you have any similar story with yourself? Whether it be studying, working, or moving abroad? How does it feel?

Cheers,
Gregorius

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