I’m a global citizen but I suffer from a national and cultural identity crisis everyday. Can anyone else relate?
I loathe answering this very simple and common question that gets asked by everyone (including myself) all the time: “Where do you come from?” Or “Dari mana asalnya?” (In Indonesian) Or “你来自哪个国家?” (In Mandarin). Can I just respond with “the world” or “planet earth”? Can the conversation just end there for me? Please?
I wish I could just say one country, but I can’t because it’s not true and I suck at lying. I dislike it because I face an existential crisis every time I have to reply. I don’t mean to sound dramatic but it actually affects me. I stress out about which country I say: Malaysia, Australia or Indonesia. Whenever I pick one, the next question can often be about my accent or my skin colour, and it just gets messy. Then I end up asking myself, “where is home?” – I have many but can’t seem to have ownership of one. I currently have three house keys of homes in three different cities, but can’t seem to fully belong to one. Can you now see how this one question drives me crazy?
So, I am writing this post for two selfish reasons and one proper reason:
Selfish reason 1: To explain my life story so I do not have to do it again. (Or rather so I can do it less.)
Selfish reason 2: The next time I get asked ‘the question’, I can share this blog post link and that’s the end of that topic! (It’s so cold of me, I know, but #sorrynotsorry.)
Proper reason: To show anyone who has a similar situation that you are not alone! Come join me in being a culturally confused citizen of this world! I know there is a lot of you out there.
Here goes it:
Meet baby Samantha Yap who was born in Malaysia to Chinese Malaysian parents. Her parents are pure Chinese by race and blood, but Chinese Malaysian by nationality and upbringing (No she is not Malay).
At the age of 4, Samantha and her family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia because her father was posted there for work. Over there, she attended two international schools: she went to the British International School (BIS) for two years before moving to the Jakarta International School (JIS) for another six years.
One school had a British education system and the other followed the American education system. She learnt to spell “Mum” at first, but then had to switch to “Mom” later. She learnt to put the ‘s’ in words like “organisation” at first, but then had to replace the ‘s’ with ‘z’ in her essays at JIS. Her accent also adapted very quickly to whoever she played or spent time with. She went from saying, “Do you fancy anyone?” at BIS to running away from boys because they had “cooties” at JIS.
Here’s Samantha at her old home in Jakarta looking like the Chinese Malaysian girl she is. But there is more than meets the eye…
Now here’s the same Chinese Malaysian girl but she’s playing Gamelan (Traditional Indonesian music). She was surrounded by Indonesian culture and exposed to it most of her childhood, so she kind of felt like she was Indonesian on the inside.
This is Samantha in a traditional Kalimantan outfit for ‘Indonesia Day’. (Every year JIS would have an day where kids would dress up in traditional Indonesian dress and parade around the school.)
After 8 beautiful years in Indonesia, Samantha’s family moved back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a year and half before migrating to Melbourne, Australia. Samantha was 13 at that time. She grew up in a Melbourne suburb and attended high school at Glen Waverley Secondary College. She also became an Australian citizen, which complicates things a whole lot more.
Samantha then went on to study Journalism at Monash University. She also completed a Diploma of Languages (Indonesian), which allowed her to study Indonesian on exchange at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta and Universitas Atma Jaya in Jakarta. She also studied Journalism at the University of Hong Kong on an exchange semester in her final year of university.
Samantha fell in love with reporting on Indonesia during a journalism internship in Jakarta. She wanted to go straight to Asia after graduating. After she graduated university in 2013, Samantha got a job working as journalist and TV producer for Channel NewsAsia in Singapore for two years. In Singapore, Samantha was often regarded as a Singaporean because of the way she looked. Some of her friends even still think she is one, but she’s clearly not one.
Now, Samantha is based in Jakarta and can pass as just about any Asian nationality looks wise. She’s been called a Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Indonesian before.
Moral of the story: Let’s save ourselves a bit of time and all call ourselves ‘global citizens’.
© 2014 GLOBALCITIZENSAM