Welcome back to another post in the “Dear LME” series. If you’re new here, this series is my sort of advice column for expats, internationals, and TCKs (third culture kids). It’s my way of using whatever wisdom and experience I can gather to answer those questions that you can’t just google! You can read more about the series here and learn how to submit your own dilemma.
This week’s dilemma is one that I’ve spent time thinking about before and something that I have personally struggled with in the past. Attending an international school for most of my life, there were certain things you don’t experience that you suddenly do when you move away, and this is definitely one of them. This dilemma may seem trivial at first, however, it connects to the idea of identity as a TCK which I talk about a lot on this blog.
This week’s dilemma:
Let’s begin discussing this dilemma by first discussing what I mean by introducing yourself. To me, it refers to those typical introductions “hi I’m … and I’m from ….” To most people that’s a brainless introduction, what’s so hard about saying your name and your hometown. But I actually completely understand this dilemma, because as in international/TCK/expat student you don’t really have a hometown and you don’t want to give your whole life story to a group of strangers when everyone else is taking 5 seconds to introduce themselves.
I always dread this ice breaker question at the beginning of a new semester because I never really know what to say. Do I say I’m from Dubai? Well, I did live there but I’m not originally from there so that feels wrong. Do I say I’m from London? Well yes, I was born there, but I haven’t lived there for the second half of my life. Do I say London and Dubai? Well, that seems a bit better, but it seems incomplete because I’m not originally from either of those places. So then do I say I’m from London and Dubai but originally from Tanzania? Well, that seems like too much information, maybe even showy! It seems like such a trivial dilemma but it really sheds a light on the difficulty of claiming an identity and introducing that identity among a group of people different from yourself.
I usually just go with the “I’m from London and Dubai” option and internally panic because I’m usually following around 10 people whose home states are on the East Coast of the US. My answer is usually greeted by some kind of surprise and question of, “oh what’s that like” or “wow London and Dubai, how did that happen?” and these questions aren’t offensive, they usually come from a good place, but I can understand why to the person in this dilemma they’re a little awkward or something you want to avoid.
So here’s my advice for introducing yourself as an international/TCK/expat without sounding like you’re trying to show off, still being true to yourself, and avoiding any awkwardness.
Change the wording
Maybe the icebreaker question is “where are you from?” A tactic could be to change the wording to “I grew up in…” or “I most recently lived in…” or “I went to high school in…” you get the idea. This way you don’t have to give your whole life story but you don’t have to just pick one place in your identity to say you’re “from.”
List the place you feel the most strongly about
If you just want to answer the question, just list the one place where you feel a strong tie. Maybe I could just say “I’m from London” because as of right now, that’s the place in my identity that I feel most strongly connected to. It’s not like anyone is going to call you out and say, “actually I know you lived in Dubai”
Don’t feel bad
One of the things I always feel bad about in claiming one place as my identity is that because I’m not fully from one place I’m kind of a fraud compared to the people that are truly just from that place. For example, if I know I’m in a classroom with other international students from London, I’ll avoid introducing my hometown as London because I know they’re more from there than I am, if that makes sense? I should really take my own advice, and not feel bad about this! No one can ever tell you that you’re not enough of one culture and that you’re not “allowed” to identify with it. I actually wrote a much longer post about this in response to a previous Dear LME dilemma, here.
You can always say more later
I would say to err on the side of saying less most of the time. I feel as though it can be really awkward to give your whole life story of all the places you’ve lived in or identify with when the person next to you is just giving their home state. I would say, use the advice above, and if anyone is curious answer their questions! It’s always very touching when someone follows up after class and says something like, “did you say you’re from Dubai, wow that’s so cool, I’ve always wanted to visit!” Sometimes less is really more!
I know this dilemma might seem a little trivial to some – surely we all know how to introduce ourselves? However, I know just the feeling this dilemma is referring to, and this is exactly what this advice column is for, to ask those questions you just can’t find the answers to anywhere else.
If you’d like to submit your own dilemma on anything related to being a TCK/international/expat you can read more about the series here and submit a dilemma by sending a DM to little.miss.expat on Instagram and starting it with “Dear LME.”
See you next week!