An identity loss?


September 11, 2022

This week’s post is one of those brain-dump style posts where I just lay it all out there.

Recently I’ve been feeling like I’ve had a bit of an identity loss. Not in a way that I don’t know who I am on the inside or anything like that, but just that I feel like I don’t know who I am in relation to what’s going on around me. I feel like this is something that a lot of college students go through when they move away from home and start developing themselves as their own person for the first time, but I think this feeling is heightened for internationals.

I feel as though being an expatriate and that in itself already leads to a feeling of identity loss or identity mixing. As expatriates it’s hard to know where we fit in fully and what place we fully resonate with. But I feel as though I’ve kicked it up a level since moving to the US for college and building my own persona here, and once more again now knowing that I’ll probably stay here after college and live here for a while – there’s a lot of blurred lines where I’m asking myself who I am and what I actually resonate with.

I grew up in England with a Tanzanian culture, and that was what I knew for the longest time. However, when I moved to Dubai I felt that feeling of identity loss for the first time because I felt as though I wasn’t fully “British” enough because I didn’t live there any more and I had just moved to Dubai to I didn’t really identify with it either. Over the years I grew to find this happy medium, and that was what most of this blog was about – finding my way and finding out who I was in this mix of new places and cultures.

When I moved to college in DC, I knew that things would change, but I guess when I first got here I was so focused on settling in and getting through the first year that I didn’t pay much attention to where I would end up after college or start to build a life for myself. Fast forward, in my Junior year of college I don’t know if I would say that I love everything about DC but I definitely feel at home here – it’s become a part of my identity. Some days I feel so strongly connected to this place and other days I find myself missing England or Dubai. This past week, when a lot of big things happened in England I found myself feeling more British than ever and kind of wanting to go back and other times I’ll find myself feeling like I belong in Dubai more. Sometimes I feel guilty that I pick and choose where I identify with based on the situation, but I guess that’s part of the magic of growing up and moving around in different places, you have all of these identities that you resonate with and it’s about finding that way to piece them all together and make something beautiful and unique. I think the issue with that is that we don’t often hear about people going through these kind of identity struggles or hear the stories of people who have moved around a lot and don’t really know where they fit in anymore. We always gravitate towards the stories and experiences that we hear about the most, and I wish that there were more people sharing stories of moving around and living in different places, perhaps then it would reduce some of this feeling of identity loss for the rest of us.

Thinking about the future, I know that I’ll be in the US for a bit longer and I’ll build up my own life here after college. But what does that mean for my identity? Living here would mean that certain traditions and cultural aspects will grow close to my heart, but it’s hard to shake off those feelings of nostalgia and belonging to places where I don’t live anymore. For example, when I drink a cup of tea on a gloomy day or watch the Great British Bake Off, I can’t help but think, “this reminds me of growing up in England.” And when I listen to Arabic music and drink karak chai, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for Dubai. It’s sea of different emotions and things pulling me in opposing directions that I feel as though I’m constantly wading through. For now, maybe I should just be content in knowing that I identify a with all of these different places and leave the big questions and feelings to future me? Who knows, but I’ll let you know as I figure it out.

Does anyone else ever feel like this when you’ve moved around or experienced a significant amount of time in another place? Let me know in the comments!

See you next week,

  1. […] exist. I was thinking about this a lot when it came to thinking about my cultural identity. A few blog posts ago, I wrote about this feeling that I’m torn between being from England but also being from […]

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