11 Dec WHERE AM I EVEN FROM?
Where am I even from? I have a really hard time with this question, and it is a question I ask myself a lot because, to be quite frank, I don’t know what the answer is. It is also my least favorite question because if I don’t even know the answer, how am I supposed to answer the question for others?
Here’s a brief explanation of where I am from: I was born in Toronto to immigrant parents from Egypt. I lived in Toronto for the first 10 years of my life. After those 10 years in Canada, I moved to Saudi Arabia and lived there until the age of 15. At the age of 15, I went to boarding school in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and now I go to Queen’s in Kingston, Ontario. This is not very complex. I know people who have moved far more times in different cities, countries, continents than I have, but here is why I struggle.
When I lived in Canada, prior to moving to Saudi Arabia, I never really questioned where I was from because I was pretty young. The only thing is that I knew I was different, just from my appearance, the food I ate at home, the language my parents spoke at home, and several other things. I understood from a young age that I was different because I looked different.
In Saudi Arabia, I identified myself as “Canadian” because that is where I was born and raised. When I was in boarding school in the U.S., I was consistently identified as “Saudi” by my peers and my teachers, because that is where I was coming from.
Now at Queen’s, for the sake of simplicity, I usually just tell people that I am from Toronto. I avoid the complexity of the answer and just say I am from Toronto, but then, since half of Queen’s students are from Toronto, I almost always get the follow-up question “where did you go to high school” and then I have to proceed and explain that I am from Toronto, but I haven’t lived in Toronto since I was 10 to someone I just met and who probably doesn’t care.
This also makes me think about why it is so important for people to ask me where I am from. It makes me wonder if I am frequently asked this question because I look a certain way and if I didn’t look a certain way, I would probably not get asked this question as frequently as I do. Canada emphasizes being a “mosaic”, known for its diverse population but it doesn’t feel like that a lot of the time.
When some are intrigued, they continue asking questions that lead me to explain that I lived overseas and then went to boarding school. From time to time, I will get the “oh, what did you do to end up having to go to boarding school” question and I end up explaining that living in Saudi completely normalized the idea of boarding school.
To complicate things even more, I don’t even feel like I lived in Saudi because I lived on this company compound where only Saudi Aramco (the company my parents worked for) employees and families were allowed to live. I basically only interacted with ex-pats. Even the school that I went to, which was the company’s school, didn’t allow Saudi’s to attend because this school followed the American curriculum vs the Saudi curriculum. To top that, because my school followed the American curriculum, I was only taught American history in Saudi.
Whenever I go to Egypt, I quickly realize and feel like I am not from Egypt. I am from Egypt in the sense that that is my heritage and that is where my family is from but, to no fault of my own, to my family I am extremely “Americanised”. I love Egypt and I love everything it entails but the culture and lifestyle I grew up in is so different from the one of Egypt.
I’ve gained so much knowledge, opportunities, and experiences from living in different countries, but that leads me to be conflicted and unsure of where I call “home”. Most people go to school in the same town or city their whole life and go away for university, growing up with the same friends and neighbors around them, knowing that whenever they go home, they will see all their friends. However, I have made my friends (I.e. from high school and university) in different places, places that have shaped my life forever.
Header Image: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/300474606389275758/