Katarina Lazic and Sophia Papastavrou are international nomads and, like all “ children of the third culture ”, found their native lands difficult places.
Anglo-Turkish novelist and scholar Elif Shafak once wrote that his homeland is like a glass castle; to leave it, we have to break something – a wall, a social convention, a cultural norm, a heart. To this we add: a language and an identity.
Cross-cultural individuals, like the women in this story, know that every piece of the shattered castle may not fit perfectly, but by piecing them together in the Kintsugi way – the Japanese art of reassembling with gold – a version emerges. stronger object which embraces all its flaws and imperfections.
Sophia and Katarina met in Cyprus and connected during conversations about the usual challenges of living in countries around the world and returning to countries that were their homelands, but to which they felt they did not fully belong. . Despite their various travels, Sophia and Katarina came across many similarities in their lives regarding their peripatetic experiences as children and adults. They shared stories and anecdotes about the tangled complexities of life within various cultures and languages, the contrasting effects of these experiences, and the feeling of acquiring a fluid identity.
Two stories, one state of mind.
Katarina was born in Zambia and after eight years moved with her family to India, and from there she returned to her parents’ homeland, which was then still known as Yugoslavia. Recalling the impactful return to her homeland that shaped her adolescence, Katarina remembers: “I was 13 years old and my mother tongue, at the time still known as Serbo-Croatian, was in a somewhat poor state. sad despite my mother’s Herculean efforts to keep it alive throughout our years in Africa and India. Her mother had taught her the two alphabets – Cyrillic and Latin – which she practiced mainly through weekly mail. Katarina’s letters, like tapestries embroidered with ornate grammatical errors, ranged from her international American boarding school in the eucalyptus-scented hill stations of southern India to her parents a few hundred miles away.
Upon settling into her new home in the Balkans, Katarina discovered too soon that the community she found herself in was not particularly tolerant of the mother tongue incompetence displayed by returning “third culture children”. . In addition, his experiences in Zambia and India contrasted sharply with those of his peers; thus the link with the country to which she belonged by origin did not go so well.
Sophia was familiar with the experience of roads versus roots as she mapped her own diasporic identity. Her roots were linked to her parents’ homeland, Cyprus, as well as her birthplace in Greece, while her itineraries took her to the Dominican Republic, Ghana and Canada. “Don’t you speak Greek?” people would ask him, “How is that possible?” Your parents are Greek! Sophia explained that in Ghana, her father spoke mainly English while her mother kept the language alive to remind her of the Greek roots of the family. Alas, this was insufficient to achieve perfect fluidity.
In Cyprus, the challenges persist. The feeling of fitting in is elusive as the struggle to speak and be spoken in Greek is very real. For Katarina, many locals revert to English as soon as she is detected as a foreigner. What is often perceived by locals as a soft offer to ‘help’ by switching to English is, in fact, closing the door to the community.
For Sophia, Greek is supposed to be her mother tongue that she “should know well” and, groping about it, she is perfectly aware that “I have an accent when I speak Greek. I confuse the words and I mix the times. I also speak with such fury and volume for fear of forgetting what I wanted to say.
“This is where the real fun begins, and I mix both my native language and my dominant language so that the person receiving a buffet gets a buffet that causes them to switch to English or shake their head.” disappointment.”
Their experiences show that speaking a language well, especially your native language, plays an important role in acceptance. However, both women firmly believe that belonging is an issue that cannot be reduced to a purely linguistic matter.
International nomads like Katarina and Sophia, constantly need to adapt to the environment in which they find themselves, to refine and adjust their ways of being in order to integrate. Nevertheless, they remain on the periphery and find that they are more comfortable with people with disabilities whether they are in their country of origin or in other countries of residence.
Katarina and Sophia’s home, community, and identity lie between inherited stories and personal experiences. Home can be experienced like anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Identity can therefore be seen as ever-changing and fluid or as a collage based on time and place made up of pieces brought together from personal stories. A sense of hybridity is formed when cultures are combined, and new ones emerge with their myriad advantages and confusing limitations.
These cultures merge once again with new languages from new homes and old languages of the past, sculpting a new identity landscape that the intercultural individual has no choice but to embrace.
- Sophia Papastavrou, PhD is Technical Gender Specialist for World Vision Canada and member of the Mediterranean Women’s Mediators Network living in Nicosia. Katarina Lazic, PhD, is a linguist living and working in Nicosia as an English teacher