Growing up in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E, I was exposed to different cultures and lifestyles, which made me a well-rounded person, but simultaneously diluted my self-identity as an Iraqi. From a young age, studying at an English school, my English was naturally stronger than my mother tongue, Arabic. That then led me to a sense of insecurity that I never learnt to deal with at the time, and that insecurity led to fear. That fear prevented me from building a strong sense of my own culture and identity and it held me back from integrating with others who had the same cultural background as me.
As time went by, I started to diverge away from the people of my culture. Although integrating yourself with people from all around the world is a beautiful thing, my intention behind integration with other cultures stemmed from fear. It was a fear of rejection from my people, simply because of the thought that I wasn’t Iraqi enough, due to my difficulty with the language. That made me lose touch with my roots and caused a change in my own values, which I did not reinforce at home.
I had forgotten who I was and felt like I was left floating. My lack of community made me feel lonely, even when I was surrounded by a group of people. I felt as though I was incapable of identifying with any culture. Gradually, that started to leave a hole in me that I hadn’t noticed growing larger day by day, and over time I had forgotten what caused it. With that feeling, I tried to be someone I’m not. Almost like layers of cling film wrapping around who I really was and I started to accept that empty feeling inside as the new normal. I became lazy, unmotivated and unambitious. However, as I have gotten a little older, things have started to change.
Around 16, I began to see a private tutor who held classes with dozens of students, of which the majority attended the same school. I was quite shy being in a room with people I’ve never spoken too but have seen. I thought I had already made up my mind about them, but I was very wrong. After the first tutoring lesson was over, we had talked and laughed so much, it was as if I had known these people my entire life. It was a beautiful and warm environment that made us all open up.
After meeting that group of people – some of them are my closest friends – and opening up to them, I realize several things. Firstly, that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. A lot of the people that I’ve grown up with, encountered a similar environment which also made them feel out of place. That’s when things began to click – finding your belonging and community does not have to be a black and white process. Being raised in a multicultural society, especially outside of my home country, I’ve become a mesh of cultures, and found my belonging with similarly blended people. I call this the grey zone community. The second thing I’ve realized was to not be afraid of opening up to people and to not prejudge their situations, as they can surprise you. Lastly, I’ve become aware of the hole in me again, except this time, I’ve realized it is becoming smaller in size and gradually healing.
The beauty of being a mesh of cultures is that you can find your tribe with people from all around the world that have also experienced a blend of cultures. It is a learning experience as you are given the opportunity to have an insight into the different ways that people live.