“If you can find your footing between two cultures, sometimes you can have the best of both worlds.”Randy Pausch, American Educator & Creator of Alice Software project.
Many of us, in life, have experienced the low, gnawing feeling that is unbelonging. It’s a thought that won’t let you sleep at night and hits when you’re surrounded by people who don’t look like you.
It’s the feeling you can’t always pinpoint, but it’s nagging at you.
I’m Asian American, but to get more specific than Asian, I am Thai. For the first 19 years of my life, Thailand was my home. Inundated by familiar scenes, foods, and faces, I never doubted if I belonged.
To my apprehension, the honeymoon phase of moving to a foreign country soon ran dry as time passed. And it left me with an empty, homesick feeling. I then connected this with that constant sense of unbelonging. That nagging feeling again!
The notion of not belonging was uncharted terrain for me. It was unfamiliar at the beginning; I couldn’t entirely lay my finger on what I was going through or why I was feeling it. It isolated me in a sea of people.
It was later that I realized I was facing the effects of enduring two ways of life—not belonging to just one culture, but two. All at once, new customs, expectations, and beliefs besieged me. I seemed stuck between two worlds, never belonging to either.
As I learned more about both cultures and myself, I became more comfortable in my skin.
I perceived the feeling of unbelonging wasn’t a bad thing. It was something that made me unique. It was something that molded me into the person I am today.
I have accepted my Asian heritage and all the richness it has brought into my life. I can view the world differently because I am of two diverging cultures.
It was exhausting to keep my Thai roots and experience American customs at the same time as it was complex to preserve both.
I knew compromising one cultural aspect of my identity to accommodate the other wasn’t healthy, so what do I do now?
I did things that made me happy rather than making other people happy.
And through this process of self-discovery, I felt more comfortable and found pride in my Thai heritage. I realized I didn’t have to lose myself to gain the approval of others.
Now a successful entrepreneur, I no longer feel different because I’m proud of my Thai heritage. As a result, I possess no desire to change aspects of my identity or hide parts of myself away.
It’s a long and lonely journey sometimes, but it’s worth it.
“When you embrace your unique culture and perspective, you can change the world around you.”Aura Alex