I’ve lived in the UK for 12 years, but am still considered a foreign student by uni
‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’
While my parents were angrily quoting Theresa May in what has now become a weekly lament of the current global state of affairs, I couldn’t help identifying with her insult. I have a British passport, I lived and was schooled in the UK for 12 years, and, as I assured everyone, even my email address ends in ‘.co.uk’. Despite this, I am considered a foreign student by my British university and pay accordingly.
My parents currently live in South Africa, where I lived with them for four years before attending university. It is the perfect place to be once you have grown tired of London’s rain and rules. The landscape is breath-taking, the city itself is full of trees, the sea is warm, they do not remind you to drink water when it is hotter than 20 degrees.
I learned all four verses of the national anthem (each verse being in a different language), I started saying ‘braai’ and ‘takkies’, I developed an obsession with avo and prego rolls, and yet, I was not one of them. This is by no means the fault of the people, South Africans are the friendliest, kindest people I have met, but I simply remained the foreigner among my friends.
A friend at uni recently emphasised my betrayal in him when he learned that, despite claiming to be South African, I do not actually have any African blood in me. The question of blood is foremost in my mind when asked every multi-national’s most hated question: “Where are you from?”
I am not South African, having only lived there for four years and having no South African relatives. If you disregard the universities’ requirement of having to live in the UK for three consecutive years immediately prior to studying then I might qualify as British, but I wasn’t born there.
Does birth alone define where you are from? I suppose it is where you first joined the world and where you originally came from in your global wanderings, but I am surely not Singaporean. Even at birth they didn’t want me and, in the hospital, reminded my parents that birth alone is not enough to qualify for a Singaporean passport.
That rules out the question of geographical origins so I turn to my parents. My father is half British and half German and, while in boarding school, his parents moved house every two years throughout Europe. My mother is fully Czech but she fled her country at the age of six to become a refugee in Germany, adopting the language and the nationality.
Despite my pessimistic tone I count myself lucky. I have been given the ability to pick and choose my favourite parts of various different cultures and lifestyles. I have lived in constant, glorious sunshine and in daily, bone-chilling rain and can call both my home. I am able to look at Great Britain and see the faults that my grandparents refuse to see in their ‘great empire’, and I have felt the African pride and know there is more to Africa than corruption and crime.
I know I am not alone in struggling to define the deep love for multiple homes so maybe it is time to redefine where one is from. Is home simply where the family is? Is it which passport(s) you own? Can one be from multiple places? Or should we close the borders to the foreigners within ourselves too?