Cultural identity crisis?

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Sometimes I would ask myself, am I Chinese or Norwegian, or am I both? It´s not something straightforward but it doesn’t´t bother me either. Most of the time, I don´t think too much about it. Some reflections are made from time to time of course, but I definitely  haven´t developed that condition, what`s it called again? – Cultural identity crisis.

I spent my childhood and the first part of my adolescence in my hometown Shanghai, (I actually missed the rest of my adolescence, this point will be mentioned later in the post) my life turned into another direction when I was 16, it didn’t come as a huge surprise anyway, the Tarot card I had selected a few years ago predicted that I would move abroad though it didn’t say exactly which country it was. (I got obsessed with Zodiac Signs and Tarot cards when I was young) I wasn’t alone, I moved to Oslo with my family. Sitting on a swing and dangling back and forth on that very first Sunday night in Autumn, the thoughts hadn’t settled yet but the excitement wasn’t to be mistaken.

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It wasn’t a particularly smooth start as it turned out. Life was a bit hard the first 6-7 years, I skipped school, can´t remember how many times I did it. It was something I kept to myself. My parents didn’t have an easy life either, being their dutiful daughter, I couldn’t bother them with my troubles. It may be wrong to refer them as troubles, it´s more like complicated feelings of an teenager who has suddenly slipped into a tough world unprepared and starts experiencing the less delightful side of life. (Norway is a lovely country, “a tough world” refers to the circumstances around me at that particular period of time) The fact that I had always got fairly good results certainly gave my parents the confidence that I would keep on doing well. I was doing ok the first two years, but for some complicated reasons, the motivation gradually decreased. I was very much on my own, something I wasn’t quite used to. I missed my good friend tremendously, and kept writing down the words I intended to tell her in a diary. It ended up being lots of words, and tears. Numerous of letters were sent to her at that time. (Looking back, strangely, it seems that I only got one good friend during my entire childhood and the first part of my adolescence)

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Sitting on a bench in the park, I could see the front door of my school and hear the bell ringing. I did feel a bit sad, and lost. The kind of feeling you get when you feel you belong to nowhere, and there´s no one you can talk to. What´s worse, you can´t even figure out what´s actually bothering you.

Over time, I seem to have developed the kind of personality which involves various types of qualities that sometimes contradict with each other. There´re many thoughts flying around in my head from time to time, in all kinds of directions. (I prefer to use the expression “from time to time” rather than “constantly”, which might sound a bit worrying) It can be spontaneous ideas to my next blogpost, a passage in the thesis I´m working on, an interesting comment on my blog, some inspirational advice from a podcast episode, reflections from a yoga session … These thoughts seem random, but when I think deeply, they’re actually inter-related. Sometimes it reminds me about the literary term “Stream of Consciousness” – a narrative mode that attempts to describe the stream of thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind. The concept of “Stream of Consciousness” was excellently demonstrated by Virginia Woolf in one of her best-known novels – “Mrs Dallorway”, utterly intense and highly recommended! (However, you may get puzzled by the stream of thoughts coming from various characters the first time you read it, just as I did. Keep going, it´s a masterpiece of British literature) I´m not quite bothered by the stream of thoughts in my head anyway, but I guess people around me (especially my close ones) would get a bit upset as I may appear to be detached or have very poor hearing at times.

I haven´t quite talked about the identity issue yet, and I’ll continue in my next blogpost.

Thank you for reading it and feel free to leave a comment!

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Author: Isabelle

Content writer / editor & Language advisor

14 thoughts on “Cultural identity crisis?”

  1. Hi Isabelle!
    Lovely passage on your state of mind during the first days and years in a foreign country. What had stuck in my mind is this swing picture — I imagined you vividely sitting on that swing, deep into your thoughts, and feeling very lonely. I’m sure it was not only the cultural shock we’d been experiencing but also a sense of a lost — lost of your home country, lost of your best friend, lost of your identity. I’m glad you’ve overcome that difficulties eventually and found sources for new energy and inspiration! 😉
    Cheers,
    Cat

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    1. Thank you for the comment, Cat! Good you caught that scene – sitting on the swing and dangling back and forth. It sort of signals the start of a new and unknown life. Looking back, I can still sense the loneness and uncertainty which dominated my life at that time. It was a dark period. I guess most people would experience some kind of darkness during their life. Some periods are harder to get through than others. A change of direction seems necessary or inevitable at some point, and it’s often the change we have to make ourselves. Again, thank you Cat!

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  2. I was ten when me and my family moved to the US. It wasn’t easy for me either especially first couple of years.. But now I’m a grown-up and as I look back, I can say that the experience eventually helped me become a better person. No pain, no gain. I think.. Looking forward to the next posting. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for the comment, Ethan! You made my day 😊 I was sitting here feeling a bit worried that perhaps this post was too personal – is it wise to reveal so much about yourself, how interesting is it for others to hear about your childhood and personal experiences? So good to hear that you’ve got some similar experiences and find the post interesting (I suppose you do:)
      Now it makes sense why your English is brilliant. I can’t do American accent but I can do the British one. I lived in London and Leeds when I was studing International Marketing many years ago.
      Life was a bit hard the first few years, but as you said, no pain, no gain. Can’t agree more. If it doesn’t turn you down, it makes you stronger.
      Will write more about my life in the next post. Again, thank you!

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  3. Hi Isabelle

    At first, I’d like to thank you for this post, your thoughts, very personal I think. It is great that you’ve found a way to express yourself, writing can cure everything that bothers us time to time.
    You say about cultural identity crisis but what I want to say is not only about moving to another country when you may drop into some dark thoughts about your identity. Disconnection, lack of basic emotions in childhood, lack of close people whose around you these aspects also can provide to crisis of identity. Why am I here, why I run life like this and so on. We have to find ourselves regardless of consequences our past life, find a motor which will provide us towards personal success, to a better life.

    best regards
    Agnes

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Agnes! I’ve realised that post of this kind, and especially half finished post can be a bit ambiguous as it leaves room for individual interpretations. Identity crisis or confusion hasn’t been a problem for me, I think I’ve tackled cultural differences quite well and over years, have found my (unique) identity between the two cultures. Since I’ve been living in Norway for so long, naturally, I’ve adopted more values that can be seen as Norwegian (or Western oriented). Hopefully, I’ll be able to clarify a few things in my next post. Thank you Agnes for deep reflections and interesting thoughts! 😊

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  4. Hi Isabelle,

    I haven’t really put much thought as to how the cultural identitet crisis has affected me, from the day I moved to Norway as a 9 years old girl till now at the age of 42. At least not untill your bloggpost. 😊 What I am certain of is that I believe I am more like A Norwegian than Chinese.

    Unlike you I am more a “present” type of person and a bit lazy, haven’t got a lot of questions or constantly analysing happenings in my life. 😜 What I have encountered in the past, both good and bad experiences, formed the “present me”. Our path is formed by our past experiences and our future decisions, right? 😉 I hope you will continue writting and share your thought with us till we are both grey and old, and along the way I would more than happy to share my thought with you if you want. We need to have some girls night soon…

    Looking forward to see you and your lovely family next sunday! 💖

    Your beloved cousin xxx

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    1. My dearest cousin, thank you for the lovely comment! I agree with you, having lived in Norway for so long, it would be hard not to adopt the Norwegian values and norms. But when thinking deeper, it seems hard to define the typical Norwegian values. What’re these values, in what way are they distinguishable from the Chinese ones? I usually notice the differences when I have my holiday in China. Some differences are more remarkable than others and it’s always interesting to make reflections.
      I think my identity is, to a great extent, shaped by my past, but it’s not fixed and is changeable depending on the circumstances around me.
      It would be nice to catch up, see you soon 😊

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    1. I’ve been living in Norway for many years now, much longer than I did in China. I often feel I belong to nowhere. I’m a mixture of two cultures. That’s how I define my identity 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Belonging nowhere makes it very sad. If it is the way you really feel about it, I hope one day, you get a clearer vision of your personal history.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve accepted that I’m a mixture of two different cultures. It’s fine. Given that I’ve grown up in two cultures, it’s natural I think. This is my identity 😊

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  5. I do hope you accept this bi-cultural belonging as a positive thing. I realise it’s probably not always easy, but it makes you richer!! Have you shared this Chinese part of you with your children or are they 100% Nordic!?

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    1. I think they’re very much into the Norwegian culture and have adapted the values that are typically Norwegian. It must be a natural development, none of them has friends with Chinese background and they don’t have a good grasp of the Chinese language either, which is a pity I’m sure.

      Liked by 1 person

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