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Embracing multiculturalism: lessons learned from being bicultural

Updated: Jan 1

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'A bicultural upbringing is a rich but imperfect thing' - Jhumpa Lahiri

As a child, I had the opportunity to grow up in Lebanon and Sweden and experience two vastly different cultures. Multiculturalism. From a young age, I witnessed the stark contrast between the Western and Eastern ways of living. Living in two other societies left a lasting impact on how I view and interact with the world.

I often struggle when speaking about my identity or identity in general. Although I would currently classify myself as 'white-passing' and acknowledge the privilege that comes with it, this was not a goal I consciously pursued; instead, it turned out to be an indirect blessing or stroke of luck as I grew up. This is especially significant considering my childhood and early adolescence when, along with some family members, I experienced firsthand the harsh reality of racism. These early experiences can deeply impact a person and have profoundly shaped how openly I discuss my identity and how much I embrace my Arabic heritage.

In my experience, revealing my Arab identity to others can sometimes elicit assumptions that I am susceptible to certain beliefs, which I know to be untrue. These encounters have propelled me on a journey of self-discovery, forcing me to confront and understand who I truly am.

In my personal experience, I have encountered both gains and losses while transitioning between two different societies. Exposure to other cultures and customs broadened my perspective and understanding of the world. Being exposed to another language also helped me acquire it at an early age. However, I felt a significant disadvantage when figuring out my identity. I often felt that I didn't belong to the Swedish/Scandinavian or the Lebanese/Arabic group during my childhood because I was not entirely Swedish or Lebanese. I was seen as the Arab kid among the Swedish crowd and the Swedish kid among the Lebanese crowd.

While living in Sweden, I was hesitant to reveal my identity when asked where I was from because I was unsure of how people would react. I felt like I didn't fit into either group since I don't have any blonde hair or blue eyes, typically associated with Swedish people, nor did I want to deny my Lebanese heritage to the latter group. In some situations, I would identify as Swedish to avoid adverse reactions; in others, I would proudly identify as Lebanese. The sense of alienation might be one of the reasons why I decided to move to the UK to study.

Since moving to the UK, I have felt a stronger sense of belonging than in Sweden. My academic journey in Scotland has enriched my education and fostered a deep connection to the community and student culture here. I share more in common with the communities in the UK than I did in Sweden. I attribute my newfound sense of belonging to my early exposure to British media. I vividly remember my mum's fondness for British TV programs, especially her interest in British mysteries such as Midsomer Murders.

Additionally, my preference for watching movies in English rather than the dubbed versions in Swedish further immersed me in the linguistic and cultural nuances of English-speaking countries (although it tended to be difficult to drag my friends to the cinema in Sweden due to this). This unconscious choice reflected my interest in the English language and created a sense of connection and comfort when I eventually moved to the UK for my studies. My mother's and my unconscious preferences and proactive engagement with English-language media have undoubtedly influenced my sense of belonging. These early exposures helped me navigate through Scotland's academic and social landscape. It helped create a deeper connection to British culture and helped me integrate into a society that has become an integral part of my life today.

My university helped me connect further with my Lebanese and Swedish background through my university's optional modules. My lecturers and supervisors also encouraged me to embrace both cultures, which helped me feel more comfortable and confident in my identity. Andrew, for example, helped me realise the importance of being bicultural. Once, when I spoke to him about my reluctance of talking about my experiences with being bicultural, he highlighted how important it is to be from another culture and being bicultural. He described how a person in my position can contribute massively to the world we live in, which others can't, by offering different and new perspectives.

Throughout my time here, I became fascinated by the prospect of discovering podcasts and written materials that document the personal journeys of individuals who have undergone identity crises or related experiences. To that end, I have compiled a collection of resources on the "Identity" page on the free resources tab, including audio, video, and written works that I found compelling or relatable in some way. These resources document the experiences of individuals who have navigated complex identity issues. CLICK HERE

'Identity is such a crucial affair that one shouldn't rush into it.'

I have yet to figure out my identity, and I believe that to be beautiful. I believe that we do not have to have everything figured out in life; because if we did, there would be no thrill to it.

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