I moved to Berlin from Washington D.C. at the end of last year, well over a decade since I had last lived in Germany. And although I had a local passport, spoke the language, knew the city and looked the part- I had never felt more foreign in my life.
I grew up in six countries, across four continents, speaking three languages, surrounded by peers of over a hundred different nationalities. I am what has been defined as a Third Culture Kid, the third culture referring to the experience of such an itinerant child, where he/she is influenced simultaneously by their parents cultures and that of a foreign host society; raised as a sort of cross-cultural hybrid. Such an upbringing unarguably cultivates valuable skills and perspectives which I have always prized, but I realized recently that it also comes with burdens far more complex than having to make new friends every few years.
When I decided to go back to school and complete my studies in my home country, I had not anticipated the identity crisis I would face upon my return. I had always identified as German when I was living abroad. But returning to Germany the cultural disconnect between this society and myself, threw me completely.
It was as if the well-travelled, cultured, European young woman that I had projected, and perceived myself as, was put in front of a mirror for the first time, and I had absolutely no idea who she was.
Caught in a limbo of belonging everywhere and nowhere all at once, I’ve struggled to piece back together the sense of self that I had before my repatriation. Identity relates closely to a sense of belonging, and even though I was probably never more German than I am now, my faith in that facet of my identity was never challenged until I came “home”. I realized that I am as German, as I am Lithuanian, as I am American; which is hardly at all, for all of the above.
But I have strong relationships with all of the cultures I have been immersed in, even if I don’t have complete ownership in any of them. My identity is not tied to any one location, but is instead the collective experiences and connections I have gathered in each. Like my Lithuanian grandmother cooking traditional dishes (that still taste of childhood) in our kitchen in Tanzania. The Sri Lankan influence lives on in my constant effort to be as unconditionally positive as their people are, even in times of immense hardship. Canada taught me that I don’t care much for maple syrup or winter sports, but our time there will always be associated with a period of great growth for my family and myself. And it’s in Washington D.C. I’ve begin to learn about myself and what I want.
I am not so native anywhere in the world- and although it is an intimidating realization- I’m embracing it. Life is about creating yourself, and every day that I put toward my passions I’m getting to know myself for who I want to be.
Not So Native is a manifestation of this identity through my art, itinerant lifestyle and my love for travel and culture. There is so much drive behind the launch of this site- so stay tuned for a lot more content coming to this space.
Photography Dave Mentzer