Where's She From? Oh, Really? How Come She Doesn't Speak Our Language?

I was born in an English-speaking country.  My parents spoke English to me.  I took longer than most kids to learn how to speak.

When I was four, my parents decided to move back to their home in Asia.  My new country had a different language.  Most people spoke a tiny bit of English, but the primary language was something else.  Since I had been a slow language learner, my parents were afraid I would forget all my English and be effectively mute if they forced me to learn my country's language.  They sent me to English-speaking schools.  Outside, people would only know that I was supposed to be from that country, but I spoke the language terribly.  I was embarrassed.  I clammed up and never spoke in that language unless I had to.  Plus, I had a sort of snobbery about how badly people spoke English there.  Sometimes I wish I could go back and give my four-year-old self a good slap on the face...

I stayed in that country for eleven years before I left for boarding school in the country where I was born.  That's where I work now.  My parents didn't move, and every time I go back to visit them, I feel exactly as I did during my eleven years there: helpless, trapped in my own home, and disconnected from the people around me.  I know it's my own fault.  Foreigners who came to our country learned the language better than I did.

I was thrilled about going to boarding school.  I was ready to find my home again.  But when I arrived, I realized that the people were nothing like what I was used to.  Even in my old school, where everyone spoke English, the culture was just different.  I hated the superficiality of my new classmates and their bloated self-importance.  I cried a lot in the beginning.

But then things got better.  I stopped stereotyping the people in my school, and realized that there were many admirable people from whom I could learn.  I started to see aspects of the culture that were helpful, though I was at first extremely wary of adopting those in my own life.  Seven years later, I can say with confidence that I belong to the country where I was born.  I have a home now.  It's amazing.

Now I just worry about what will happen when my parents are older.  I'll want to take care of them, but they won't want to leave their country.  My mother says that if I ever need to come back, and get a job there, I'll learn the language with no problems.  I'll be able to lead a proper life there.  I hope she's right.

preciousstone preciousstone
22-25, F
5 Responses Jul 27, 2009

Hey preciousstone,<br />
Please be gentle with yourself. Being moved around like that is difficult. <br />
Your four-year-old self did not deserve to be slapped in the face, and I don't think it's your fault that you haven't picked up the language in your parents' country. It sounds to me like some of your developmental process and sense of identity and self have probably been profoundly disrupted at a young age. This is *not* your fault. It sounds like you have not had enough support to deal with these things.<br />
Feeling "helpless, trapped in my own home, and disconnected from the people around me" is horrible, I know because I've been there for most of my life (though "home" has never been a constant).<br />
Take care and feel free to message me.<br />

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yes i know exactly what that feels like. @miyon - that's exactly how i feel when i go back to africa. i look african, but i'm no way an african by my culture. i can't stand their backwards ways. people expect me to act a certain way and i did it because i didn't want to embarrass them, but my days of fakery are over, thank god =)

Ouch. Been there, done that, got the scars. What a painful way to learn a lesson.

Hi, my name is Miyon. I am a third culture kid who grew up both in and outside my Asian passport country. As I was reading your story I could relate to you a lot. For me living in my passport country is more challenging than living in countries outside it because of the expectations people have about the way I should be. I am supposed to be "one of them" and yet I would feel different from them and not quite live up to their expectations, especially my parents' and relatives.' I would be frustrated because people who I thought should understsand me the most were sometimes the ones who least understood me and pressured me to change. While this was a challenge I was judgmental towards people who did not speak the language I was fluent in. It is interesting how I can be judged but I also place judments upon others.<br />
<br />
Anyways thank you for the story and I hope you are doing well there in your passport country!