Now ten months into my current stint abroad, I’ve reached a crest where Australia seems increasingly foreign. It’s been a stark realisation to say the least, but as I’ve discovered it’s a pretty common sentiment for people wedged between two cultures. We are lingering perpetually on the fence and unable to decipher where and what home really is.
What’s familiar to me now is where I live currently yet that feeling of home is not yet there. Nor will it probably ever be. On my balcony as I marvel at the vastness of the clear night sky, pondering how overwhelmingly grand our world is; only to remember that the stars I’m seeing are invisible to the people I’m closest to.
Life is increasingly thrilling and endlessly rewarding here on the other side of the planet yet there always seems to be something slightly astray. Nine different time zones away in Switzerland, where the moon doesn’t shine at the same time and the stars don’t align with the Southern Cross. Home is neither here nor there; my heart is confounded and divided between two proportionately foreign lands.
Yet I know I’m not alone in this conjuncture. Particularly in Europe where it’s so commonplace for people to pack up everything they know and shift their lives to a bordering yet estranged land, only to be confronted by endless cultural and linguistic barriers.
I spoke to two Pakistani men on a bus trip from Milan to Zurich. Exhausted after a long weekend fending off feisty Italian guys (and that’s not a reflection on me!), I planted myself down on my seat alongside these two smiling gentlemen. Naturally, none of us knew in which language to say hello. After an uncomfortable extended moment of silence they said, “buongiorno” to which I replied good afternoon in German, at which point we introduced ourselves in English. An anodyne of relief for me.
The moment I mentioned I’m from Australia their cocoa eyes lit up and they fired me questions about cricket. To their disappointment I could tell them little more than about the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a place that I unpatriotically haven’t been to in almost a year. I felt uneasy, aberrant even, to be quizzed on such a topic that now seems so distant to me. Then a lasting pang of discomfort swept over me as I began to consider all of the things that maybe I’ve forgotten from my original home.
The two cricket fanatics recounted to me their similar experiences of dissimilation during their six years spent living in both Italy and Germany. The isolation encountered due to the plethora of languages in such a small geographical area was a recurring theme, as was the T20.
Ironically enough as we crossed the border into Switzerland just as the sun was going down, it dawned on me that as we strive to adopt the culture of our new “home” it increasingly becomes a part of our identities. Correspondingly we sacrifice memories, traditions and familiarity with our Motherland. We are all scrambling to be part of both but in doing so not resolutely feeling part of either.
I have a while left here to figure out if it’s possible to really belong to two cultures. Until then I’ll stay on the fence, drifting between these two recondite continents and wondering which hemisphere’s constellations are brighter.