The concept of identity is multifaceted, no? In a world obsessed with labels, identity, specifically with who and what, is consistently debated and analysed.
Yet, fluidity and inclusivity is now the norm and pinning ourselves with various labels – ‘gay, straight, white, Muslim’ – is becoming a little passé, and not to mention archaic.
But, what about cultural identity? Our homeland and place of birth defines us, while maybe not in an emotional way, certainly physically and logistically. But what if we’re emotionally detached from the motherland?
Questions such as this intensify after a prolonged absence from the place you call ‘home’.
I am an Australian woman, with a British mother, and I have been living in London for nigh on two years. In my native Australia, I was emotionally and physically detached from my surroundings. Intrinsically, I was Australian, but I didn’t necessarily identify as such. Rather, I pined for an abundance of culture and history, and my small coastal town did little to quench my thirst. The beach was at the epicenter of all our lives – ‘the best free playground you have’, as my mother would say. And this is true, but I wanted more than the beach, barbeques and beer. I wanted to visit galleries, go to the theatre and attend openings. Forgive me for saying this, but suburban Australia’s cultural pursuits and offerings are slightly lacking.
To me, London was the ‘cosmopolitan capital of Europe’ (before, Brexit). I longed for its diversity and cultural and historical richness. I was very, very hungry when I came to London (metaphorically, mind). I was 23, and I wanted to embrace the city wholeheartedly.
I moved to London as a penniless student, which was not wise. I had no connections, no money and even fewer prospects. Thank goodness for safety in numbers, as I moved here with my partner. I worked in various menial jobs, of which oven selling is the most revered from the list.
It was a wretched time. I lived hand-to-mouth, and couldn’t enjoy the many sights and offerings of this great city. I couldn’t even afford the tube.
London is projected as a universally vibrant, inclusive and culturally rich city. Indeed, it is – if you have finances.
It was during this time, as a poor foreign student, that I finally identified with my cultural roots. I was an ‘Australian’ living in London. I yearned for the easiness and openness of home and felt totally distanced from the city I was now inhabiting. I still do, to an extent.
While the bank balance may have changed, I am still a small town Australian girl, living in a city of 8 million people. London is an impenetrable bubble of rich and successful people with glowing CV’s and even better references. Foreigners are the backbone to London’s hospitality industry, but how many have made it to the boardroom?
Yet, I am still here, negotiating my way and desperately trying to ‘get ahead’.
If moving to London has taught me anything, it’s that I am innately Australian. Maybe it’s naïve and slightly juvenile to suddenly identify with my cultural heritage when not a regular resident. But alas, the saying: ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ continues to remain true.
Australian or English – the two are inextricably interwoven, yet remarkably disparate nonetheless. In fact, I am rather proud of being an Australian in London, if only future employers would be too.
Read more about my move to London, by clicking on the links below: