Foreign Correspondence: “And Where Are You From?”

Written by Nina Hanz


Although I’ve been dreading the question all summer long, as I waited for my semester abroad to finally begin, upon the day of my arrival I’d still come no closer to having a satisfying answer. Whether motivated by politeness or genuine curiosity, it never felt like a question with a simple response. If you are like me and your accent doesn’t match your passport, or you’ve never lived in one place long enough to qualify as a local, you will understand how difficult it can be explaining yourself to a stranger. Either I launch into a long story that explains my different versions of home, or I lie to spare myself the trouble.

The easiest answer seems to be “I’m German-American,” but sometimes this does not satisfy those looking for a concrete location. I may have German blood, but my upbringing is more international, mostly growing up in Singapore. I might currently be attending university here in Cornwall, but I usually study in the Netherlands. To complicate things more, I was born in the United States and moved around a lot there too. As you might be able to tell, by my second day in Cornwall I already felt this simple question was too complicated for me to answer adequately. It strikes me that when strangers ask “where are you from”, I prefer to give a description of my identity rather than a country that I have lived in.

 

Having now spent a few weeks in Falmouth, I have come to appreciate the fact that my accent prompts this question from so many people. It’s been the starting point for multiple friendships and has inspired an overwhelmingly welcoming response from those who’ve asked. The Cornish community both on campus and beyond has made moving to a new country on my own exciting rather than scary. Whether sitting on a bus, in ASDA or lost somewhere on the south west coastal path, the general public has included me in the community, even if I’ll only be here for three months. The simple act of striking up a conversation allows for international students like myself to be integrated into daily life here, even if it does require a certain amount of patience to get me up to speed on what I’ve missed on The Great British Bake Off.

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