Just Like Me
Something strange happened this week.
Twice I was in a room filled with people who looked just like me — and it was odd. Nobody with dark skin. Nobody with a Middle Eastern accent. Nobody dressed in their country’s native clothes. Only white people, in white people clothes, having white people conversation — and I was bored.
Since I arrived in the Middle East I have been immersed in a melting pot of cultures and I have not stepped outside my melting pot since I arrived. Here in the UAE, my norm has been a mosaic of languages, clothing, and exotic features; all of which I now consider ordinary. One day I asked my friend Wlede, “Is this dress too African for me?” Of course not! was the response. In the States I would have received many stares for exploring fashion outside of my own ethnic group. Here nobody raises an eyebrow. Many days I ask myself, “Who have I become? Do I even still feel American anymore?
I never realized the extent of our global education until Max called out to me, “Yalla habibi! (Come on my loved one — which, as a nine year-old boy, he obviously didn’t quite understand or he wouldn’t have said it.) Another day he tossed out a “Ya know mate” that would rival any Aussies’s. And then he surprised me with the British terms keen, trolley and trainers almost in the same sentence. Who is this kid?
Raising an expat kid is different. They absorb the culture of their classmates and sometimes identify it as their own. They will swear up and down that they are from countries other than their own. Laura, my Italian friend, has three children who assumed they were Chinese. Imagine explaining to your child that although they’ve lived in China all of their lives, they are not Chinese. Interestingly, in their little view of the world they do not recognize the difference.
My friend who is a kindergarten teacher asked her class, “So class where are you all from?” One little boy screamed, “Exxon Oil!” While another little girl with a Texas accent said, “I’m from Saudi.” Many American children of teachers teaching internationally and other expats living abroad have never lived in the United States. They’ve lived here and there around the world, moving from assignment to assignment. Kerstin, my American friend whose children have never lived in the USA said, “I hated it when my kids lost their Aussie accent!”
Of the nineteen children in my son’s class there are probably ten different ethnic groups represented. During holidays the children disperse around the world to visit family or vacation in far away places. The cultural experience an expat child receives in the UAE is unmatched. Yes, we are living in the Middle East but we are truly receiving a global education due to the overwhelmingly large expat community. We are a melting pot larger than New York City. And fortunately for me, I am learning to pick and choose the best each country has to offer.
When deciding to move internationally, our goal was to create a global citizen. Someone who isn’t defined by geographic borders, an inherited culture, or misinformed by the evening news. Someone who is as comfortable in Dubai as he is in London. Someone with a kind heart, an accepting spirit and a thirst for knowledge and exploration.
And then one day Max said something to me that was so British it made me smile.
I realized with the quip of his little British slang that this experience was achieving its bloody goal.