When I was younger, I fell in love with the Welsh word, hiraeth, a word that bespeaks a constitutive element of human identity: a deep love for a homeland and its people. This love for home runs so deep that when away from home, an individual is always struck with the longing to return in order to feel complete. I fell in love with the word because I longed for a home to long after. What I soon found, however, was that my search for a home to define my identity would lead to the understanding that my identity can make a home of anywhere. As I grow up, I’ve learnt that my identity is always changing and growing, present in my relationships, challenges, and my future.
I was born in Zurich, Switzerland to a family of Swedish expats. My family traveled nearby to France, Italy, Greece, etc. on short vacations and I started at Zurich International School at 3. When I was five I made my first transcontinental move to the US and now 18 years later I wait to make my 6th one to London. I never belonged to a homeland. I felt as if, like my mismatched clothing, my identity was a mess. My sister later introduced me to the concept of the displaced ‘third culture children,’ who, like me, find themselves in a limbo of cultural belonging. I used to feel discomfort by this limbo that kept me from the love that hiraeth represented to me. However, I have since found that the absence of a singular land and culture has allowed my curiosity to become the defining factor of my identity. I approach others wishing to learn more about their world, I spark change in myself, and I will be pursuing international relations and law to defend the one thing I know we all have in common, our humanity.
My first best friend Katya is Ukrainian although she was born in Australia and grew up in Switzerland. Everyone I was around at that age was so different culturally that it was as if no one was really different at all. It would be nice if the rest of my life had been as simple as those first five years but the twists of life led me to the most amazing people. My best friend in Texas had fled Venezuela when she was a child because of threats to her father. Although it's been almost six years since I last saw her, we keep in touch occasionally and whenever I see Venezuela on the news I think of her. One of my first best friends in North Carolina had a similar story and we bonded over our interest in other cultures. Over time we began to drift apart but now and then we reconnect to remember the amazing memories we share. Sometimes that’s just the way it happens when you are young.
In the upcoming days I will be saying goodbye to my two very best friends. She stood by me through a tough junior year, a car wreck, a concussion, and depression, always reminding me to rise. He taught me how to laugh again and to believe in true love. They both showed me what true friendship is like. How you support each other, make each other better, and fill each other's lives with joy. I have no clue how I will say goodbye to both of them but I know we will always be a part of each other's lives. Friendships are a vital part of what builds us and my friends have changed me for the better no matter where we stand today.
Sometimes we change for the worse because of our environment. Sometimes we find ourselves looking around at a friendship that has gone unhealthy, a tender hand that has turned into a weapon, a reality that has been skewed, or a job that has made you feel stuck. Often times we find our environment shaping the person we become but when things go bad we get to stand up and shape our environment. I found myself in friendships that weren’t healthy and in an emotionally abusive relationship, but from it I learnt how to truly believe in myself. I was told that I was something different from who I was and that what I believed in didn’t matter. I discovered that the words of self-doubt in my head belonged to others and I realized I needed help. Through therapy I was able to find the voice in my head and weed out what had been poisoned. The voice I found wasn’t the same as before, she was stronger.
Who I wish to become
I was told once that you cannot help others until you have helped yourself first. This is because we can’t truly understand and sympathies with others until we have found our own strength. We might then end up with therapists requiring therapists or a bully president. By finding that I wasn’t limited by my lack of a Hiraeth, that the coming and going of friendships could build me, and that the things that make me feel less like myself make me stronger, I helped myself. I now find myself more ready for the world. I can take my cultural curiosity and interest in human rights and turn it into a career. It’s scary to leave home and the comfort you find there, but I know that this will be a good change. I will take in the boundless culture of the city and the myriad of knowledge my school can offer me because we take in that which makes us stronger like the sword of Gryffindor.