321: How Does Place Impact Identity?
There are many different things which can impact your identity, for example nature, nurture and environment. Nature is what you’ve inherited from your parents, like your hair color. Nurture is how you’ve been brought up or raised. Environment is where you live and the influence of your peer group.
I was born in Oslo, Norway, to a Norwegian father and British mother, who brought me up bilingually. Since a young age, I was strongly influenced by European society, beliefs, experiences and culture. Norway was a very homogenous society, everyone was mostly in the same social class, followed the same traditions and shared the same beliefs. Life was comfortable, moved at a slow pace, was fairly predictable and for most people, followed a set path. I knew what my life would’ve been like in the future. I’d probably have gone to high school with the same set of people I knew in kindergarten, gone to college, graduated and gotten a job, bought a nice house and a cabin in the mountains and spent winter shoveling snow in my backyard. I would’ve been a completely different person than who I am today.
When I was six years old I was abruptly torn apart from Norway and thrown into a completely contrasting place when I moved to Shenzhen, China. Life here was very unpredictable and moved at an extremely fast pace. Things here changed all the time. Buildings that weren’t somewhere last week suddenly shot up. Shops were replaced every month. People came and left so frequently that I had a new set of friends every two years. I have already moved houses four times in the seven years I’ve spent here. Life moved at Shenzhen speed and was extremely transient.
Shenzhen is very diverse, and unlike Norway, it is multifaceted and includes people from all kinds of races, backgrounds and social classes. From beggars in the street to rich people wearing designer clothing.
I started going to an international school soon after we moved here. At school people naturally formed cliques. Humans tend to gravitate toward people with similar backgrounds and interests as themselves. Because there were no Norwegian kids in my school, I had to adapt. To fit in with the crowd, I had to look for different parts of myself that might be similar to the people around me. Because of this I developed a strong personality and went from being an introvert to an extrovert. Instead of looking for people with a similar culture, I made friends based on similar interests and complementary personalities. I hung out with different people from different groups and wasn’t really part of one single clique, but friends with people from many different ones. The diversity of the cultures in Shenzhen had brought out a side of me that I didn’t even know I had. I had taken on a new identity.
After a while, my parents wanted me to learn another language, so they enrolled me in a Chinese school. I remember being nervous on the first day, not knowing the language or culture of the people who would soon be my classmates. I was very nervous, but I made friends very quickly. I immediately became friends with the two other foreign girls in my class, as they were the most similar to me. Even though I hung out with the expats that went there, I liked to talk and play with the Chinese kids as well. Learning Chinese helped me connect more with the locals, fit in with the culture and understand it better. There is something about speaking the same language as another person that shows you how they really are. It allows both them and you to express yourselves and to understand each other more. Over time I came to see that language is a strong part of a place’s identity and how much it can influence your understanding and view of that place. The language I used to communicate made me feel like an entirely different person.
Nature and nurture have obviously strongly influenced me. Many of my personality traits have been handed down from my parents and my upbringing has definitely impacted who I am. However I have first handedly experienced the influence a place has over identity, and when it comes to Shenzhen, this influence is definitely positive. It has made me more tolerant of the differences between people and made me more comfortable with change. It has shaped the person I am and love today.