Exploring bridges: burning them, building them, and what it all means.

I literally took a trip down memory lane the other day. I was asked to drop a file off at a building across from where I lived when I first moved to the city. At first, the thought of going there filled me with absolute dread – it had been a really weird time in my life when I lived in a grim, box-sized room. I had been overwhelemed by the city, threatened to be swallowed whole by the dirt and the noise; overstimulated but also lonely. I was young, with no coping mechanisms in place – it is not a time I remember fondly.

I saw the pub on the corner, the familiar trees on either side of the road. I walked slowly down the street, expecting that feeling of dread to fill and suffocate me. What happened next was weird – it didn’t happen at all. The large Georgian building made me feel next to nothing. I was merely an observer, and it was merely a building. I realised I’d given it so much power in my mind, only to realise it was just bricks and concrete.

It seemed that perhaps without the shadowing of subjective memory, all these bad times that I hold in the back of my mind with near reverence were the same, just times. Would it be the same for some of the other periods in my life? The flat in Greece we were burgled in, the inner-city hospital that saw my first big loss? The school I struggled to fit into? Have I been carrying all these bad memories, cards tightly held against my chest, for nothing?

As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve become used to leaving places and likely never going back, leaving people and likely never seeing them again. It’s my modus operandi, my protection; never looking back was something I thought was beneficial. The other day made me realise, however, that sometimes going back is good. Sometimes confronting the skeletons in your closet, or the places that saw your perceived worst, can be beneficial in order to truly move forward. Sometimes, on closer inspection, they don’t actually look like skeletons at all.

Jus Sanguinis and Soli: Traversing borders and privilege

I recently completed an IELTS English test for academic purposes, and it was an eye opening journey for me into the privilege I am afforded by being a white European. Disclaimer: I am neither a journalist, nor an expert in border control or privilege, I just really want to share my experience.

We sat the IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) exam in London. Passports that sat on candidates’ desks ranged from South Korea, to the Philippines, from India to Argentina. What struck me was the sheer scale of people wishing to complete an exam, with over 100 in our group and more on other days and at various other locations. The test questions were simple enough to a native or proficient speaker, however a lot of testing relied on the ability to understand a host of complex instructions. Let’s just say it was a pretty weird day. After discussing my favourite season and which city I thought was the most beautiful in the speaking test, similar to what I would have done in high school French, I reflected on the people surrounding me.

The IELTS test, ‘the world’s most popular English language test for higher education and global migration’, is one of the gate keepers of migration to many English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, the USA and Canada. These countries can also be desirable destinations for foreigners, as was shown by the commitment to a nearly 8 hour test process.

Maybe I’m looking too far into things, but I guess it felt different being a native speaker doing the test because I wanted to, because of potential opportunities. And others were too, but I wondered about where they were coming from, and their reasons for being there. Where were they intending on heading to after this test? Why were they leaving their countries of birth?

I am a white European. I have free movement across the EU and Schengen areas, I moved to the UK simply by boarding a flight and opening a bank account. I easily complete a quick ESTA form to visit Canada or the US. However, I am also a South African citizen with a South African passport. My family are South African, I know about their struggles with visas, embassies, and bureaucracy. I know my little green passport gets me into far fewer places than my red EU-member one, which delivers 165 countries  without a visa in comparison to 98. Brexit has already made me think about this issue, it’s brought it firmly close to home. An atmosphere of closedness, of closed-mindedness is in my view detrimental to any country. Especially for the UK, relatively successful in recent decades due to free travel and connections with the world.

I’m keeping my options open, particularly for academic opportunities. I have that luxury, that privilege to up and leave when I prefer a change of scenery. Open borders are currently a privilege, a luxury. For those with citizenship to a ‘powerful’ passport through jus sanguinis (blood right) or jus soli (birth right), this privilege is closely guarded. Borders are kept tightly closed to people with less powerful citizenship, only ‘desirable’  candidates need apply.

Looking back through history, powerful western nations time and again have taken from other countries and made them poorer. Colonialism and slavery clashed cultures with a heady power imbalance. Jamaicans thought themselves to be fully British subjects, and felt immense pride in fighting as part of Britain in WW2. Cut to now, where the Windrush scandal threatened to take the rights and dignity away from members of an entire generation.

On Instagram I’ve seen the hordes of influencers and wannabes travelling the world to tick off as many countries as possible or to get the ultimate photo. You have to be beautiful and relatively well off to see the world to cure your #wanderlust. However with conflict, climate change and economic difficulty causing more and more people to uproot and head abroad, perhaps we need to review our perception of travel and borders. Of course no country could have completely open borders, each country needs to evaluate what is best for its citizens. But we have to see that travel is not just a luxury, but a necessity for everyone.

Freedom to pursue opportunity; be they in western countries or if powerful economies were devolved to developing nations; should be every single person’s birth right, not just through luck of the draw.

An Admission

I have an admission of sorts; it’s been an interesting summer. I’ve taken a break from social media, from viewing my life through a lens. I’m still not sure if it’s made me more, or less happy. Only time will tell, I guess.

Why did I do it? Did I do it to make a stand against an ever-increasingly online world? To protest against knowing what an old school friend had for brunch, but not what they do now? To limit the confidence-busting pictures of unattainable perfection? To ease the pain of waking up on a Saturday, seeing the intimate details of a night you were not invited to be a part of? Some or all of those statements are true – I’ll let you decide.

Mostly, I just would rather spend my time doing something constructive instead of The Endless Scroll. Maybe it was that BBC Panorama documentary about social media and smartphone use. However you look at it, I feel social media heightens certain aspects of interaction. This can be great, but it can also leave a bitter taste. It’s easy to go from feeling worthwhile to worthless in just a few minutes. The conundrum of the social media age: I have 650 friends, so why am so alone? I would rather try shape my world view myself – without the intrusion of story upon story, scroll after scroll, like and heart and still nothing to show.

I’m not an influencer, a Kardashian or a boss babe. I am me, I write and I read and I worry about Brexit (as an EU national – shock horror I know!), and I cook dishes that get eaten and sometimes not photographed.

I have drawn my boundaries, spent some tome cold turkey, and feel I am ready to return to Sudden Stranger on my own terms. No one needs another #travelbae, and any more reasons to be jealous of a life they don’t have (or judging one inferior to theirs).

I have found some difficulty in trying to find my place in the world as a third culture kid, struggling to find a ‘tribe’ that share some of the experiences I have had. I have decided to embrace my place between the grey of here and there, in between continents and nationalities, and instead I guess I will ‘build it and they will come’.

So I would love to work on creating a platform for people who feel the same.