"If you can find your footing between two cultures, sometimes you can have the best of both worlds." — Randy Pausch.
For some of you who are reading this now, and at one point in time, you've experienced the low, gnawing feeling that is unbelonging. It's a feeling that won't let you sleep at night and hits when you're surrounded by people who don't look like you.
It's the feeling you can't always pinpoint, but it's nagging at you.
I'm Asian American, but to get more specific than Asian, I am Thai. For the first 19 years of my life, Thailand was my home. Surrounded by familiar scenes, foods, and faces, I never doubted if I belonged.
But I must admit, I don't think my 19-year-old self was quite prepared for the culture shock that would hit me when I immigrated to the United States in 1972. Upon my arrival, I recall gazing up at Lady Liberty with exhaustion, yet amidst my fatigue, I couldn't help but smile at the thought of my new beginning.
To my dismay, the honeymoon phase of moving to a foreign country soon ran dry as time passed. And I was left with an empty, homesick feeling. This was then coupled with that constant feeling of unbelonging. That nagging feeling again!
The concept of not belonging was uncharted territory for me. It was unfamiliar; at first, I couldn't quite place my finger on what I was feeling or why I was feeling it.
But then, all I knew was that something felt off, leaving me isolated in a sea of people.
It wasn't until later that I realized I was experiencing the effects of living in two cultures—not belonging to just one culture but two. All at once, I was bombarded with new customs, expectations, and beliefs. I felt stuck between two worlds, never really belonging to either.
But over time, I slowly started to feel more comfortable in my skin as I learned more about both cultures and myself.
Finally, I realized that the feeling of unbelonging wasn't a bad thing. It was something that made me unique. It was something that molded me into the person I am today.
And for that, I am grateful.
I'm grateful for my Asian heritage and all the richness it has brought into my life.
I'm grateful that I can view the world differently because I am of two diverging cultures.
The feeling of trying to squeeze me into American customs while retaining my Thai roots was exhausting, and it eventually led to me concluding that it was simply unsustainable.
I knew compromising one cultural aspect of my identity to accommodate the other was not healthy, so what do I do now?
I started to do things that made me happy rather than what I thought would make other people happy.
And through this process of self-discovery, I slowly started to feel more comfortable and found pride in my Thai heritage. I realized that I didn't have to lose myself to gain the approval of others.
I'm grateful that my adventure to a new land resolves positively.
Now a successful entrepreneur, I no longer feel different because I'm genuinely proud of my Thai heritage. As a result, I possess no desire to change aspects of my identity or hide parts of myself away.
It's a long and lonely journey sometimes, but it's worthwhile.
"When you embrace your unique culture and perspective, you can change the world around you." — Aura Alex
This is my second entry to the November Challenge hosted by Debe Maxwell, CRS. Thank you for the thoughtful challenge during this beautiful season of "sharing."
Photos by: Shutterstock & Canva