Wait, where am I from again?

Nikita Taniparti, Junior, India

Talk about extreme culture shocks. This semester spent abroad in Athens has been a whirlwind. The past four months have been filled with all things Greek – from the endless fried eggplant and baklava to the countless stray animals that loyally follow every passer-by, from the perfect Mediterranean weather to the “conversations” between people that really sound like heated arguments, and from the afternoon siestas to the very handsome young policemen – this place never gets old.

As an international student already at Notre Dame, I had come to identify as an Indian studying abroad in America. My identity as a student prevailed as I adjusted to the various cultural isms encompassing life in the United States. The American classroom was new and the professor-student relationship was a new dynamic that I had certainly come to respect and enjoy. An expert in the greeting “Hi, how are you?” – with no expectation of the truth – integrated me into the mainstream social courtesies. Fireworks on July 4th on the beach and singing Christmas carols galore – the day after a huge Thanksgiving meal – were something I enthusiastically looked forward to.  While still relating very much with Indian festivals, spicy food, Bollywood dancing and native languages, two years instilled in me an interesting blend of both American and Indian personalities. Every morning I donned traditional hand-made jewelry and clothes from India while I applied copious amounts of very American lotion and lip balm to keep my skin from dying every time winter comes around in South Bend.

Try putting that into context of studying abroad yet again in Europe. Now I am that “Indian girl who studies in America, but who lives in Greece”. In a class titled Immigration and Nationalism we are dealing with notions of what it means to be a citizen of a certain country, what it means to cross borders and establish new standards of identity. How does one assimilate or integrate within other cultures? And do do all these definitions of nationality and ethnic identity come to express one’s sense of belonging? Heavy concepts that we are still not sure we can decisively agree upon.

“There are no foreign lands; it is only the traveler who is foreign”. Indeed, most often people tend to think in terms of how every place they visit is different from “home”. They compare the way people dress (all Greek women only own four-inch stilettoes), what people eat (two words: olives and wine), how they communicate with each other (still attempting to catch on to the sing-song rhythm of modern Greek) and what the place looks like (crystal clear blue waters that entice you to immerse yourself in them all day long). All these things are certainly different the world over, but only in relation to each other. As I have come to settle in and become part of the Greek way of life, all these things have become seemingly obvious. Of course life should come to a standstill every day from 2pm till 5pm to eat and take a nap, clearly you haven’t had enough to drink if you can still coherently ask the waiter for the check, and obviously the cars don’t stop at traffic lights and you just make a run for it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Yes, it is always disconcerting to be the newcomer in any place. You are both wearily and amusedly observed as you face the new culture head-on by the locals. Then one day you realize that you have stopped comparing things in your new surrounding to the things back home: suddenly it dawns on you that home is wherever you are now. Home is where the heart is. And if that doesn’t work, just do what I did last week – take a trip to Italy and Turkey. Then, in the blink of an eye, if it wasn’t already, Athens and Greece became my home and “where I was from”. It was tons of fun responding to people who inquired about our background with “well, I’m Indian, but I go to school in America. Oh, but now I live in Greece, and I’m just here visiting [insert city of choice: Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Istanbul].”

As I wrap up my semester here, it is an intriguing feeling. While I am ecstatic to return to the Fighting Irish and show my solidarity as we battle it out for the National Championship, I also long to go back to India and see family and friends and be spoiled silly. It goes without saying that I will miss Athens, I will miss Greece, and I will miss the love that I have come to cultivate for this wonderful new home. From here on out, “Greek-ness” is yet another identity that I will be able to…identify with. Where next I wonder? I will try my best not to compare everything with the ways things are in Athens, but chances are it will happen anyway. Time to test whether “reverse culture shock” really exists.

Snapshot of my life at the moment:

"The Island of Andros"


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