Lessons learnt

Ghanaian beach

Over the last few weeks I have been learning some important lessons, both from my recent university enrollment, and from the greatest teacher of them all…life.

University has started and I have just completed my first university assignment in 20 years. And in a case of biting off more than I can probably chew, I have also signed up for an MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) from the wonderful EdX.

The perfect example of our globalised world: locations of students in my EdX course.

The perfect example of our globalised world: locations of students in my EdX course.

Needless to say university has changed, ah…somewhat, since I last put pen to paper as a student 20 years ago. In my undergraduate course all those years ago, my first assignment that was not handwritten, but actually typed on a computer (how I loved you Apple IIC!), was actually my last undergraduate ‘assignment’, my honours thesis. It was the first assignment where the map was not carefully coloured with colouring pencils, but drawn on a computer. My husband and I completed the same degree, and I still feel somewhat remiss that his colouring-in skills are superior to mine. I remember the shock and disappointment in his voice that I had not done all my colouring-in in the same direction and maybe just a little outside the lines.

Now everything is on the ‘cloud’, the lectures, the class discussions, the classmates…everything is virtual. I have a whole week to be ‘late’ for my lecture. It is posted when I am fast asleep. It’s easy to feel disconnected from the whole process, there is no one to skip class and sneak off for a coffee with, or more realistically in my undergrad days, sneak off for a beer.

First lesson: Everything is different.

Especially the topic…

‘The petrology and pressure-temperature conditions of the blueschist overprint of the Pam eclogites, New Caledonia’ is about as different from ‘A creative response to globalisation’ as is possible within the university system. But the latter is what has been filling my days over the last few weeks. A creative response! It filled me with almost as much fear as those dreaded words…’Now break up into small groups and work together on this’. I thought a series of magazine style interviews would be appropriate, my lecturer suggested a series of video interviews. Video interviews? I would have to listen to my own voice, I would have to learn video editing software, I would have to….it was all so far out of my comfort zone.

But then I got to thinking. Surely this university course was about learning new ways of thinking, breaking old molds, thinking outside the box. You know what I mean. I was nervous that no one would want to be filmed while I interviewed them, I was embarrassed to ask, surely everyone was too busy to want to help out a student.

Lesson number two.

Everyone I asked said yes. Then they suggested other people who would be great for the interview as well. Before I knew it, I had too many people. I was humbled and excited. But you see I had picked a topic close to every expats heart.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have become quietly obsessed with the idea of home. After a few weeks of thinking of little else but the effects of globalization, particularly it’s impact on developing nations, and the incredible interconnectedness of much of the world today, it seemed a logical step to talk to people who lead incredibly nomadic lives about their concept of home. All of the people I interviewed have lived across cultures. One friend has lived in more countries than I have fingers. Anoher friend grew up abroad and has returned to Ghana, a repatriate. True global nomads.

We talked for hours. Conversations about home turned to broader issues. We discussed the impact of aid and the presence of multinational companies in developing countries. About whether traditional cultures should be actively protected in the face of globalisation. About the clichés we are fed about Africa from large media organizations, unwilling to share stories beyond child soldiers and ebola virus. We wondered why developing countries seem to have so little faith in their own products, preferring the imported goods of the west. We talked about western perceptions of globalisation, about the all too common expression ‘A McDonalds on every street corner’.

coke ad

The masters of advertising: Coke appeals to it’s Ghanaian customers.

We all agreed that globalisation in all its forms, whether it is media imperialism, the spread of multinational companies, and the interconnected nature of the world today, globalisation is here to stay. What differed significantly from what many people in my course were saying, is that all of my interviewees recognised that there isn’t a McDonalds on every street corner, and nor is there likely to be any time soon. My friend was referring to the spread of western culture when she said,

‘I just don’t think globalisation is actually that global’.

They all spoke of a mixing of cultures rather than a great homogenization of culture into one great North American mass. It was not the Western-centric view of the world; it was the view that the world was increasingly interconnected, and the impact of this interconnectedness was largely dependant upon the resources of the individuals. What I found most heartening was the impression that it’s about hybridization, not homogenization. And while crossing cultures can be a very challenging step, it can lead to greater understanding and empathy between cultures.

Interesting lessons indeed.

And on the home front? The best lesson these global nomads taught me was about home. Home may be a place you have always held dear, or it may be constantly changing. Home is where you feel loved and understood, it may be where you share a history or plan to share a future. It is firstly about the people, and secondly about geography. On homesick days I dream about the coast near my hometown, but what I am really dreaming about is the sense of connection that place gives me.

And I realise the mistake we made, as newly minted expatriates, was to constantly refer to Australia as home. Yes it is home, and will always be. But for the time being, Ghana is home too. And while it is difficult to cross cultures, it shouldn’t stop us from calling our little place in the world, wherever it may be, home. I think it may have eased the culture shock a little had we been more proactive in calling this place home.

Recognising you can have more than one home, recognising your personal geography can change, recognising that it is your choice, recognising that your experiences shape who you become. There is a great freedom in this, from where you live, to how you choose to live your life. Home is what you make it, where you make it is up to you.

But the most important lesson?

How bloody lucky we are that we have the choice.

What do you think? Do you have a place or many places you call home? Has it changed over the years? What makes it home?

14 responses to “Lessons learnt

  1. Ah such a topic. I’m not surprised that you had everyone say yes and that you all talked for hours. It’s SUCH a deep subject and one that touches everyone who experiences a shift in what “home” means.

    We have many homes, but the reality for us is that it is only as deep / for as long as we are living there. We uproot pretty (I guess?) quickly and re-root in the new place, BUT we take along with us the flavor, culture, and especially the friends … so all of that combines to a traveling and seemingly always moving definition of home.

    LOVE that you hit upon the fact that it is always our choice. It is ALWAYS our choice. I wrote about what the moving does to a person’s definition of self and the response was overwhelming … such a big topic!

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    • Hi Naomi, Thanks so much for your comment, and interesting to note that the feeling is only deep while you are living in the place. In my assignment we chatted for ages about trying, successfully and not, to assimilate into other cultures. I think the further away the culture is from your own, the harder to assimilate, and also the history of the place you have moved to. The black-white issue still looms here, but can be a barrier. One of my Canadian friends now feels completely at home in South America…I guess, as always its about the friends you meet. I really enjoyed your circle-square-triangle post, and loved that my kids are stars! (I always thought so!).

      http://www.sixdegreesnorth.me

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  2. As you noted, you can have hours of conversation with many and not get an easy consensus, nor should you. What’s important is the discussion exists and continues. Good for you for jumping back into the higher education pool, sharing your wisdom and making a difference. I’ll be contacting you via Twitter to discuss a book project I’m working on. (I’m on as @Linda_A_Janssen, @resilientexpat & @in_expatland)

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    • Hi Linda, Thanks for this, it is really important the discussion continues, as I know the conversations here have not only changed the way I look at my own life, but have really helped in the adaption process. I’ll contact you on twitter now. Chrissie

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  3. The sad thing for me is that I come from a country that no longer exists. Born in England, grew up in Rhodesia, stayed on in Zimbabwe, now an Australian based in Ghana, Rhodesia will always be the home of my heart, but one can call many places home and be content living in them. Does it ever come to the point where to misquote Rudyard Kipling that all places are alike to me. Is that the true effect of globalisation, to touch and enjoy many cultures but like the insect that skims across ponds, submerge in none?

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    • Hi Jayne, Thanks so much for your comment. I completely agree that it is possible to call more than one place home, and perhaps in your case that home is now part of memory. In my conversations for the assignment we spoke a lot about being able to immerse yourself in a new culture, and I think some cultures are certainly harder than others to feel truly part of. We felt completely at home in Canada, but here, with very different cultures and the burden of history, it is very difficult to not just skim across the pond. I think the best we can do is enjoy and learn from the cultures we are in, and in some small way, give back. Thanks again. Chrissie (ps are you in Accra?)

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  4. Pingback: Repatriation Anxiety: Is It About “Coming Home” Or “Leaving” Home? | Life Lessons·

  5. We are in our 5. Country by now :-) Home is where my children and husband is as well as our family photos, wall paintings, candlelights, lamps, cooking books etc. All those things we have collected the last 15 years and is shaping us.

    Admit I probably have one cubic meter of christmas decoration but it is all worth it every December when we unpack :-) That is part of having a home!

    Though the real challenge will start when you children leave home to study. Then what is home as the most important part of home has left. They might stay in “home country” and you are still traveling around…..

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  6. Hello Chris, i am ALWAYS happy to hear that you and family are doing well.
    Hmmmmm, you are giving your internet family and friends a homework assignment (“What do you think? Do you have a place or many places you call home? Has it changed over the years? What makes it home?”)…….i like it…you are certainly unique in your writing because this is actually tougher than one would think…it automatically sends most of us thinking and rethinking the path or paths that we all have either taken or chose not to and where and what were the outcomes.

    It is way to hard to answer or respond to in short….but i live my life as an adventure and cannot imagine any other way.

    Don

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  7. Hi Chris,

    Another great post & certainly an interesting topic amongst those of us who are nomads.

    I suppose at any given point, I call two countries home. Obviously, Canada is home but it doesn’t take long before my current home feels like home either. I’ll be interested to see what happens after we leave Norway. Two years out of Gabon and there aren’t any lingering ‘home’ feelings although perhaps if I stepped foot in Port Gentil again it would all come rushing back?

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  8. at school my daughter was asked what made a home- her response was – my family- asked why? she said because without my family i feel scared. she was seven at the time and it totally flawed me- for us where we are as our family is home

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  9. Hi there. Just wanted to let you know it’s nice reading your blog as you are letting me see Ghana in a different way. I was born in Ghana and I moved to Australia to study when I was 23. Would be nice to catch up sometime when I’m in Ghana.

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