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.
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’.
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?