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Childhood of Cultural Paradoxes

In the Middle East, I never felt out of place skipping along in my shorts and t-shirt amongst the elegant flutter of women’s burkas. I never felt alone or different driving over the desolate sand dunes in my father’s Nissan Patrol, in sight of a herd of camels strutting effortlessly across the uneven terrain. Instead of feeling alienated, I felt special, as if I was part of a broader horizon that only I could understand fully.

Having grown up in the Middle East until I was ten, I lived a life of cultural paradoxes, and the vivid images still live in my mind.

Living in Dubai, traveling to church while hearing the 4th call for prayer booming out of the loudspeakers of the nearest mosque was a regular occurrence. I was either blissfully ignorant or prematurely aware of recognizing the paradox in this. I’d like to think the latter. Either way I saw no issues with this and considered it to be normal.

There are countless advantages towards being an expat child, however I am going to focus on one, which I only identified ten years after returning to the United Kingdom. Having studied philosophy in the first year of 6th form, I was introduced to a concept known as “cultural relativism,” which is where you perceive actions in the context of its culture. It made realize that my own outlook on life has been formed in the cradle of two contrasting cultures. I believe that this left me with the ability to understand and appreciate the cultures and behaviors of people different from me.

For example: our third culture kid backgrounds have taught me and my siblings to appreciate different religions and lifestyles. Ramadan was an annual festival celebrated nationwide when we lived in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and though Muslims are not allowed to eat during the light of day, by nightfall, the women mixed sensual herbs, creating a magical feast for the evening Iftar, which mesmerized my sense of smell. This taught me patience and temperance, and an  admiration for Islamic culture.

While my family and I did not adopt the full Arabic culture while living as expatriates, we have still changed in behavior since our time abroad. Now back in England we collectively discuss the life we had in the Middle East and how such an unusual lifestyle has impacted us. Although my sister out of habit attempts to haggle in shops and my dad frequently breaks the speed limit, we all share a more important comment traits as a result: an open mind and respect for other cultures.

Personally, I treasure the cultural outlook I gained as a third culture kid. It has provided me with the confidence to stretch the sphere we live in to travel, explore and discover. I long to relate to people not directly similar to myself, and enrich my life with an array of relationships, cultures and creativity.

1 Comment

  1. this was a very enjoyable read, especially considering today’s global climate. particularly enjoyed the little tidbit about your sister haggling/dad speeding. lovely old habits!


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