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"Different Kid from Different Places"
"What does it mean to be multicultural? This question directed the first conversation that Christoph Ferstad and I had together. His insights then as now delight and inspire me. Christoph's mother is Indian/US American, his father Norwegian. He and his brother carry Swedish citizenship, the country in which the family has built a summer home as their "home-base." They are a multi-mover expatriate family because of his father's work in international business. The Ferstad family currently lives in Brussels, Belgium, where Christoph attends the International School of Brussels. He may be contacted by email at email@example.com. I hope you enjoy his essay as much as I."
I was born in Oslo, Norway on October 20th, 1984. I moved to Denmark one year later. Then, a year later, I moved to Sweden. After five years there, I regretfully moved to Germany. Two years later, I moved to Wilmette, Illinois. After another two years, I moved to Singapore. Then, I moved to Brussels, Belgium after living in Singapore for two years.
Now, I am thirteen years old, and I live in Brussels. My mother is Indian, and my father is Norwegian. I am a Swedish citizen, and I have an American green card.
When people ask me where I am from, is it not logical for me to be confused?
I think it was two months ago. I was playing soccer with my friends at school during, lunch. Seventh versus Eighth. We, the Seventh graders, were winning. An Eight grader walked towards me when recess was about over.
"Hey! Good game. I'm Joe," he said as he came nearer.
"And I'm Christoph," I replied.
"So, where you from?" he asked indifferently.
"Well," I started, "I'm from here and there. My Mom is Indian. and my Dad is Norwegian."
Joe's face paled visibly. "That's weird." he stopped, "well, I gotta go!" and he rushed away without looking back. My friend looked at me. I shrugged and turned to go.
People, including children, are afraid of what they don't understand. Some people feel intimidated by me, how I've been and lived in so many places. I have learned to adapt to so many cultures. to eat different foods, play different sports. Some people think I am one of them, until I tell them where I am from. Where am I from? I think I know. I am from...
Earth. So many different cultures, religions, groups, cults, nationalities, races, people; I could keep on going. I belong to all of them. I am an International citizen theoretically, Swedish legally. I don't really belong anywhere, yet I do belong, everywhere. It's complicated. Much too complicated for me.
My first day at CTY. My first hall meeting. Another one of those stupid ice-breaking, or melting or whatever activities. Everyone says they live in America, and that the are American. One is distinctly Korean. Three others are Indian. Ore or two are Chinese. I say I'm from Chicago.
So when people ask me where I'm from, I usually reply with some place with which they can relate to.
Since I go to an International school. it is not very strange to be from so many different places. But when I travel back to Sweden, the US, or India, it really is quite strange.
It was another hot day in Singapore. The streets shined, and the sidewalks glistened. Birds chirped in the trees, and people bustled down below. The wet market stood before us like a disorderly fortress, although the doors were thrown open, like it was expecting us.
The wet market wasn't all that wet. It was a huge open-air market that reeked of fish, fresh fruit, and vegetables. An old lady, her silver hair combed carefully, and her glistening teeth shaped in a smile beckoned us to come taste her fresh pineapple and watermelon.
"Hello lah," she started, "you like watuhmellon n' pineyapple? I have special price for you, lah," she could see that we were foreigners, because the first thing she brought up was the price. Foreigners tend to pay anything for fresh fruit.
But my mom was ready, "I'll take a watermelon, and a pineapple. That should be five dollars, right?
"Oh, no lah!" she sounded desperate. "That'll have to be ten dollars. These," she pointed at the fruit, "special fresh fruit, just for you!"
"Six dollars, take it or leave it."
"Nine. Please? Lah?"
"No. Common Christoph, let's go find someone else," we turned to walk away, but the lady shouted to our backs, "comeback lah! Six dollars! Special price, just for you!"
After we bought the fruit, the woman wanted to know where we lived.
"Well, we live here right now," my Mom replied.
"Oh, but you are not Singaporean, no?"
"No, we are actually American, Mom said, grinning, at me, since we both knew we were not. That's just what we went by when we lived in Singapore. They wouldn't understand if my Morn said we were Swedish or Norwegian.
"Ah! Americans! You are welcome here anytime!" she said in an awed voice.
People view me with a certain amount of respect, when they first meet me, but when they get to know me, we usually become good friends.
I was four years old when I first met him. We have been best friends ever since. Now I meet him only once a year, during summer vacation. His name, is Hampus. I don't think he has ever been outside Sweden.
It was a year ago, I think. Sometime during July. I had gone with Hampus and his family to their cottage in Smaland (small land) in southern Sweden. The small cottage that had three rooms, including a kitchen, sat on a small lake that glistened in the setting sun. Dew sparkled in the fading light, as we arrived in my friend's blue Volvo.
The next day proved promising. The sky was blue, with small white clouds dotting the horizon. The sun was shining brightly, and the clear water of the lake simmered and rippled gently. Hampus and I were going out to help the local farmer build hunting towers in the plains, for recreational hunting.
"Hey boys, come to help with this sticks" the farmer greeted us in his no nonsense way. The stick was 12 feet long, and it weighed a good two hundred pounds. After we had loaded the flatbed with all the huge logs, the farmer, whose name was lasse (1-ah-se) drove around with his tractor. We jumped onto the flatbed as he hooked it on the tractor, and we were on our way. We drove through the woods, and came to a big clearing. We spent the rest of the day setting up the towers, and after we drove back to the farmer's gard (farm), we went inside for juice and newly baked buns.
"So, where do you live?" the farmer started, "I know you're not from around here."
"Umm, I live in Brussels," I answered, unsure of what his reaction would be.
"Ah, a Belgian. I bet you eat lots of waffles and chocolate."
"Actually, I'm Swedish. My dad is Norwegian."
"I thought we won the war against those Norse dogs! And here they are invading our country! Outrageous!" he cursed.
"You sure did, Sir, and Sweden taught Norway a mighty good lesson, but that's beside the point. I'm Swedish. And Sweden is my home.
"Well, I don't approve, but what can we do about it? You're welcome in my house anytime boy," Swedish hospitality hasn't changed in hundreds of years.
Many people have different reactions to who and what I am. Some are afraid. Some are intimidated. Some find it funny. Others can relate to it. I have learned how to blend in with most places I go to, whether it is Sweden, the US, Singapore, or Germany. I am a child of the world, and I belong everywhere.
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