Where Are You From?

It is a most fundamental question, and one of the first questions we ask when meeting someone new. (Second only to: what do you do?) But recently I have come to see that question as somewhat of a challenge. For some people it’s easy. They grew up in one spot, their family probably still lives there, and they call it home, even though they have since moved away. For others, like me, the world is not nearly as simple as that.

Born in Denmark with a Danish father and Norwegian mother, I usually felt mostly Danish. The four childhood years spent in the U.S., and subsequent moving around within Denmark didn’t inflict on my nationality, but I still never had one place to call home. The city of Aarhus was my home for nine years, but whenever people would ask me: where are you from? I would reply with a lengthy explanation, almost an excuse.

When my parents moved to Australia, Sydney became another home, as impossible as that may sound to people who have never lived in more than one country. I visited once each year and took pride whenever someone mistook me for being a ‘real’ Aussie. Never mind that this is a country of immigrants, and a lot of people here weren’t actually born here. But now, having been here for seven consecutive months, I still struggle with answering the question.

I live in Sydney, but I’m from Denmark. I’m here on a holiday, but I also have work and a home. I have a Danish passport and student ID card, but an Australian bank account and mobile phone number. When I try to get a student discount, I answer that I’m from Denmark. When clerks ask for my postcode, I reply 2076. So where am I from? Sydney? Denmark? Previously, one of my favourite answers has been: “Well, my passport says Denmark.” But while here, I’d rather be a Sydneysider, and while in Europe, I’ll settle for being a Dane.

What am I trying to say here? That geography isn’t everything. Where I am from does not answer the question of who I am. Identity is a whole lot more than that.


Author: Kenneth Mollerup Birch

Living north of Copenhagen, Denmark. MA in Information Science. Interests include communication, internet, sociology, language, politics, religion, theology, travel, music, and food.

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