Lost Between Two Worlds

Photo By a Bullis Student

By Michelle Pinkrah | Eleanor Roosevelt

In the era of instantaneous and constant connection, and wide scale global interaction, multitudes of people are exposed to various cultures through digital and real-life interactions. The current century of globalization has allowed for the interactions of cultures, and the spread of traditions, a process that can start at anytime and happen anywhere.

I was two when I first travelled from my home country of Ghana. Growing up as an only child of affluent parents in a third world country meant that although I was surrounded by the cultural traditions and rich heritage of my native country, I was also introduced to and surrounded by global western culture. From watching Barney on my T.V whilst my mother spoke to my aunts in Akan, the native language of both my mother and my father’s tribes, to eating Quaker Oats ™ oatmeal imported in from America. Much of my early years spent in Ghana was a clash of cultures, western norms vs. native traditions. I do not remember much from my first trip outside of the country (to be fair I was only two), nor do I really remember exactly where I was heading (though from the few pictures my mother has of the trip and her testimony, I was traveling to London to visit family), but I do know that the interaction and integration of western culture into my daily life started long before I could remember.

The last time I actually lived in Ghana was when I was four. Though my parents had allowed me to attend school whilst I lived there, they were very adamant about me getting a “western” education; Besides they already mostly lived abroad anyway, so packing up what few things I possessed (as a four year old, it was not much) and moving thousands of miles away wasn’t unreasonable. Moving to a new country and visiting a new country are two very different things. When you visit a country, though you get to interact with the culture already present, those interactions are chosen in away. When visiting a country you do not have to experience everything, however when living in said country you do not really have a choice. Though I grew up exposed to western culture, living in a country dominated by it was a whole new experience. There were many things that changed whilst I lived in London that had to be let go, not out of hatred but out of practicality. My parents were still African, they talked like they were, walked like they were, and felt like they were deep down. But they adapted, assimilated, and put layers upon layers of western cultural beliefs over their native African core. They were still African. When they travel back home the layers of western norms would shed, and the traditions that were apart of them with would burst forth like a geyser, infusing their actions with something wholly Ghanian, something fundamentally African. But the longer they stayed away from home, the longer the layers left a mark. My parents were and would always be African, but they became western too.

I left Ghana before I could really develop a view of the traditions I was surrounded by, but my parents did their best to make sure I grew up aware of the culture that they called their own. Their attempts were not without rewards: even though many of the cultural traditions I had experienced during my early years had changed, many practices also stayed the same. Food was a great example of culture traditions staying the same no matter where I lived, however the loss of my native language was a tradition that changed as english became the dominant language in my life. As I grew up in London, and later the United States, culture clashes between the dominant western norms and the fundamental African traditions that my parents held on to with passion influenced me more than I could imagine. There was a conservativeness and a reservedness that came with the African ideals my parents instilled in me which conflicted with the dominant western norms that made me more outgoing and open-minded.

On one hand, I grew up experiencing the best of what both cultures had to offer, with an understanding and ability to blend the two that came from my parents. On the other hand, I was never at home in either. Too African to be American, and too American to be African, it left me feeling disconnected from my peers and feeling pitted against my parents. No matter how western my parents became they were still Africans- I, however, was not. This feeling of confusion and disconnect from both the cultures that had helped make me who I am, shaped many of my middle school and high school years. I was lost in two very different but important ways of life.

I am still lost in a way. Though I am much older than I was when I moved here, the problems I faced as I was both pushed to integrate and observe western traditions whilst holding on dearly to my own never really went away, but it did get better. My beliefs and ideals both native and American grew and developed with me. I never had a solely American view on things because I recognized that there was more than just that point of view, that I was more than just an American. But I also never solely held on to my native traditions because I recognized that there was a world out there for me to experience. I was brought up observing two differing set of ideals, beliefs, values, taboos, norms, and traditions but somewhere along the way they became one. There are still distinctions in how both cultures influence me, it can be seen in my mannerisms and behavior, my personality and values, but it is not as sharp as it once was.

Never fully African, never fully American, only partially both.