Do we need to get out of our house to see how it really looks like? How does being away effect our image of ourselves, and our identity? “Travel far enough, you meet yourself”, David Mitchell said. We asked young Europeans who live far and away to share their experiences with us. Anete will introduce you to her journey. She wanted to discover India. But, just as Columbus, she found another continent along the way…
Identity can be tricky thing to define. Often it is much easier to define who you are when you are suddenly forced to look at yourself and your beliefs as an outsider. Living abroad does offer unique opportunity to do so. Whilst being a high-school student and later a freshman at the university in Latvia, I found it difficult to define what “being a Latvian” entails. Is it consumption of enormous amounts of dark bread, active participation in the Midsummer celebrations or annual birch sap tapping or none of the above? However, the difference between me – a cool city slicker (or at least that’s how I liked to imagine myself) and countryside folk was evident. They have nature, fresh air and true sense of community, and I have old street cobbles in the city center and hundred unwritten social rules to follow.
When I started my studies and travel around Europe, suddenly what meant “being a Latvian” for me became crystal clear – awesomeness of boiled potatoes with dill with marinated herring and honest delight when someone would correctly name the capital of my country being just few little pieces of kaleidoscope. I even learned what being eastern or northern European meant (in Baltics we like to think we belong to both). I could bound with a Pole or Czech on subjects ranging from “do you remember the first Mickey Mouse magazine” to “why our politicians are so ridiculous” and become absolute besties with a Finish and German when discussing how Spanish people can shamelessly show up four hours late to a party or simply just being absolutely comfortable being silent…together.
Now I am in India and I guess I am slowly learning what it means to be European. India, however, is a completely different deal. It is not just geographical distance or differences in the food, the weather or the driving habits. It is everything. The differences in belief system, philosophical concepts and interpersonal relationships can be staggering – from perception of time to the meaning of love, from work ethics to family relationships, from women’s rights to the importance of the community. I am afraid to sound very cliché but India with all its contradictions cannot really be explained or understood, as both sides of spectrum regarding whatever area of life can be true at the same time.
For example, India has strong female figures in every walk of life from politicians to entrepreneurs, yet child marriage and dowry deaths are equally common. Thus, despite the profound differences, it is really difficult for me to state what are they exactly, as it very much depends to whom or what I compare my experiences with – a private school graduate with posh English accent or women’s rights activist from rural Bihar. What I can state with more certainty is my sudden realization how small and distant Europe can seem when you are outside it. In New Delhi alone there are 22 million people, 11 times more than the whole population of Latvia. India, with its 1.2 billion people seems to be an absolute giant in comparison to the combined population of 500 million people in the EU. The questions of what future holds for Europe and what will be the relevance of European project, and to larger extent European identity, have encouraged me to think more actively what being European means to me. We might disagree on what it means to be European, but living outside Europe surely will make you want to figure it out.