The “C” Word

Cosmopolitanism Allows Us to See, Unclouded by our Cultural Sunglasses

I am sitting on a double-decker train from Geneva to the Zurich Airport. Nestling on a turquoise seat, the peaceful clattering of the train speeding over the tracks brings back memories of my earlier life in Switzerland, even more vivid as the train passes through the villages along the way. A homelike feeling overcomes me, and I close my eyes to take in the atmosphere.

A few hours later, I am on a plane to Vienna. As the plane tilts to the right side to bank into a curve, Vienna leaps out at me in a burst of high energy illumination. In spite of a few tears of regret on my right cheek, I am still excited to be back in Austria. Minutes later, the Airbus 319 lands at Schwechat Airport.

Though I grew up in Vienna, my cosmopolitan lifestyle that took me for extended periods to Ireland and France as well, has helped me feel at home everywhere, and in a way nowhere. It seems worthwhCile, but I wonder sometimes if I have lost my identity, the feeling of knowing where I actually belong.

Cosmopolitanism, often defined as citizenship of the world, has brought many advantages, such as cultural exchange, international cooperation, open-mindedness, or share of technology and knowledge. But has also posed many challenges for us nomads.

It’s our cultural background, our identity, that guides us in whatever we do. It’s impossible to see the world objectively; we all go through life with cultural sunglasses on.  But living in different countries challenges the way you perceive and define yourself, who you think you are.

Moving to other cities, countries, or continents, uproots you out of your home environment, forcing you to adapt to a new way of life and thinking, including habits, people, food, weather, customs, and probably most importantly language.

It certainly teaches you how to adapt to new situations – a skill very useful in all areas of life. But the fact that you sometimes can’t relate to these new places at first, with the things that used to define you at home taken away, makes you question where you actually belong.

And once you have gotten adjusted to the new, it makes it even harder for you to decide where you want to spend the rest of your life – especially if you have family, friends, or perhaps even a partner, in one or more countries.

I often feel I am leading parallel lives. I feel at home when I go back to the countries where I had lived, but also get homesick for Austria. And once I go back to what I call home at the moment, I start feeling an urge to return to Ireland, Switzerland, or France to spend time with my friends and do all the little things that shaped my love for that country while I was there.

But in the end, I think it is better to see the world than sit home in front of the TV, bombarded with Traumschiff dreams of what the world out there could be like.

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