Words by: Natasha Schapova Art by: Aleesha Martin
I was born in New Zealand but lived the majority of my life in Australia. However, growing up with two Russian parents, I had never really considered myself to be that Australian at all.
Attending a primary school where most of my peers had very Aussie backgrounds, I was the outsider. I wanted nothing more than to shed my Russian identity and plunge into an Australian one where I wouldn’t be told that I didn’t belong there because I “had different blood.” There were days where I refused to speak Russian at home because it only highlighted the disparity I faced at school and reminded me of the shame I felt in being different.
With time, and the experience of attending more diverse schools, I began to accept my background. I saw other students brandishing their cultures in a battle to be labelled the most exotic (back when it was some sort of a flex). After making friends with other Russians, I became increasingly proud of my heritage.
Visiting Russia, I felt like a missing puzzle piece finally finding its place. Russian songs triggered stampedes of emotions and walking through Moscow’s streets for the first time felt as if I was stumbling through a familiar childhood memory.
Upon returning to Australia, I realised my values, beliefs and thoughts that had been drilled into me from a young age were all foreign. I believed I was programmed to be compatible only with Russians.
After completing Year 12 I decided to move to Moscow alone. Navigating through the remarkable city with its breathtaking architecture, surrounded by centuries of history and decorated by people of my kind, I was at home.
My initial euphoria subsided gradually when I started studying in university and struggled to form meaningful friendships. I rarely understood jokes and references, tended to have an opposing opinion to everyone around me and was generally shocked by people’s attitudes and way of life. I felt like I couldn’t relate to anyone around me, and found myself seeking more expatriate events to attend where I could relax in the company of Westerners. My Russian passport began to feel more like a fake ID, whereas underground Spanish bars became my haven.
Visiting a country is vastly different to living in it, in the same way growing up with parents from a land you have never inhabited does not signify that you understand their culture. You cannot merely watch a movie trailer and claim to know the intricacies of the film.
Upon returning to Australia, a wave of relief washed over me as if my armour could finally shed itself in the comfort of my country. I realised I was more Australian than I thought myself to be, albeit not completely, as some Russian ideas and morals were ingrained in me.
Although our background plays a role in shaping us as people, the country in which we’ve spent the most time is the overriding influence. But I don’t believe any of us belong to just one culture anymore. We are the places we’ve lived in, the places our parents have lived in and the place we live in now. With an increasingly globalised world, culture is becoming progressively more fluid and more so a spectrum than a definitive category.
Children coming from diverse backgrounds may struggle initially when their views are in conflict with those around them. But as they grow they become sculptors, building their view of the world based on the messages passed on to them by their parents and their own experiences. Finding home may become increasingly challenging as people entangle their lives with more countries and people, but it also might enrich our identities as we stop defining ourselves as one single culture.