National identity and a sense of belonging

I am fascinated by the idea of national identity, and where people claim they are from. I am intrigued by those who don’t feel any sense of national pride, versus those who fiercely defend their family’s heritage, regardless of whether they have ever lived there themselves. I spend a lot of time with children from a whole host of backgrounds, religions, nationalities, and with more spoken languages than I can keep up with.

Across my small class of 18, we have 13 nationalities, and 8 different mother tongues, and what makes it all the more mind blowing, is that each one of these children speaks fluent English as a second, third or even fourth language. This never fails to amaze me, as they have no real concept of just how impressive this is. Without so much as a second thought, they will speak one language to mum, perhaps another to dad, a third to their teacher, and even a fourth to a nanny or a cleaner.

In addition to this, although some of them may have lived their whole lives in one place, the majority of these children have spent their short lives moving from city to city, school to school, and have lived in more countries than the average person has holidayed in. They have the most wonderful stories, a whole wealth of life experience, and more knowledge about the world around them than you could ever imagine from someone three times their age.

On the face of it, this sounds like such an exciting and fascinating existence, wonderful preparation for the future, second and third languages on a plate, and exposure to children from all corners of the earth, so prejudice and bullying is almost non-existent. But when you scratch the surface of this enviable existence, where do these children come from, and who are they?

It is interesting for me to watch where their allegiances lie, which football teams they follow, and which country they will support of given the choice, because it is not always so clear cut. When it suits the situation they will back the USA no questions asked, but will fiercely defend the Spanish if needs be, or the Ecuadorians if the issue is raised. One of the most interesting parts of the school year is sitting down on the first day and asking the class what their nationalities are, and what languages they speak at home. You would imagine this would be a 5 minute task, yet in reality there is so much to discuss, and so many children that just aren’t sure, that before you know it, an hour has passed. Is your nationality where you were born, where you live, where your parents were born? Because for some this could provide up to four different choices.

I am in two minds as to what I think about these phenomenally bright, interesting, multi-lingual, multicultural children. Are they living the dream, a once in a lifetime opportunity reserved only for the lucky few? Or are they lost souls, destined for a life of globe-wandering, never sure who they are or where they’re from? Do we need a national identity? Is where you come from really that important? Or is it enough to just be?

The need to belong
The need to belong
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