By Camila Karalyte
Circa 1994, my parents decided to move across the world from Lithuania to London. Seeking a better life as most do, they settled and had me shortly after. For the next few years, we lived in cramped conditions with several other families. Although these places were located in the trendiest areas of Camden and Chelsea, it wasn’t luxury townhouses or cute apartments we were surviving in.
Now, over 20 years later, my family and I lead a comfortable life with settled status within the UK. My parents had arrived in a country where they didn’t know the language or culture. Through this, they managed to show their strength and determination to help provide for myself and my sister.
Lithuanian was my first language which I spoke fluently until I started school. As I grew older, I gradually erased it from my vocabulary. I focused only on the bad aspects of my heritage and disagreed with many of the views the country held. I didn’t want to associate with such an outdated country. My parents also had some strong views on how my siblings and I should live, placing importance on marriage and children. This stemmed from their upbringing where marriage was the only way out, and to focus less on work and life experience (if you’re a woman).
I’ve only started to appreciate my background during this past year, so, I’ve stop rejecting everything and started to see the benefits of both cultures combining.
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” – Stephen R. Covey
Being different is good
When your family originates from someplace else, you learn so much about another part of the world. I take pride in my understanding of Eastern European culture, which comes out aggressively during the Eurovision Song Contest each year (we’ll never win but I can dream).
This also means accepting physical features that are prominent within your culture. I used to dislike my ‘big’ nose, but as I grew older, I realised it was my identity. Like my ancestors, it’s strong and unique.
Learning a new language
While I understand Lithuanian fluently, I choose not to speak it. However, it’s helpful for my parents who still struggle with English, to speak to me in Lithuanian.
It is recommended to learn a new language for personal benefits and stimulation. Learning a new language is an automatic advantage of being raised by parents of another country. I definitely showed off to my classmates with this while at school.
Teaches you different values
Every country, religion and culture display different values. Being raised between two will show you what different people consider important and keep you open-minded. It also helps when meeting people from various cultures as you’re more accustomed to their differences. You become more accepting and understanding of the different hardships cultures face.
My parents lived through socio-economic struggles and being ruled by Russia, which helps remind me that I can overcome anything and that my parents have taught me strength through their own disadvantages. They helped me appreciate the simple things in life and that being kind to people means more than you might think.
In a society where communities struggle with cultural appropriation, learn to embrace any differences and similarities between us. We are constantly learning from the families, peers and strangers that come into our cultures, and we need to appreciate how diverse we all are. Each and every one of us has something of value, something that contributes to society- we are all important and special.
I am slowly accepting where I come from and who I am, but it’s not always an easy journey. It’s important to take care of yourself if your family situation leaves you feeling stressed, particularly during the current climate where many of us are facing lockdown with our families.