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Immigrating to an entirely new country is a difficult experience, no matter your background. Immigrating to an entirely new country as a teenager creates an identity crisis unlike any other.
I was 14 when my family moved to Canada from Georgia, the country, not the state. My brother, who was only two years old at the time we moved, had no issues integrating into Canadian society. He speaks perfect English and French, possessing the same thoughts and tastes like any other Canadian. He expresses no attachment to Georgia as his country of origin and is content with speaking very broken Georgian.
My parents, on the other hand, never really integrated into their new community, nor did they wish to. They had practically spent their entire lives in Georgia and see Canada only as their second home. They don’t consider themselves Canadian, only Georgian. I, along with my younger sister, was an adolescent stuck between these two extremes. I could never learn a new language as quickly as my brother could, but never formed the attachment to Georgia that my parents did.
When I first moved to Canada, I didn’t speak any English or French, so I devoted myself to improving these languages to better fit in, going as far as only speaking in English with my siblings. Despite eventually achieving fluency in English, my slight accent remained a glaring indication of my non-native roots: an impasse to the cultural assimilation that I so greatly desired.
As a rebellious teenager, I continued to deny my Georgian identity as much as I could. To me, Georgia represented everything old, traditional, and conservative. Because of this, I rejected almost everything connected to it, including religion, food, and people. My parents were horrified by my atheism and refusal to eat meat, which represents an important part of Georgian cuisine. Canada, in comparison, appeared modern, liberating, and ultimately, better.
I refused to visit Georgia for years.
When I finally went back after six years, my disconnection from Georgia made me realize how much of an outsider I really was. I spoke the language fluently but didn’t understand popular terms and expressions, my thoughts and ideas were mocked for being too “Western,” and I felt so clumsy with my lack of knowledge of Georgian social etiquette. At one point, I tried tipping the taxi driver after he gave me a ride home but instead of gratitude, I was met with anger.
At the same time, however, I was shocked to discover how much of me was still connected to and shaped by this country. To my surprise, I realized that I held the same values as other Georgians when it came to hospitality, friendships, family, and love. I found the Georgian culture and people much warmer and more familiar to me. I felt a sense of community that was always missing in Canada.
Furthermore, revisiting the places I grew up in felt like being in a dream. Everywhere I went I could see the memories of myself as a kid. In my neighborhood, I had flashbacks of my cousin and I biking around at my old school, I remembered rushing to my classes every morning and the anxiety I felt before my German class. In the end, I returned to Canada feeling reconnected with my roots—proud of being Georgian, but also more aware than ever of my Canadian side.
Gradually, the feeling of belonging to both countries but also to neither faded. In its stead is the acknowledgement of a simple truth—that I am sometimes Georgian, and at other times, Canadian—and I’m no longer conflicted about it.
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