By Isabelle Barjon, student on the Poitiers campus.
“Where are you from?” A simple question that often elicits a simple answer. However, I believe that this issue is far more complex than it seems. Nationality is different from identity.
I’ve always found it difficult to feel patriotic. Brought up in France by an English mother, a Franco Brazilian father and more or less raised in an international school – I’ve never strongly felt that I belonged somewhere. There was always a leak in my knowledge, an element of culture that I didn’t know or understand. The Europeans that I’ve met have always been so attached to their history, the richness of their language, the beauty of their societies. During my early adolescence, I rejected my French origins because I felt snubbed by my peers for not being “French enough”, for such as never having watched a Louis De Funès movie. However, my misunderstanding of my northerner grandfather’s thick but warm words dragged me out of my British shoes. Additionally, my Brazilian passport felt like a superficial accessory, only useful when starting conversations at parties.
Neither French nor English nor even mildly Brazilian, what could I possibly be? A permanent tourist, constantly observing and learning from where they’re travelling to. When I went to Paris, I felt like I was conducting a comparative sociological study, making little notes-to-self such as: Parisians do everything a little faster, overall dressed in a more daring manner, don’t take much sugar in their expensive coffees…
Fortunately, as I was shedding my last petal of hope, life led me to Poitiers. I was met with a whole new vision of self-worth and solidarity. The Latin identity welcomes you with open arms and a warm mug of cocoa. Latin America is so diverse, but each country’s custom completes another to create a harmonious, rich but somewhat confusing whole. Being so far away from their homes, the students’ culture brings them closer to their native countries. They often say that their homes have been brought to Poitiers. It’s a pride, that they carry with them like a responsibility to honour and to cherish.
Also, I discovered that for example not all Mexicans are Mexicans. I met students that were French by nationality but had lived their whole lives abroad thus whom I was “more French” than. Often, I found myself explaining this mysterious culture to others, and taking pleasure in doing so, suddenly my years of experience were given a purpose. It was the first time in my life that I ever felt legitimate of my French nationality. Therefore, to me, the most appealing aspect of Latin culture is that it doesn’t discriminate. Unlike most European countries that I know of, it’s not as picky. It’s like a good parent, flexible and understanding. When I was younger, I used to get made fun of for telling people I was Brazilian because apparently, I wasn’t allowed enough to because I had never lived there. The Brazilians in Poitiers heard my despair and accepted me, with my dodgy Portuguese and my very limited knowledge of their history. Simply because they saw in me the shared love I had for their country.
Now my vision of identity has changed. I’m not where I come from, neither where I have lived, nor what languages I do or don’t speak. What I am is a delicious concoction that I prepared myself of all of my experiences and passions. Now it’s much simpler to answer the question : “where are you from?”. Simply : I study on the campus of Poitiers. An umbrella term that says it all.