From Brussels to Reykjavik...and now Cambridge

Dísa Greaves considers the meaning of ‘home’ for people with multiple cultural identities, drawing on her personal experiences of living in Reykjavik, Brussels, and Cambridge.

'Home' can be a tricky word for people who have multiple cultural identities. Since starting university, the question “so, where are you from?” crops up time and again as I meet new people. It sounds like a simple enough question, but I am never quite sure how to answer it.

I was born in London in 1998 to an Icelandic mother and an English father, but have since been living in the heart of Europe, Brussels, for the last decade-and-a-bit of my life before Cambridge. It’s a classic case of the ‘Third Culture Kid’- someone who has spent a significant part of their childhood away from where their parents originate from.

La Bourse, Brussels

While living in Brussels, I attended an international school. I followed the British curriculum, my teachers were almost exclusively British, and many of my cohort were, too. Much like Cambridge, it was a bubble, with my whole life centred around this community of Anglophone, multicultural students. We all had similar backgrounds and mixed nationalities; had moved around various countries due to expat parents, with a quasi-English and little-bit-of-everything culture. Because while Belgium was where we lived, we were not Belgian at all. Spending all our days immersed in English inevitably meant we did not truly identify with a large part of native life.

This was the norm back ‘home’ in Brussels, but is less the case in Cambridge. Here, people are either British or international (and it is hard to identify with either when you’re sort of both). When I first meet casual acquaintances, often I just resort to the generic ‘London’ answer - which is not totally untrue and spares the long explanation. Other times, if I’m in the mood to hold the conversation, I’ll say “Iceland,” which invariably garners a few “oohs” and “aahs,” or the classic “I went there for a geography trip once!”

Reykjavik, Iceland

Funnily enough, the place that I’ve spent the most amount of time in - Belgium - rarely gets a mention on first encounters. It seems a bit unfair, since my formative years were spent there. But the whole ‘life-story’ seems a bit of a heavy answer for a question that wasn’t asking for an essay.

Iceland, strangely enough, is probably where I feel most at home. I’ve been going there since I was 3 months old, multiple times a year and often for a month at a time. I suppose this has created some sense of stability. My mum always refers to our trips as ‘koma heim’ - going home. ‘Home’ is what everyone in Iceland refers to the country as, and so do I. Maybe it’s the intimacy of a small city that I know so well. Maybe it’s the people - some of my best friends and closest family are there, so I feel invariably at ease and happy there. Or maybe it’s the fact that the physical home we have there has been the only home I’ve sustained for my whole life.

Regardless of not truly ‘belonging’ to any of the places I call home, be it my room in Pembroke, Brussels or Reykjavik, I feel very lucky to be able to have this dilemma. People often say the language you think and dream in dictates where you’re really from, and I often switch into thinking in Icelandic from English after spending a substantial amount of time there. It can be frustrating not to have a clear national identity, but this has made me able to cultivate a meaningful connection to more than one country… a first world problem for a ‘Third Culture Kid’.

Dísa Greaves is a first year Land Economist and is the Pembroke Street blogger