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Becoming Yourself Through Others

Being part of an international study course I encounter a lot of assignments evolving around “intercultural sensitivity”. Considering myself as someone who enjoys meeting people with different backgrounds (and personalities) I assumed I was doing quite well in this department. Yet, this block we were assigned to fill out our own “Intercultural Development Plan”. Not looking at other cultures (per se), but rather reflecting on your own culture, your own community. And I froze.

As soon as I began to hit puberty it was pretty clear to me and my parents that I was an individual, not a collectivist. I dreamt of moving out, carried my own opinions and was not afraid to shy away from becoming what I wanted to become. Independent.

A community, what community? I could not identify with being seen as Dutch, Surinamese or a “Groninger”. I was raised Catholic, but would I consider myself a part of that still? No. Placing myself within a category, a group seemed unfamiliar to me.

Then, rock bottom. I have always found it ironic, and almost beautiful, how I often find inspiration in the worst moments and experiences. I am a person who needs control. A person who can’t stand the unknown. Covid-19 made sure I had to face these issues. Throughout the first month of being in quarantine, my mental health and motivation dropped significantly. I had these flashes of inspiration, but could never grasp concrete ideas to direct it to. Eventually, I became this shadow-version of myself, continuously wondering what I needed, why I was feeling this way. I lost track of myself. I began to hide in my relationship. And it wasn’t until that broke that I began to realize I did have a community. It just wasn’t one hiding in plain sight.

The way I viewed and understood the definition of a community is the nationality you have, the culture you grow up in, or the religion that you have been ought to follow. I was wrong. I think the definition should be the following:

“A community is the red thread through your life that leads you back to who you truly are when you lose sight of this. A community is a well-woven web, wonderfully spun by yourself, of the places, people and experiences that build you up and allow you to grow into the person you want to be.”

As I lost myself in my relationship (and then lost this relationship) I got the sense that everything around me shattered. Who was I now? This independence I had always identified with seemed to no longer be, well, me. Through all the kind and uplifting words I received from the people around me, through all the comfort handed to me in my favourite places and the emotions and hurt that arose caused by the break-up, I was shown that in fact, I was part of something bigger. A community.

My community consists of all my favourite places in Groningen. It consists of the warmth and comfort my friends offer me, showing me how strong I am. It consists of my housemates who have become a whole new family to me. It consists of being closer to my actual family now more than ever.

I do not think anyone can embody a community. It is the other way around. Your community is a reflection of who you are as an individual. And it supports you. For me, through hitting rock bottom, I realized what my community truly looks like and who I want to be. I want to be how they see me. I want to be how I see them. Beautiful, honest, and encouraging.


Written by Elize Greidanus