When I was little, I was always aware of the fact that I wasn’t from the country that I lived in – the UK. Looking back I never really felt ‘conflicted’ about my identity. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a country and city that’s already so culturally diverse and open-minded that it never really felt strange to be from a different background. In my eyes, I’ve had the best of both worlds. But then I took a trip to explore Colombia for real and I gained a completely new perspective. Here’s how I connected to my Colombian roots through travel…
Growing up Colombian in Britain
I grew up waking up to the smell of freshly-made Arepas and the sound of salsa on the weekends. I’ve also enjoyed simple British pleasures, like getting a bag of chips from the local fish and chip shop on the way home from school, or the sip of a warm cup of English tea on a cloudy afternoon.
I’ve read many stories and met people similar to me over the years. Some of them have shared their struggles to identify with a particular culture, regardless of the colour of their skin or country that they grew up in. If you’ve ever felt ‘ethnically ambiguous’ because you don’t look a certain way or speak a certain language, it’s definitely something that’s a lot more commonly experienced than you realise, and that’s also okay!
Over the years, I became more curious about my Colombian roots, as did the people that I met along the way. I’ve been asked everything from: “If you speak Spanish, why is your accent so different?” to “Have you ever wanted to move back to where your family is from?”
2017 was a key year in my life for this reason, because despite travelling back to my country of birth to visit family every couple of years, I’d never really seen Colombia as a child, let alone as an adult.
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Travel can be educational
In the six months that I spent travelling around Colombia, I got so much more than I bargained for! I got to visit some of the most picturesque towns and cities that I’d only ever heard about, got to know my family better and felt a strong sense of pride for the heritage that I was born into.
On my travels, one of my favourite stops was the historical city of Medellin, which is Colombia’s second largest city and is famously known for its annual flower festival. As I toured the city of Medellin on its cable cars and trams, the thing that struck me most was seeing the smiles on the faces of the locals who went about their daily business, not letting their worries and fears get in the way of how they lived their lives.
Living in a third world country doesn’t always come with the promise of a good quality of life, but a major learning that I gained from this trip is to keep smiling in the hardest of times like the people of Colombia do. This lesson couldn’t be more appropriate given the current climate in 2020!
It’s true what they say, travel really can be transformational. There’s nothing more liberating than being able to pack your bags and take off on a journey that you know will be SO much more than just a standard holiday, but one of self discovery.
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Cycling in Colombia was the hardest (and greatest) experience of my life
I still ask myself questions about who I am, like:“Am I more British because I’ve lived in the UK longer?” or “If I speak Spanish fluently and listen to a certain type of music then will this be more socially acceptable in my community?” But thanks to my amazing trip and connecting with my Colombian roots, I no longer feel conflicted.
Our cultural identity is shaped by the surroundings that we grow up in and the people in our lives that help to influence our attitudes about life and the world we live in. This I know is true. But who we are as individuals and the heritage that we’re born into will always be a part of us, no matter where we live and however much we chose to identify with it.
If, like me, you want to learn more about your heritage and get closer to your roots, I encourage you to travel because nothing will connect you more. Be proud of where you live and where you’re from – they’ve both shaped who you are.