Where Are You From?

I’ve noticed a subtle but interesting change in me since I’ve returned home from living overseas. I’ve noticed that whenever I meet somebody new for the first time I always ask them where they are from. “Where are you from?”. I catch myself asking this question a real lot these days and I don’t think I used to do this. I don’t think ‘normal’ people ask this when they first meet somebody. I suppose questions like ‘where do you work?’ or ‘what do you do?’ might come first. But to me establishing where somebody is from gives me more information than anything else.

I think traveling around the world has really influenced my perspective about people. I have been lucky enough to travel and meet people all over the world. And it’s really interesting, and almost funny, how location does play a factor in who we are and how we act. Americans behave and think SO MUCH DIFFERENTLY than Asians. Likewise, Thai people act and think differently than Indonesians.

When you meet such a wide variety of people it’s helpful to establish geographical location first. That at least starts to give you a bearing on who they are. Location gives you clues as to their upbringing, their religious beliefs, and their cultural influences. From person to person these things can be slightly different. But within a geographic region you start to see a pattern. Similarities emerge. And then you cross borders and you really start to notice how similar the people really are. Especially when compared to another group. So pegging someone’s location has been an important skill while living overseas. It’s the minimum first step in knowing someone.

The only problem is that the question doesn’t quite work as well in Portage, Wisconsin. It doesn’t carry as much weight or information. When I ask someone here where they are from they say Madison, or Baraboo, or Sauk City, all cities in Wisconsin and not terribly different from each other. But sometimes a person is from out of state, or a large city. I’ve found that even here in America, location can be important. We have culture here too, and cultural distinctiveness. So I still think it’s a valid and helpful question. People really are influenced by where they live, and where they were raised. We act more or less in accordance with the rules our culture outlines for us. It may be subtle, we may not admit to it, but it’s there. So really my question is all about culture. I still think of people in terms of ‘people groups’, even here in America. Even in my little hometown.

What about me? Where am I from? Well, I could tell you Portage, Wisconsin. But right now I’m craving Chinese noodles and a coconut on the beach, so what does that say about me? I like to think my perspective has been enlarged. I might not be able to jump in on the latest local gossip, but man do I know how to navigate an international airport. I guess I enjoy the best of both worlds and try to fit in whenever possible. That’s me.

2 replies
  1. Parke Brown
    Parke Brown says:

    Hi, Josh. It’s been good to listen in to your thoughts here. As someone who has transitioned in the last year from a well-established life in Texas to a new-to-me part of Pennsylvania, I can relate to a degree. It’s been a difficult transition at times, which I could talk about more in private. And at the same time facing it has allowed me to refocus on core values and identity of faith. I trust your journey has and will be similarly rewarding.

  2. Josh
    Josh says:

    Parke, thanks for you comment. I think you do encounter different cultures even here in the States. We really noticed it when we were living down south, with you in Texas. Then we noticed it again in Indiana, and again in Wisconsin. People are definitely ‘bent’ to act and respond a certain way. It’s subtle, but we notice- maybe not at first, but we notice. I think the secret is to not judge the culture, but to adapt as best you can. No culture is perfect. Every one has it’s good things and bad. The trick is to ‘chew the meat and spit out the bones’. Allow the local culture to help you enforce your values whenever possible, and hold firm against what doesn’t. Good luck friend! Let me know how it goes.


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