Musings

Cosmopolitan Confessions

Cosmopolitan as an adjective means “at home all over the world,” and as a noun, “a citizen of the world”, according to Dictionary.

Travelling changes you. That’s something that goes without saying, which I’m certain most of us know. What we don’t know, or would not know exactly until we do, is how. How would travelling change us? In what way do we become a different person, for better or for worse? (pun intended)

It took me several years of travelling, including 1.5 years of living in two different countries away from my homeland, to find out for myself.

 The national flag at the summit of Mount Semeru, 3,676 m.
The national flag at the summit of Mount Semeru, 3,676 m.

I am Indonesian, and I used to be a fiercely loyal one. As idealistic as it may seem, I had always felt a strong sense of duty to my country. Nationalism is a value instilled early on in our children, by way of our flag ceremonies and our singing the national anthem before starting school every Monday. In schools we are taught that the unity of our archipelago is uncompromisable.  Our folk songs and stories romanticise the idea of coming home —pulang– to our homeland,  Indonesia. We are encouraged to explore the world, but keeping in mind that Indonesia is our one and only home.

Then I spent a semester in Singapore for my exchange programme at NUS. In the Lion City, I adapted to an entirely different cultural landscape, formed lifelong friendships, and fell in love. There I felt completely at home, and now almost every corner of the city-country brings memories. Coming home, I was a changed person, and it took me a long time to move on and resume my ‘normal’ life (we called it the ‘post-exchange syndrome’, which apparently is a thing).

Three years later, I went to the United Kingdom for my Master’s at Warwick. Luckily, my two best friends also happened to be doing their Master’s in UCL and LSE in London, which was only two hours away. With my friends, I experienced England as a foreigner and a citizen, simultaneously. We passed through the chilly days of Autumn, the cold and bleak Winter, the beautiful Spring, and the short, underwhelming (three days) of English Summer. We stuck together through difficult days of postgraduate life, loneliness attacks, and quarter life crises. We had fun, cooked together, and explored our respective cities and their endless wonders.

My journey didn’t stop there. I solo-travelled to other countries, from Morocco to Ireland to Eastern Europe, and had the completely life-changing three weeks in Calais refugee camp, France. Perhaps I didn’t get to travel as extensively as some of my friends, who travelled far and wide in Europe. But it still changed my outlook and shaped the person I have become.

In his influential essay, Salman Rushdie spoke about migration and diaspora, which I deeply relate to:

“To migrate is certainly to lose language and home, to be defined by others, to become invisible or, even worse, a target; it is to experience deep changes and wrenches in the soul. But the migrant is not simply transformed by his act; he also transforms his new world.”

 At home in my lovely Warwick campus
At home in my lovely Warwick campus

My year in the UK wasn’t always sunshines and rainbows (there was scarcely any sunshine in London anyway), but maybe that is why I loved it so much. Grappling with my identity, loss of language, and heartbreak, it is where I owed my adulthood lessons, newfound happiness, misery and memories. It is where many of my Calais friends, who have became like family, reside. It is where I discovered and re-discovered myself, my country and the world. It wasn’t home, but after a while, it became one.

Once back in Indonesia, home didn’t feel so much like home anymore. My study on diaspora had prepared me for reverse cultural shock, but that is not what I experienced exactly. It’s more of a unquenchable longing in the soul.

If I were to make a (very geeky) comparison, it’s rather like Voldemort and his horcruxes. I had unintentionally split my soul into pieces; each piece lies in every city or country that became my second or third or fourth home. Each piece is held by the people who have left a mark on my life, scattered throughout different countries. It has enriched me in a way,  but at the price of losing a portion of myself.

Once home, home didn’t feel enough, and I found myself constantly looking outwards, struggling to overcome the sense of wanderlust that would overwhelm me, compelling me to fulfill my thirst for journeys and reclaim my lost pieces. I long not only to gallivant but to sojourn, not only to see but to know, not only to experience the world but to make an impact in it.

“[T]rue cosmopolitans do not set out on a journey in order to conquer. They go out motivated by curiosity to seek peace with the foreign, without losing themselves in the process because their journey is an ever-lasting one.” (Manneke Budiman, 2011)

Although I am physically home, I still suffer from diasporic longings, and I realised, much to my dismay and guilt, that I have assumed global citizenship. And as much as I love my homeland, as much as I aspire to give back to my people, my nationalistic ambitions no longer fulfill me.

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