How being in-between cultures changed my life

Photo by Srikant Sahoo on Unsplash

What makes someone culturally Australian or ‘Aussie’? Is it having an Australian passport? Does being able to fluently say “See ya in the arvo” in an Aussie accent, or is it your ethnicity?

Depending on who you are, where you are from and how long you or your family generations have been in Australia, you might answer the above questions differently. But we know it is not determined by ethnicity, especially not purely by Caucasian ethnicity or ‘Being White’. Because historically we know Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are the original custodians of Australia, estimated to arrive about 60,000 years ago. Until a penal colony was established for convicts of the British Isles in the late 18th Century, according to Australians Together.

Diving Deeper into ‘Australian-ness’

The below facts helped shape my view on ‘Australian-ness’, and it may change yours too. In the year ending June 2020 about 30% of people in Australia were immigrants. According to an Australia Talks National Survey with over 50,000 respondents, we clearly and unsurprisingly think “Being White” does not make you ‘Australian’. While “Being born in Australia” as a place of birth is almost irrelevant in terms of ‘being Australian’. So if you have felt in between cultures, chances are you’re not alone.

See Australian Talks Survey for data

Surprisingly, however, most Australians believe respecting laws and institutions are the most important attribute to “being Australian” followed closely by an appreciation for the environment, feeling Australian, and then by speaking English. Overall, Australians are insecure about Australian-ness. Which was reflected with the average respondent rating themselves an 8 for feeling like an Aussie — but thought others were likely to rate them a 7.

History Shapes Your Cultural Identity

Although I knew being an Aussie or kiwi is not purely defined by ethnicity. I struggled with cultural identity. As a Third Culture Kid (or TCK), I have lived in 3 countries India, New Zealand, and now I am living in Australia. Not being able to speak the national language of the country I was born in, Hindi, meant I couldn’t connect with South-East Asians fully. Nor could I fully connect with Aussies or Kiwis culturally. So, I have always felt a little in between cultures. Although, I am not an Australian citizen. I know plenty of immigrant Australians by nationality, who don’t feel culturally Australian.

I wanted to fit in with the crowd. I saw being in between two cultural worlds as a disadvantage. So, I learned to speak, eat, joke, and even dream the same as the surrounding people. I thought it was the answer.

Cultural Diversity is a Strength

But, yet what I thought was a weakness, ‘being in between cultures’ was what precisely gave me unique perspectives, and insights in strategy, education, and business. It wasn’t until I had much deeper conversations, I realised what my cultural identity was and how it was a strength. I shared my cultural perspectives. The responses were not what I expected. “I never would have never thought of that, … that’s why Australians …” or “That explains why some cultures generally their time more heavily in …”. This especially helped in marketing, as understanding our customer psychographics and demographics are vital for communication in business. The notions, methods, and dreams that I thought were not ‘Aussie’ or ‘Kiwi’ or ‘Indian’ enough because they didn’t fit into a blueprint. Those were the things are that helped me grow my business and translated into thousands of transactions and strong partnerships. I learned to embrace my cultural uniqueness. I was able to bridge cultural gaps on both sides, and people found it valuable. So, I no longer see being an ABC (Australian Between Cultures) as a weakness but rather a strength.

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities” by Stephen R. Covey.

As a Third Culture Kid, I realised over time that I do have strengths, like many other TCKs in Australia. I believe many ABCs are armed to succeed in business for many reasons but especially:

Interpersonal skills — Switching schools, countries, and moving out of friends and family circles means they become strong at building new relationships and communicating with different types of audience’s people across cultures.

Crisis management — Higher-level problem-solving skills are needed when effectively dealing with big or small crises, often while navigating ambiguity. ABC’s are not strangers to crisis or ambiguity. They learn to adapt see problems as obstacles to overcome rather than a roadblock.

Sensitivity to diversity & inclusion — ABC’s are multifaceted and have developed the ability to help make room for everyone in social situations and find commonalities instead of differences. “TCKs truly believe that people of all backgrounds are full and equal participants in any given situation,” — David C. Pollock (2009)

Innate curiosity & problem-solving — Although it’s true that ABCs can be rootless, often seen as a negative trait. This can also be a strength as they tend to constantly focus more on seeking out knowledge and understanding both people and problems as they carve out their mark on the world.

Cultural Intelligence and belonging to people — Being cross-cultural means that ABC’s can function and communicate effectively across cultural differences and barriers. Because they expand their worldview to relate and understand different cultures and systems. “TCKs do not belong to a place or a culture, but to a place in time, and a group of people that shared that time.” — Samuel W. Turner, Co-Founder and Creative Director at Those Social Guys

Cultural diversity is a huge strength, and the research backs this. An international study, by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), shows companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue because of innovation. Attributed to the cross-fertilisation of different ideas and disciplines across cultures.

ABCs Embrace their Cultural Uniqueness

Being an Australian Between Cultures is not about putting up walls or an ‘us vs they’ mentally. But is rather about embracing your cultural uniqueness and being a bridge to people from other cultures. Had I not embraced my cultural uniqueness perhaps I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Does being a first-generation immigrant have its challenges? You bet! Learning a new language, culture, transitioning to make a new country your home can be incredibly tough sometimes.

But ABC’s learn to adapt and overcome diverse challenges. If you are an ABC, you also already naturally have the below strengths:

  • Resilience — you can recover from difficult experiences or setbacks in your home country or Australia because you didn’t give up.
  • Ambition — you decided to build a new life in a new country and follow your dreams.
  • Courage — you decided to step out and do something new, despite knowing the risks and challenges you may face.
  • Resourcefulness — you found ways to overcome difficult situations both in the country you came from and in Australia.
  • Forward-thinking — the ability to think ahead about your future or the future of your family for a better life.

Supporting other ABC’s
To help other ABC’s overcome cultural barriers and build on the above strengths while they grow in a business and personal context. I facilitate an online and physical community called Australians Between Cultures. It is a purpose-driven community of ABCs who are emerging founders, creators, and those that enable them to flourish. Our authentic community is a catalyst that makes radical access to a collective with mentorship, accountability, and a network of business leaders and changemakers common in a culturally accessible way. Our private responsive group helps ABC start, grow or transition into building enterprise or content that serves other people. We help emerging ABC founders and humans that build things:

  • Discover their ‘Why’ to navigate business opportunities and decisions
  • Learn how to start or grow a venture or side project
  • Navigate the start-up ecosystem
  • Build momentum
  • Network with a peer community, business leaders, and changemakers
  • Learn through live events with Q&A from other founders, leaders and changemakers

If you are an emerging ABC founder, creator, or someone that wants to help ABCs flourish in a business context, or you have any questions. You can contact me either in this group or directly on LinkedIn. I would be happy to help.

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I’m the founder of Uncommon Collective. With a large passion for enabling people with better experiences through education, community, business, and PD.

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Elijah Dsouza

Elijah Dsouza

I’m the founder of Uncommon Collective. With a large passion for enabling people with better experiences through education, community, business, and PD.

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