A quintessential scene that immediately springs to mind when talking about the daily realities of a third-culture kid like me is without a doubt that 5-10 minute Uber ride around the city. As it starts, you’re about to get into your ride and as you settle in, you wonder if your driver is either a chatterbox or rather hushed. If you fortunately fall on the former, one can guarantee that the question “Where are you from, man?” will come up, in classic Toronto style.
My name is Rodrigo Rahim Erasmo Noorani Espinoza – Rodrigo Noorani – and I’m a fourth-year undergraduate student studying Physiology and Global Health at the University of Toronto. My father is of Indian heritage and grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) and my mother is from Nicaragua, a small country in Central America. Both had permanently moved to Kinshasa, the capital of the D.R.C. to start a family and take over my grandfather’s family business. Wishing to have at least one of their kids born in their mother land, my family flew in to Managua, Nicaragua around my mother’s due date to give birth to me. Little did I know, a few weeks later I was on a plane to Kinshasa D.R.C.
After living for only a few months in Kinshasa in the late 1990s, wide-spread looting had taken place throughout the city and thus, my parents had decided to move to South Africa. In the hopes of returning to French speaking D.R.C., we were enrolled in a French high school in Johannesburg, the economical capital of South Africa. There, I spent my entire schooling; primary through secondary before graduating high school in the Scientific division. Starting my own adventure, I enrolled at the University of Toronto with the goal of studying Medicine.
Three years later, I find myself writing this story. To be honest, I never thought I’d have the chance to put into words the unexpected experience for someone like me to move and study in North America’s most multicultural city. Coming to Toronto, I had expected to find people with similar experiences. But it turned out that only the opposite was awaiting me. On the surface, my story seems to cover only three continents: South America, Africa and South Asia. However, to be quite honest, as a Latino Indian adolescent growing up in South Africa and going to a French School, my culture was more African/European than anything else. Nine months out of the year, we were taught French Language, French Geography, French History, as well as all aspects of French Society, Economy and Politics.
Nonetheless, most of the time, I spoke English at home with my parents as well as during school breaks, giving me a break from the intensive practice of French I had in class. The other three months were the only times in the year where I could discover parts of my identity that went above my label as a mere “lycéen” (French for “high school student”) whether it was in the odd travel to see my grandma in Nicaragua when I could practice my Spanish to spending time in my father’s Ismaili community in Kinshasa. With these different realities playing out in my life and the strenuous effort my mom put in having my French professor give me private lessons at home, I’ve come to be fully confident in both French and English (although being in Toronto, my French vocabulary has become slightly more simplistic).
In combination with my studious habits in high school and my numerous ethnic backgrounds, my experience as a Christian has deeply affected the way I see and do things. Although my dad is Ismaili and my mom is Christian, my mom did have a larger role in our spiritual development. For one part, my mom enrolled both my siblings and me into Sunday school at the local Catholic Church in the French Community. Later on, my mom brought me to a non-denominational type of Church in Johannesburg where I joined the youth ministry and volunteered weekly on the parking team for cars before services began. As such, my adolescence was a time where I started my relationship with God and where I learned more about how a personal relationship with a Heavenly Father can play out in a teenager’s life, something I’m continually re-discovering as an adult.
In one way, it has affected my priorities when entering University, something that uniquely changed the course of these past three years and most importantly, will affect my life ahead. On one hand, being in the incredibly competitive environment of the pre-medical community, I have had, and still to this day have immense pressure to give up that part of my life on Sunday of attending Church, let alone serving on a team due to the pressure of constantly devoting every hour of my week to studying, volunteering, researching and the like to get into Medical School in Canada.
On the other hand, college life is known to be wild if not to some degree debaucherous, and I can say that living in a way that is in line with what I believe when it comes to drugs, alcohol, sex, way of speaking etc. is something that is as difficult when it comes to my own moral compass as a Christian as it is to living according to my own “cultural” compass of understanding the things around me. From these two fronts, I have come to appreciate the value of having a diverse background and upbringing as it has given me an advantage of being more tolerable and understanding of the ways of people with an entirely different background than me, whether as complex as mine or simple in nature.
In another sense, despite the aesthetic that comes with being well-travelled and cultured to some extent, the difficulties that come with being a third-culture kid are ones that one may not expect. Being born in Nicaragua, growing up in the DRC and South Africa, holding a Canadian Passport, having a French education and having an Indian father, my many associations to such a diverse number of countries may seem to be proportional to the richness of my experience as a 20-year-old but I have personally learned to appreciate that the opposite could not be truer. Coming from a multitude of countries, I often delight in the reality of having multiple members of my family throughout the world but in more than one occasion, the jealousy of another one has always existed: having an attachment to one single nation, one that no one can take away from you, one that remains consistent both inside and outside one’s nation.
Credit: C3 Church Toronto
Paradoxically, although the possibility of that reality was long taken away from me from the moment I was born, I have come to find solace in finding refuge in my own identity in the limitlessness of my national borders as well as through the greater sense of empathy for those in my community who also feel like they do not belong. And that unique experience, is something I am forever grateful for and even more so in a city like Toronto, a place where I’ve found a second home with friends that have become my new family and have included amongst them, a third-culture kid.
complex as mine or simple in natureon your own? complex as mine or simple in nature.