Where am I from? Bénédicte Kinkolo

It’s an early Tuesday morning in late September, it’s my 20th birthday and I am late to class. As I go up the grand stairs of the Strand Building at King’s College London, my phone rings and “Mom” with a heart emoji reads across the screen:

“- Botama malamu, happy birthday, joyeux anniversaire my daughter!

- Merci maman

- Béné, I was thinking, won’t you come home for your birthday tonight? You are always away for your birthday and we never get to celebrate with you.”

- Of course, but I can only stay in Paris overnight, I have to be back in London in the morning for classes”.

As soon as we hang up, I receive an email notification: my electronic train ticket. I laugh. My mother likes to pretend to “ask” me to come home but in reality saying no is never an option. Regardless if I am 2 hours, or 16 hours away, one phone call and I am usually on a train or plane ride home.

“Home” has always been Paris, this is where I was born and mostly raised and where my parents have migrated to from the Democratic Republic of Congo. When I was younger, whenever people asked me ‘where are you from?’ I would usually just say ‘French’. However, insatiable and/or inquisitive minds would usually follow up with a myriad of questions in order to make sense of this answer which starts with a ‘but’:

“But why is your English so good if you are French?”

I spent a big chunk of my childhood in New York.

“But why do you say pavement instead of sidewalk, if you lived in the US?”

I was educated in a British high school and attended university in the UK.

“But why do you speak Lingala (my mother tongue) with an accent?”

I speak five languages, they tend to get mixed up as one in my head.

My name is Bénédicte Kinkolo. I am Congolese but was born in France and raised between Paris and New York, with a few countries in between. At the age of 17, I moved to London to study at King’s College London for 3 years but as part of my degree I also lived in Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo over the course of one year. After graduating from my bachelors I moved back to Paris to complete my first masters at Sciences-Po Paris and the following year moved to Beijing in order to enroll in a second master’s degree.

I never considered myself a ‘third-culture kid’ but rather always felt like I belonged to wherever I am. I am local to all the places I have lived in and I am shaped by all they taught me. I have picked fragments of various cultures while living in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America and those have all defined particular aspects of my identity. Thus, today I tend to shy away from simplifying the answer to ‘where are you from?’ and rather embrace its complexity.

Growing up in France made me appreciate food as a love language. Since living in South Korea and Japan, I dread the idea of wearing shoes inside my home. I especially love road trips due to summers driving along the East coast in the US with my family. My love for writing and calligraphy was sprung during the time I lived in China.

I could go on but my point is: all the different aspects of who I am, were influenced by the different places in which I have lived. So if you want to know where I am from, the best question would be to start by asking me who I am.



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