Where is it? Do you have electricity, TV, cars, Internet, etc.? Do people still ride camels there? Are there roads? What about buildings? Do you live in huts?
Since moving to United States two years ago, I have been asked these questions endlessly and I have been struggling to explain to people where my country of origin is. The easiest way to make my country relevant to these people is by telling them where it is located: bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
The next reaction is, “Is it dangerous there?”
I have always tried to make my country relevant to others so that people don’t dismiss it simply because it is foreign to them. In a way, I didn’t want them to also dismiss my identity. And yet despite my efforts, I faced many disappointments when seeing uninterested nods and headshakes. I wished for people to be more interested in my culture, my language, and my country.
Over time I have noticed that people who are interested always stick around to learn more, and those people who are not dismiss the idea of learning about Turkmenistan altogether. I have always known that it’s not right to shove my culture down other people’s throats, but it is so hard not to when very few people have cared to ask about it purely from their own interest. I still struggle to not push my culture onto others, but I am continually learning that people’s eagerness about the culture is essential for their own personal growth and desire to learn.
Here in the US, I face the problem of people not knowing about my culture in Turkmenistan, but when I am home, I frequently face the judgmental accusation of becoming too ‘Americanized’. For example, although I try to stick to Turkmen and Russian languages while in Turkmenistan, I get criticized by how much my accent is changing.
My friends have mentioned that my ideologies are drastically shifting since I have left, and, for more or less traditional Turkmens, drastic change is never good. For my friends in Turkmenistan it is totally fine to marry at the age of 20 and have a baby in your junior year of university; however, I find myself increasingly advocating against these cultural early marriages. For Turkmens, this is interpreted as if I am an American trying to show off my new knowledge about the world.
It is sad that in both countries I face an issue of ignorance around the fact that I am simply viewing the world from a different perspective. My ideologies are not traditional or Americanized– I just do not have one set culture or one set of rules.
By interning at SLE, I am able to impact other people’s views on cultures, to advocate for underrepresented languages, and to show that everyone’s culture is important. There is a Turkish proverb that goes, “Bir dil bir insan, iki dil iki insan.” In translation it means, “One who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people.”
I know four languages, and I have four different cultures and worldviews. I cannot pick and choose between them; every language I know shapes my world and me.
Taz is a sophomore at American University, studying Business Administration. She is passionate about baking and reading world classics. If not at the library, she spends her time searching for local coffee shops.