Growing Up In Two Different Cultures

My name is Sina Maria Schmid, I’m 17 years old and I’m half Croatian and half Swiss. In 17 years of life, I’ve experienced many situations that many people have to deal with, but some of them are things only people with multiple backgrounds will understand.

First, I need to start off with a quick geographical lesson: Switzerland is a small, 8 million inhabitant country in the center of western Europe, a border state to Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Many people with different ethical backgrounds live there and it is one of the richest countries in the world. People from all around the world go there to enjoy the good food and get a well-paid job, but especially the privacy. Everybody enjoys minding their own business, without being disturbed by others. Mowing your lawn on a Sunday is almost as horrible as talking to a stranger on a train: one shall not do it.
Croatia, on the other hand, is completely different. It is a small country with around 4.3 Million inhabitants on the Mediterranean Sea, next to Italy, Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro. The country’s population is mostly made up of Croatians and Bosnians. Everybody likes to chat, and everybody seems to live a careless life, but the truth is, that most of the Croatians are poor. They have to work for many more years after their official retirement age because they wouldn’t be able to afford a living, and even though Croatia is a very cheap country, people struggle. But because of the struggle, they always help each other out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, family or just an acquaintance, nobody is in this alone.

My mother, a beautiful, charming, loving, creative, generous woman, grew up in a small, rural and poor town in Bosnia. Everybody knows everything and everybody, but standards of living were low. My grandparents worked in Germany so they could afford a better life for my mother and her brother, which meant that they only saw each other twice a year. My grandfather’s sister took care of her niece and nephew. My mother left Bosnia at 18 because there was no future for the youth. Even though she had a 5.0 GPA, her diploma wasn’t worth anything in western Europe. She left her home without a lot of money or a very good plan, but she had a will. She started out in Germany as a waitress. After working in Germany for a couple of years, she started to work in Switzerland. After almost 12 years away from home, she met my Swiss father, who had lived in the same small town for all his life. They married shortly afterward and welcomed my sister a year later and myself the following year.

I grew up in the town my dad has lived in for all his life. People like to gossip, especially in the only store we had in town. At my school, most of the kids were 100% Swiss, so I was an exception. I never seemed to fit in, because I didn’t share most of the values my fellow students had. My parents raised me to accept everybody no matter of their racial or ethical background nor how much money their parents had. My mom always taught me to be proud of who I am and never forget where I come from. I was always extremely proud to not “just” be Swiss but also to come from a different country until one day one of my friends called me a “Yugo” and told me to “go back to where I come from.” He meant it as a joke and he probably didn’t know what it meant, but it got to me. After the war in the Balkan, a lot of people fled to Switzerland and Germany, but they weren’t welcome. People always called them “Yugo” because they were from Ex-Yugoslavia and had a last name with the ending -ić. It was an insult. My mom always told me not to say that word because it never meant anything good. I went back the next day and told him to never say that again, and he didn’t, but it still made me think: Why would people be mean to others, just because of their heritage?

Fast forward a couple of months when we were on vacation in Bosnia, where my grandparents live. My mom always spoke to us in Croatian because for her it was important for her that we could communicate when we’re in the Balkan. I was playing with my cousins, who were all 100% Croatian but all lived in Germany, and they made fun of me for being “Swiss”. I was so proud to be Croatian, to know the language, to know my heritage, but they didn’t think that I was Croatian in the first place. As much as I was proud to be Croatian, I was also proud to be Swiss. And again, I was wondering: why was it bad for me to be both?

A couple of years later, spring of 2017. We were at the wedding of a cousin of mine. Most of the guests were Croatians living in Germany, Austria or Switzerland, but they are still different than I am. I rarely listen to Croatian music when I’m in Switzerland. I love American, British and French Hip-Hop. But all of my Croatian side of the family knew all of the Croatian songs they were playing. They all embrace where they come from, even when they’re not in Croatia, they only listen to Croatian music, have a lot of Croatian friends, go to Croatian festivals. I don’t. I only have a few Croatian friends, like I said, almost never listen to Croatian music but I still feel Croatian.

In Switzerland on the other hand, some of my family of my father’s side, often view me as a foreigner. My name doesn’t give it away, but as soon as we talk, some of them look at me differently. My grandmother never accepted my mother as the wife for my father. My grandfather, who is in an early phase of Alzheimer’s, told me, at my grandmother’s funeral, how he still believes it was wrong of my father to marry my mother and “he should have married his first fiance” (who was Swiss). Ouch.

I always believed, and still do, that it is great to have two different backgrounds, but I never completely fit in. Of course, I fit in with my friends, but not always with my family. When people call me a foreigner in Switzerland or in Croatia, I always tell them: I’m as much a foreigner as I am not.

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