I came to Copenhagen at the ripe age of 3, moving here permanently at age 5 after a year back in Tanzania where I have my roots. I grew up in the international school system in Denmark – an international community usurped a more Danish one or an African one for that matter. I had friends from Africa for sure – places like Uganda and Sudan.
The person who spoke to me first however was a friendly Pakistani boy and throughout my 10 years at the international school me and an Indian friend stayed connected as other friends came and went. I remember things like being good at English in pre-school, first day of school in Tanzania – an emotional day, getting kissed on the cheek by a Lilly at school.
But is a peck on the cheek and some pre-school memories enough of a foundation? I would never reject my heritage, and a passport is a booklet – not some kind of nationality changing surgical procedure. The other side of the equation is being accepted in Denmark – even though a politician once said “even a negro can feel like a Dane” – as generous as this proclamation is, this wasn’t quite the warm welcome I expected.
At age 19 I got permanent residence in Denmark – I needed to, otherwise my family would have had to pony up exorbitant amounts for university tuition fees. Prior to that we only got residence permits one year at a time. Point being – they haven’t been able to properly get rid of me for a while. I grew up as Danish as you can almost exclusively, going to international schools.
The process of applying was long but had more ups than downs. Highlight: Getting 29 out of 30 on the Danishness test – the dreaded quiz to prove you are worthy of becoming a Dane. The moment the change hit me was when I had to give back the Tanzanian passport. I always have a difficult time saying goodbye and this occasion was no different. The paradox is that I haven’t been back to Tanzania since 1999 – I never learned to read and write in Swahili and “broken” is the word that best describes my grasp of the language.
So now I’m officially Danish – one of the most powerful passports in the world and I have already celebrated with a family vacation to London because we no longer need a visa for it. But did I gain power or give up power by saying goodbye to that old green booklet – the Tanzanian passport? Would I be more accepted there than here? The funny thing is during my last visit – I was made fun of for my accent, considered European. Maybe I am.
Question: Would you or have you ever changed citizenship? (Please write your answer in the comment box below.)
Maybe there was a case of separation anxiety. Perhaps in the back of my mind, I worry I will be rejected if I try too hard to be Danish. My Danish understanding is top notch – but constantly being around international friends and having an accent that made me reluctant to speak the language means that I don’t speak Danish like a Danish person. Maybe this is why I was – should I say – scared to let go of the old “identity”. I’m not sure I feel Danish yet, but I love it here and hopefully there’s time to catch up. Also, I might as well embrace the Danishness because there’s no going back now.
Question: What does it take to feel Danish? (Please write your answer in the comment box below.)
If I were to feel more Danish I would need a flawless accent and, more engagement in Danish culture rather than just international culture in Europe.