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We have talked about the typical foreigner: Someone living in a country other than their own, having a different culture and different beliefs than everyone else around them. But can one be a foreigner in their own country, their own city, or their own town? If one has different beliefs than those of his/her friends and/or family, can we call that person a ‘foreigner’ if they are going through the same things that Julia Kristeva describes in her book? In today’s culture, the same aspects that apply to foreigners, such as loneliness, separation, and the need to fit in, apply to many teenagers, whether they grow up in a town they have lived in all their lives, or if they move to a foreign place. In Strangers to Ourselves, Kristeva writes, “Who is a foreigner? The one who does not belong to the group, who is not “one of them,” the other” (Kristeva, 95). If I were to discuss beliefs with my parents, such as political or moral beliefs, and agreed with everything my parents said, what happens when all of my friends at school believe in completely different things? To them, my beliefs would be very different, almost foreign. To them, I would be the other.
If, over time, I were to change my beliefs to mirror the beliefs of my friends, one day I would come home and realize how different I was from my family. My beliefs would be the opposite of theirs. Like many foreigners living in a country different than the one they were born in, going home would not be the same as it was when I was still the same as my family.
If a typical teenager goes through the same scenario that I have described above, how different is it if a teenager becomes a foreign exchange student. One immediately thinks of the obvious…the teenager is, of course, in a foreign country, away from home. But, that particular teen is still trying to fit in, and is growing in ways that are changing the person that he/she used to be.
During the transition from believing what my family believes to what my friends believe in, there would be a time in which I would fit in neither world. My views would have changed enough for me to be different from my parents, but not enough for me to be the same as my friends.
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We all go through this transition, it is called adolescence. We go through our teenage years, dealing with puberty, peers, and disagreeing with just about everything our parents say. Peer pressure is an extremely hard thing to deal with during adolescence. Teenagers are finding independence from their parents, but tend to become dependent on their friends. On ianrpubs.unl.edu, a website that helps parents learn more about their teens’ relationships with their peers, Extension Family Scientist Herbert G. Lingren writes, “Peers typically replace the family as the center of a young person's socializing and leisure activities” (Lingren). On January 24, 2001, the Detroit News ran an article by Karen S. Peterson, entitled “Cliques Make Fitting in A Tough Task for Teens in High School.” Peterson interviewed several students for the article. “Molly Melamed recalls that middle school is where ‘the torture starts. There are so many different little cliques. And you are trying so hard to be cool, to fit in, to do what it takes to be in the popular groups’” (Peterson). Lucas Ruiz, a 17 year old from Junction City, Kansas, says, “Hanging with the right crowd makes you feel you are worth something and are needed” (Peterson).
Teenagers try to fit in with their peer groups, and at the same time, they drift away from their families. Even a teenager that tries to maintain the connection to their families, and also build a connection with peers, changes very noticeably in they eyes of both peers and parents. The story is same for a foreigner. They move to a new country, try to fit in while still maintaining their culture, their beliefs, and possibly their own language, but in the eyes of their new peers they will be different, and in the eyes of their old friends and their family, they have changed as well.
Differences involving sex, age, profession, or religion may converge on the state of foreignness, support it or add to it: they are not one and the same. The group to which the foreigner does not belong has to be a social group structured about a given kind of political power. The foreigner is at once identified as beneficial or harmful to that social group and its power and, on that account, he is to be assimilated or rejected (Kristeva, 96).
Kristeva understands that there are similarities between true foreigners and people who can become foreigners in their own social and/or family groups. However, Kristeva says they still are not quite the same. But there are too many similarities between a teen’s life and the life of a foreigner to say that a teen’s life does not have foreignness in it.
Which one is harder to deal with, hypothetically, as a parent? A teenager who, right before your eyes, is pulling away, spending more time with their friends, and changing into a different person? Or, a teenager who decides to become a foreign exchange student for a year, and goes through numerous changes and growths while they are away from home? Is having no control harder when the person is right in front of you, or a very long distance from you?
For a teenager, is it harder to grow and change and watch lifelong friends change right in front of you? To watch someone you have known all your life change into someone you feel like you have never met? To adapt to major changes in the ways you think and feel, and changes in society, and to see it contribute to conflicts with your parents? Or, would it be harder to go away for a year, make brand new friends, see how a different culture works, and adapt to that culture, all while being very far away from the family and friends you have known forever?
All the situations have some major drawbacks, and all of them have some things in common. Can you choose which you would rather have, which situation you would rather be in? There are quite a few people who have been in these situations, whether as a parent or a teenager. But it is a tough decision to make. Weighing both situations, looking through the good and the bad in both of them, you can definitely see the many similarities.
A teenager goes through many of the same things as a foreigner. Peer groups and families may not “be a social group structured about a given kind of political power,” (Kristeva, 96) but they are important groups in our society, that one would not want to be rejected from, and one strives to assimilate to.
The trials that a foreigner has to deal with are not easy by any means, and some people porbbaly really underestimate it. That is not the point of this paper. I simply wanted to draw new comparisons and show that even though everyone thinks of a foreigner as being from a totally different country, someone could feel like a foreigner in their hometown, among their oldest friends, and even among their family.
Kristeva, Julia. Strangers to Ourselves New York: Columbia UP,
Lingren, Herman G. Adolescence and Peer Pressure. Apr. 1995.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 30 Mar. 2005
Peterson, Karen S. Cliques Make Fitting in A Tough Task for Teens in
High School . 24 Jan. 2001. The Detroit News . 29 Mar. 2005