Danielle Sweeney

Danielle Sweeney

Anika Chabra

"Go, See, Do!"

What’s it like to be a cultural nomad? In this week’s episode we speak with Danielle, a citizen of the world, who helps us understand how sometimes you have to step away from what you are familiar with to truly understand what aspects are most important to you. While it wasn’t always apparent, Danielle’s cultural undercurrents became more prominent once she moved from country to country, and discovered the importance of how her varied experiences shapes who she is today.

Heads up : if you are listening with children, you might want to keep your "earmuffs" handy for language.

If you’d like to tell us your story, or chat about your thoughts on culture, family, and heritage, we always love to chat. Share any comments below, and please subscribe for our newsletter to never miss a Root & Seed moment.

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Episode Transcript

Hey, my name is Anika Chabra and you are listening to Root & Seed, a podcast about tradition seekers, who are sparked to explore, define, and celebrate their family and cultural identity.

This is our second episode of Root & Seed woohoo! During our first episode, we spoke about the fact that there's often a catalyst, usually for second generation who are faced with choice when adopting their culture.

Eddie and Vicky experienced a spark from their peer groups that invited them to embrace their familiar cultures as their own. But what happens when you're a citizen of the world? When your parents are from different backgrounds and you land in a place that is different from where you grew up? This is more common than you think. In fact, from what we've heard from our community, it is often the cultural nomads who have the hardest time identifying that they have a culture in the first place.

We've had a ton of fun, trying to unpack the word culture in the context of our platform. In fact, we realized that the word itself can be polarizing.

Okay. So I'm going to get slightly academic on you. We found one definition that said, and I quote ‘culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts’. Pretty straightforward and obvious. Yes? I think so. The definition went on to say ‘it's growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns, unique to the group’ end of quote. That's what we found really interesting. ‘The growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns, unique to that group’. Love that...really liked the idea that culture is fostered, that it's unique, that it belongs to only that group. What if we played with the notion that everyone does have a culture that is unique to them, their life and their family?

Culture is not homogenous. So when you have been immersed in several cultures, it's often not until you step out of a culture that you realize how important it has been in shaping the core of who you are. Here's an excerpt from my conversation with Danielle, an expat, who just returned to Canada after being away for 12 years. I asked Danielle to share her story of being away from home for a good chunk of her adult years and how that experience navigating her rich and multiple influences has brought their version of culture to the forefront for her and her daughter, Mila.


I'm the child of European immigrants. I married an Australian. I moved to Australia, became an Australian, and lived there for almost a decade. Then moved to Europe where I was so much closer to my European family and all of its facets.

My parents are in Spain half of the year, my sister is in London. None of them are from there. We lived in the Netherlands. I have a daughter who speaks with an Australian accent. I mean, it's been a real whirlwind in the last 12 years of my life. So it's really wonderful to be back in Toronto to see how the city has changed and to see how people are really embracing their cultures here, in the most beautiful and natural way. And I think that comes from possibly our generation growing up with all this history behind us and then transitioning and making it ours. So it's a really exciting time to be back.


Tell us a little bit about your relationship with your culture. However you define that and how that might have changed as you've gone through the different stages and phases of your life.


Well, I remember always being very, very aware that my sister and I...she's three years older than I am....that we were different from the kids around us and that initially it was very much because we were tied to our Czech background. My mom is Czech. She escaped the communists in 1968, the Prague Spring as it's called, and my dad is from Ireland. So he moved over to Toronto in 1966, hopped on a boat, got here and made his fortune so to speak. So we were very much not "from here", if I can use the air quotes around that. And when my sister was born, my great-grandmother moved over from Prague to help raise her. So we grew up speaking Czech at home, even though my dad didn't speak or understand a word of Czech, my granny only spoke Czech. She cooked for us. She cooked Czech food. We ate knedlíky and kolace and all of these, Czech things. We had Czech Christmas. Our lives were very, very focused on the Czech side. We knew my dad was Irish. My cousin lived with us for quite some time and he was Irish. So that was the two sides that were always there and they were very evident in our day to day. Our parents spoke with accents, our friend's parents didn't. They would go to the family cottage in Muskoka that they'd had for seven generations. And we're like, where is that?

So we were very aware of that side and then when my grandmother died, when I was 12, I think at that point we kind of freed up, literally and figuratively, to explore the Irish side a little bit. So we started going to Ireland on holidays, my sister, and I would go for the summer. We'd have friends and cousins come over and spend time with us. And so we kind of shifted to that, and, and the Irish side in a lot of ways was much more understandable and accessible. My mom had escaped Czechoslovakia in ‘68, she wasn't allowed to go back until the mid nineties. It was part of our life in the sense of stories and almost like a mythic land, these fairytales and these, events and the foods and all that sort of stuff. But we didn't identify with it because we couldn't, we couldn't see it, feel it, touch it, be there. But then Ireland became really, really real to us because we would go there and we spent time there and we had our friends coming over. So we kind of shifted one way to the other. I think my sister and I would both agree that we always felt like we were kind of from “somewhere else”. We would often say...people say, where are you from? I say, well, we're from here, but our parents are Czech and Irish. That was always the next step.


And that's exactly what I was going to ask you next, given your incredible past and the ability that you've been able to go all throughout the entire world...when somebody does ask you Danielle, where are you from? How do you answer that question?


Oh my God, that changes. So when we were kids, it was “I'm from here, but our parents are Czech and Irish.” When I lived in Australia, I would say “I'm Canadian.” When I was in Amsterdam, because most of my friends were Australian, I would say “I'm originally Canadian, but I've lived in Australia for a long time.” And part of living in Australia, I don't pick up accents. So I still speak like Canadian, but in an effort to not be asked constantly where I was from, I just picked up the lingo. So there I was living in Amsterdam, hanging out with Australians, speaking like an Australian without the accent, but sounded like a Canadian.

So it's really situational for me. When I was in Australia, I would liken myself to a Canadian born Australian because I got my citizenship and I really loved the life and culture there. But here I am here again. So who knows? I wonder how my daughter will describe herself. I have no idea.


That's actually, that'd be a fun question! There is a Colloquialism. I can't say that word.

Danielle - Colloquialism yeah

Anika - that you subscribed to?

Danielle - What's that?

Anika - Your Australian one?


Oh yeah. Am I allowed to say that? This is my favourite expression and this is why I love to use Australian as a language with a capital A...FIGJAM

It is my favourite thing in the world. Australians have such a great sense of humour and they say things in the humblest way and it is an acronym for "F*ck I'm Good, Just Ask Me" and it's just right. It's so good. And it's humble. And it's like “Wow, look at me” like “way to go me” versus like “I'm the best”, you know, tooting my own horn.

So yeah, FIGJAM. I am, it is my mission to bring it to Canada.


I love it.

The word ‘culture’ in the context of what we're speaking today. What does that mean to you?


You know, it's so funny because when you first asked me about this, I was like culture? I was like, well, I don't really have a culture. And then, thinking about it and we were talking about it further, it's so strong, but I think for so many of us, it's such an undercurrent in our lives that unless we step outside of it, we can't really recognize it.

So when I look back now and I see all the things that we did as kids...in the sense that we would go to Ireland for a month in the summer and we'd have, well, this is a great example. As kids, my parents built a room in our basement for my Irish cousin who moved over and then over the years, we would literally get a knock at the door anytime of day or night, and it would be, you know, so-and-so from, it would be Karol from Czech Republic who was told by his cousin that if he made it to Canada, he should come knock on our door and come find us. So we would have this kind of revolving door of people coming in and out and staying with us, you know, that was completely normal for us.

So looking back, that actually wasn't normal. And my parents had “the more the merrier”, like if someone was around and needed a place to be on Christmas, on Easter or whatever, they were like, “come on in and join us”. And I think there are a lot of people who do that, but that to me is very much part of their culture. It's like an “all in” sort of mentality with, whatever traditions were happening at the time, they could have been Irish, they could have been Czech. They could have been brought in by somebody else. It's something I think I'm identifying more and more with, as I raise my daughter and see these things that I’ve taken with me from the various places I've lived and for the places that my family has been and has come from.


Oh, I love that so much. It feels like you're like this citizen of the world. And, I can only imagine what having that “open door policy” to immigrants was like to you growing up, like it has had such an unbelievable effect,, on your nomadic and interesting background and embracing of all different cultures. So I think that's so nice.


Oh, I'm so, I'm so grateful to my parents for that.


When we were building the platform and putting our point of view out there, one of the things we happened upon, it was this really super interesting study that talks about knowing and embracing one's culture is directly related to one's self-esteem. Do you agree with that statement? And if you do, what role does culture play in your sense of self?


That one really stumped me. As a child and probably during early teenage years. Yeah. It affected my self esteem because I was different. I didn't have lovely straight blonde hair, like the cool girls in my Grade. You know, like all these things that, that didn't align because that wasn't the background that I had. And so, yes, it affected my self esteem, but I realize now what that was building and what those traditions were doing was kind of grounding and building in me. As I grew into myself a little bit more, I realized just how important that was, and that ability to just stand in that difference and really appreciate it and start to recognize it and start to go, “wow, this is really cool...”, my sister and I get to go to Ireland for a summer and spend time with our friends and cousins like that. That's amazing. But at the time it was like, “oh, we can't go to a cottage :(“

So it's funny how that shift in that question….I just think is so powerful. Absolutely. I think it can be such a strong foundation for so many people, but wielded the wrong way, it can also be a real hindrance. And as I said, a real burden. So I mean, I'm lucky my parents, they dropped the Irish guilt at the door. They were like, yeah, done with that when they came to Canada. So we didn't get any of that. We were very much allowed to kind of pick and choose and celebrate what we wanted to do and I'm so grateful to them for that.

My sister lives in the UK, moved there when she was 23. They, you know, had their feet on our rear ends as we went out the door, they're like, “go explore”. You can always come back, like “go see do”. And that very much comes from their culture of being like, you know, here we were stuck in these places where we're supposed to be forever and we left. And so that's probably their adopted culture...where they were like, “go see, do and choose what you want to take with you.”


Wow, mind blown. Like face emoji with an explosion on its head, mind blown. If you can believe it, this is just a snippet of the conversation I had with Danielle. I credit the fact that she's been so introspective about herself over the past few years and is so self-aware. So much so that she really understands the influences that her varied experience has had on herself. You'll definitely hear more from Danielle and future seasons.

It's clear to us that our cultural experiences can come from anywhere at any stage of our lives. Some are faint, some are vivid. The more vivid ones will have a deep impact on our personalities, on our outlook on life, our confidence and sense of self. One thing is for certain: documenting the rich histories of our families feels like a real treasure to us and for those in our community.

Next episode, we'll be talking about how immigration impacts future generations, how you can reign in the unexpected pressures of being a child of an immigrant and what a rich experience it actually can be.

Go forth and think about how all your various experiences have had an impact on your definition of culture and really try to think about the vivid ones. If you have something to share, we'd love to hear from you!

Root & Seed is hosted by me, Anika Chabra, Executive Produced by Jenn Siripong Mandel, and edited by Camille Blais.

Episode Credits

Hosted by: Anika Chabra

Brought to you by: Root & Seed

Executive Producer: Jennifer Siripong Mandel

Edited by: Camille Blais

Music credit: Something 'bout July (Instrumental) by RYYZN


Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0

Free Download / Stream: http://bit.ly/-_something-bout-july

Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/OFga9pkl6RU

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