Out of 126 submissions from 21 countries, Rena from Year 13 won the First Prize (High School Category) in the Exploring Youth Identities Competition, which was organised by The Union International, Thailand’s first interscholastic student-run newspaper.
Rena explains in her own words:
“I wrote this piece in response to the prompt ‘In an ever-changing world, when was the time you explored an unfamiliar identity? How have your experiences shaped your aspirations and your perspective on social or cultural identity?’ As a third culture kid myself, I drew on my own experiences and what I’ve come to learn throughout the years. I expressed my own view that while it is often reinforced and suggested to us that our identities have to be monolithic or singular, in fact I believe that human beings are can be from more than one place or time, or that our identities contain multitudes - this I expressed with the metaphor of the kaleidoscope. I also believe that this has been instrumental in shaping me into a global citizen today.”
'Kaleidoscope' by Rena Rawanchaikul
One of my earliest memories was of my mother, warm fingers grasping my tiny hand as we crossed the road. A flash of colour, and fabric was floating down the street in an odd dance: lift and tilt, lift and tilt. The wind’s mischievous finger had unwound my mother’s veil from her head, and the Iranian morality police were on us in an instant.
I remember bouncing into a dusty castle in Oman alongside my schoolmates, too young to keep still, as I explored rooms with old chests and carvings on the ceilings. I crouched by a hole in the wall that made for a window, playing pretend by peering out as if I were some Arabian princess of a bygone age.
As I did my homework every day, I could hear the sounds of the Salat al-zuhr from the white-domed mosque nearby. I frequented bazaars and shopping malls where women dressed in burkas and men in thawbs, and where the distinct smell of the Oud perfume flooded the hallways.
A few years later, I would run in an entirely new land, one where I would climb trees and search for dandelions and dare to stand a few feet away from kangaroos in the wild. I would wake to the kookaburra’s laughter, analogous as ever to the free-spiritedness of then, a time where I would build sand castles and sneak into tree houses without a thought.
And yet, not long after, I was back in the country where I spent my earliest years, its name stamped across my passport. At my international school, Thai culture and language reigned supreme amongst the students. I struggled to make sense of words I was now hearing on a daily basis, to mold my tongue into odd shapes; to speak in a language I had only ever associated with domestic settings.
Having places you had called ‘home’ for a while be whisked away from you as you were transported elsewhere meant that ‘home’ was never a place for me. It meant that I had no one identity. Home was a feeling, and I was a kaleidoscope of memories; of different cultures and political systems; of histories, of identities. I experienced the raw beauty in being alive. My eyes opened to the role of the human will in creation and destruction, and to the respect that differences are owed. It shaped me inexorably into a global citizen who is fueled by the desire to make a positive change in the world.
For what I have come to realise is this - we are mosaics. We are the pink and blue and green of Iran’s Pink Mosque. We are the inquisitive child’s voice in our head, like my why did he have to die, dad? in Turkey, turning to a depiction of the crucifixion of Christ. We are an eclectic mix of identities - pieces of things we’ve seen and people we’ve been and spaces we’ve occupied. We are made of all that has gone before.