Home > Testimonials > That’s what we do: the identity of Global Citizens

Kirsten in an amazing mixture of citizenships, cultures, languages and connections to the whole world. I was so lucky when I met her in Lima, Peru, when she became Kirstenexpat for the Expatclic team for a while. Several countries after that, I met her again in Brussels first, and then online to talk about identity, belonging and global citizens.

If you ask Kirsten where she is from, and she is willing to give you the long answer, you might as well sit down with a cup of tea and get ready to travel the world. With a German mother and an American father, she grew up between Libya, Nigeria, Scotland, and Australia, before moving back to the States at eighteen. Only for a short while, though, because when she got married (to a German) she did it on condition that they would keep travelling the world. “I kept the American accent and attitude, but I cannot define myself as American. Out of 57 years of life, I have only spent 11 in the States. I would define myself as a Global Citizen”, she says.

Kirsten (top left) at an Expatclic get-together in Brussels in 2019

Several countries and five children after tying the knot, Kirsten and her husband went back to Brussels. There, one by one the kids left for university, Kirsten split up with her husband, and only the youngest daughter remained. Together, the two of them decided to move to Spain.

This might be astonishing for most: neither Kirsten nor her daughter had any tie with Spain. Her children have American and German citizenship but have never lived in those countries; they have Belgian citizenship but don’t speak French nor Flemish. So why Spain? “Because that’s what we do”, answers Kirsten without hesitation. “My daughter was unhappy in her school in Brussels. 3200 students, over 11 languages spoken daily, overcrowded classes…it was too much. Alicante has a European school, and we figured it could be a nice place to settle, with the sea and everything”.

Kirsten loves Alicante. After a few months she has made loads of friends. “That’s all thanks to my dog. It came as an eye-opener and this is my piece of advice for expats: never move without a dog”. Walking her dog on the beach has put her in contact with so many varied people, among which she has not only found enriching human beings, but also useful contacts for her stay.

Kirsten is creative in maintaining ties with her past. She will soon go back to Brussels to dog-sit friend’s pets, and shortly before leaving Belgium, she welcomed six Ukrainian refugees (two families) at her place. Among the various countries where she and her family lived is Ukraine. They went through the Maidan Revolution while there, and despite initial difficulties in adapting to the country, they loved it. It was with joy that Kirsten opened her Belgian home to these refugees, with whom she created “a sort of commune. I loved having several women of my age around”, she tells me. “I always tell my girls they’ll have a successful life if they have really good girlfriends”. Kirsten hosted the Ukrainians literally until the day before she moved to Spain.

I don’t consider myself exceptional. Yes, I have lived in several countries, but wherever I went I led a quite banal life. I have never had anything glamorous, exotic. In people’s eyes, my exceptionality was having so many children. In Manila I was called “the foreign lady with all the children”, that’s the identity I was given because of my brood”.

So we get to the topic of identity, which is so stimulating to discuss with someone like Kirsten. Nationality is one of the first things that come to mind when someone asks the fatidic ? “Where are you from?”, “but I really can’t define myself that way. I was born in the States, but I did not live there from age two to eighteen. And then I kept on moving around, for work first, and then for love. I have loved every moment of my wandering life, every country where we’ve been has been interesting”.

We chat about Global Citizens and the various directions one can take when growing up as such. It is interesting how Kirsten and her siblings, who all grew up as nomads, chose different paths: While she never stopped travelling, her sister married a farmer’s son and settled down forever in one place (the sentence she pronounced at seventeen became legendary in the family: “I have seen half the world, the other half does not interest me”). Her brother went back to live in the States, but has visited Kirsten all over the world, always happy to take the occasion to discover new cultures.

So, where does Kirsten feel she belongs? “I would say ‘my people’ are those who hesitate to answer when asked Where are you from? They are the people I I can talk to where I don’t need to explain myself. And women married (or divorced 😊) to someone not from their own culture”.

Breastfeeding Nathalie at Machu Picchu, Feb 05

Global citizens’ journeys are never-ending in all senses, and it is interesting to observe what happened to Kirsten’s children. “We have always told our children that until eighteen they had to move around because this is what we do, then they could do what they wanted. The two eldest enrolled in universities in Holland but dropped out because they found everything too Dutch. If you identify as a Global Citizen, you need to have Global Citizens around you. When they moved to England, they immediately felt much more relaxed. I had never considered how important language is in defining identity”.

By sheer coincidence Kirsten spent eight years of her childhood in anglophone countries, but her children didn’t. The effort of never coinciding with a country where their first language was not officially spoken became evident when they quit Holland for the UK. They now don’t have the stress of being misunderstood or laughed at when they order a dish at the restaurant, for example. Such a relief.

As for languages, Kirsten says she’s happy to go back to Spanish, which she spoke when she lived in Peru. She loves the ocean, and the people she has met so far in Alicante. After only 4 months she even bought an apartment. Her daughter is happy in the new school, which is smaller and more familiar. Still, “The worst thing you could do to me is to say I have to spend the rest of my life here. We are Global Citizens, we move around. That’s what we do”.


Interview and article by Claudiaexpat
March 2023
Photos: ©Kirsten and @Expatclic
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