person thinking with many thoughts

What Is My Cultural Identity? - Fridays with Ferne: Episode #46

In this week’s podcast, Ferne opens up and talks about her identity. Having been born and raised in Canada by a father who came from Soviet Russia and a mother who grew up in an Egyptian household, Ferne talks about her struggle to figure out her cultural identity. She doesn’t feel like she truly belongs to any of the three options.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Kim Ades: Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and you have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching Podcast. Oh, by the way, I'm also the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back. But today is Fridays With Ferne and I have my daughter here with me. Ferne, welcome.

[00:00:21] Ferne Kotlyar: Hello! Are you ready for... well, not really a case, but you ready for our topic today?

[00:00:28] Kim Ades: I love your topics. So throw it at me. What do you have for me today?

[00:00:34] Ferne Kotlyar: So we actually got quite good feedback on one of our topics that ended up turning into more of a personal conversation. The episode was about me and my partner about how we have a long distance relationship. And we got a lot of, like I said, a lot of positive feedback about that one. So I thought today I might bring something that is quite personal as well.

So for the longest time, and I think now I've kind of come to terms with it. But when I was younger, I struggled with my identity. That is not in terms of sexual identity, but in terms of kind of cultural and nationalistic identity. Like, what country do I associate with? What kind of people, what kind of culture am I really connected to.

And so for me, as you know, very well, but for the audience, I was born in Canada, but my dad is Russian and he came to Canada at 14. And my mom was born in Canada as well, but her family is Egyptian. And so I never really felt truly Canadian because I had culturally diverse parents, but I also never really connected with either one truly, truly of those cultures either.

You know, I don't speak Russian, I don't speak Arabic. And when I met those kinds of people, while I had a connection, I didn't feel like I was of the same breed. And I always felt like it was hard to kind of place myself like, who I was, where I came from, who I connected to. And so I guess my question is for those people out there who may also have some sort of identity... I don't want to call it a crisis, but confusion. What kind of advice would you give them?

[00:02:26] Kim Ades: Well, it's interesting 'cause you're asking a question, but I think you don't have an identity crisis at all. I think you're a person in particular who's very clear about who she is and what matters to her and what resonates for her and what you relate to. I think you're very clear about your identity.

But I think your question is, how do I find a group just like me? How do I find those people out there who I can totally relate to 100000%? Because when I meet other Russian Jewish people, it's nice and there's a connection, but it's not a total connection. It's not a total bonding. There's like a relate-ability, but it's not huge, so I don't feel like I fit in.

When I see other Egyptian people... I grew up in Canada, I don't even speak Arabic. We eat some of the same foods, but there's not a total immersion or a total relate-ability. And I will say to you that I think that you're not unusual. I don't think that you'll find in the world everybody who has their people.

You know, maybe even take the Greek culture. Greek culture, people who were born to Greek parents in Canada have other people, friends who were also born to Greek parents in Canada, and so there's a relate-ability.

But I think that it's very important for you to realize that what you're looking for is those people who-- "oh, I'm looking for someone else who has a Russian Jewish father and an Egyptian Jewish mother, and I want to be exactly in that place so that I can relate altogether". And I think that that's the question you're looking for the answer to, as opposed to "what's my identity". I think you know what your identity is.

[00:04:19] Ferne Kotlyar: That's fair. And so how do I find... Yeah, in terms of identity, sure, but how do I find those people that I relate to? I think I can really own a whole bunch of different topics, right? Like I really like nature and I think I can find my nature friends and they don't necessarily have to come from the same background.

But I guess when talking to someone and someone asks, "where are you from? Or what's your background?" That connection in terms of that front specifically, because you always hear about those groups, as you said, like the Russian Jewish groups, you know, they all have that thing together. But I don't feel like I have that with any kind of group or community.

[00:05:07] Kim Ades: And so in a case like that, I would say to you that I think that it becomes frustrating when you try to look for total immersion, so someone or some people who are just like you. Because I think you'll find it frustrating. I think you'll find that most people have a distinction or an area of difference. And so I think it's more interesting for you to find those areas of commonality. And it gives you the ability to connect with a much, much wider range of people on a much, much wider range of subjects. Right?

So going back to the Greek community, they relate, but it's a single stream, if that makes any sense. You have the ability to relate to the Egyptian community, the Jewish community, the Canadian Jewish community, the Russian Jewish community, you're dating a guy from France, totally different cultures, but you have a lot of areas of connection and commonality.

You have your nature, friends, you have friends from all over the place. Right? And they're connecting with you on all these different subjects. And so rather than searching for a place of total immersion, I think it's valuable for you to search for areas of connection and think of yourself as having a very wide breadth and a wide circle of connections and friendships, as opposed to the one place where you're totally connected.

But I will add one more thing. That is what family is for. When you look for that total immersion, look to your siblings, look to your cousins who have a much, much higher level of relate-ability. And the truth of the matter is that many of my cousins have children that are approximately your age, and those are people that I think you will find a high, high degree of connection with, that maybe you haven't spent as much time as you could.

[00:07:16] Ferne Kotlyar: Is that a plea to spend more time with your family?

[00:07:19] Kim Ades: It's an invitation, not a plea.

[00:07:22] Ferne Kotlyar: [Laughs] Yeah. And I think family's important and I do agree with that, but what I think I've come to realize is that identity is multifaceted. So you're not just Jewish or you're not just Russian, you're not just Greek, you're not just one thing, you're not just a culture. You are so multifaceted, and I think a lot of times we are asked to put ourselves in boxes. Like, I'm asked quite often to do these EDI forms and I find that I never fit--

[00:07:54] Kim Ades: What does that mean?

[00:07:57] Ferne Kotlyar: So you have to fill out this form, I don't know if you've ever had one, but there's these forms that you have to fill out. EDI is Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. You have to fill out saying kind of your background so that they can include more people. And I think that's important. I just often find that I don't fit in any of these boxes.

You know, obviously they can't put every country in the world on this sheet to check off boxes because culture isn't only about what country you come from, but I think that we often put ourselves in these boxes and we shouldn't, because we don't fit in boxes. We fit in so many different boxes, you know, half a box, a quarter of a box, a full box overflowing, that it's really not representative of what a person actually is.

[00:08:55] Kim Ades: I agree with you. I agree with you wholeheartedly. And that's why I'm not a huge fan of things like disc assessments or the true colors assessment, or when people call themselves introverted or extroverted. I think they're really, really narrowly focused. And I also think that they caused you to create boundaries around yourself that aren't helpful.

That is why I'm not a huge fan of assessments, like the disc assessment or the true colors assessment, because they put you in a box and they keep you stuck there. And I really, really don't like when people call themselves introverted or extroverted. Everyone's somewhere in the middle and what it does is it only creates limitations for you.

And so in your case, I encourage you to lift the limitations. You're all this, right? You're all kinds of things, in terms of your identity. I encourage you to connect with people on all those points of connections, instead of just trying to find that one lane with your one group of people who are identical to you.

[00:10:02] Ferne Kotlyar: Surprisingly, I've never actually found somebody who's also Egyptian Russian.

[00:10:07] Kim Ades: Your brother.

[00:10:10] Ferne Kotlyar: Other than him.

[00:10:11] Kim Ades: [Laughs] Well, keep looking. You never know, you might find someone, the world's a big place!

[00:10:18] Ferne Kotlyar: That's very true.

[00:10:18] Kim Ades: Yeah. But if you are thinking about your identity and you think to yourself, "who am I? Who are my people? Where do I belong?" Think about all the points of connection, and think that there is more than one place that you belong. And so don't look for this one bucket to just completely immerse yourself in. There are many, many, many buckets that you can be a part of.

If you're an artist, you can be part of the painting community. If you're an athlete, you can be part of the baseball or the running community. If you are interested in languages... and I encourage you to spread your wings and find all of the places where your identity connects with others in the world. So find your buckets, not your one bucket.

[00:11:02] Ferne Kotlyar: Yeah, I think that's important.

[00:11:04] Kim Ades: Yeah. You're good with that? You're happy with that outcome?

[00:11:08] Ferne Kotlyar: Yeah!

[00:11:08] Kim Ades: Yeah, good answer?

[00:11:10] Ferne Kotlyar: I think so.

[00:11:11] Kim Ades: Okay. So thank you for the question. It's an important question because I think identity falls very, very deep and it's not only related to our cultures and our interests, but it also connects to the way we see ourselves.

If we see ourselves as a leader, if we see ourselves as a person with certain skill sets, if we see ourselves as a mother or a father or as a brother or sister, all of the ways that we see ourselves will impact how our lives play out. And so spread it out, open it up, don't see yourself in only one way or only in one lane.

[00:11:52] Ferne Kotlyar: Absolutely.

[00:11:54] Kim Ades: Right? Open that wide up and see all your points of connection. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your question. Thank you guys for listening. If you have a subject or a question that you want to throw at us that you want us to discuss on the podcast, please reach out. We want to hear from you. My email address is Ferne, how do people reach you?

[00:12:18] Ferne Kotlyar: Email me as well. My email address is

[00:12:23] Kim Ades: Also, think about your own identity and send us a note about how you see yourselves, we want to hear from you. And in the meantime, have a great week. We will see you next time. Have a good one!

[00:12:35] Ferne Kotlyar: Bye!

linkedin icon