Home Away From Home the inspiration of culture

Until I was six years old, I grew up in an orphanage in Rudnyy, Kazakhstan, a sparsely inhabited, dark and dreary country located in central Asia. In 2003, I began my journey to a new beautiful country, America, with my new parents. I was immediately thrown into a melting pot of other children who were learning English when I was placed in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). This only made me more fascinated with other individuals who came from different backgrounds and heritages. Having once been a foreigner myself, I can relate to these individuals on a more personal level. Culture has shaped me to be the person I am today. More importantly, it has sparked a creative energy.

Map of Kazakhstan in Asia

I can best explain this energy by contrasting my life in the orphanage and my life here in America. Back in the Kazakhstan, everything was a dull, black and white photograph. Coming to America, everything in my view became a kaleidoscope. This sparked my interest in photography at a young age. Ever since, I have taken photos and videos of many places and individuals.

Orphanage in Rudnyy, Kazakhstan
Morning of Adoption - February 18, 2003

According to the adoption documents, I am half German and Ukrainian. Ever since I came to America, I have longed to learn about my background and culture. However, as I got older, I knew that only staying in America was not going to suffice. I needed to travel somewhere that could provide insight to my past.

During my first photography class at the University of Florida, I quickly learned just how this could happen. My professor mentioned to the class that he hosts an annual study abroad trip in Berlin, Germany. My ears perked like a dog. That day, I knew where I was booking my next plane ticket.

Moments before takeoff.

During the first few minutes I arrived in Berlin, I was taken aback by its exhilarating, artistic atmosphere. Virtually every inch of the city was covered in graffiti. Each block was more unique in architecture, style, and character than the next. Over the course of two weeks, I visited many different places in a city that felt like its own country.

Berlin, Germany

There was one particular special day for me during the trip. I had never felt closer to my background. It all happened at a large, annual event hosted in Berlin that attracts thousands of people from all over Europe. Immersed in yet another melting pot, I felt as if I was reliving my first moments when I came to America. I felt this refreshing, exhilarating emotion at the Carnival of Cultures.

Carnival of Cultures Parade in Berlin, Germany

The Carnival of Cultures is a street parade with music, dance, and cultures that takes place in Hermannplatz. Over the course of 4 days, Berlin's extremely diverse population presents their culture through their own dance, music, rituals and art.

Carnival of Cultures in Berlin, Germany

About 3.5 million people live in this colorful city. Berlin, which is Germany's largest city, is known for its extremely diverse population. Berlin has been a center for national and international immigration since the 15th century. It is no surprise that foreigners, who come from more than 190 countries, make up almost 20% of Berlin's population.

Berlin began feeling like a new home to me. I began understanding the layout of the city very quickly. A car was never necessary for navigating its cultural playground. My natural curiosity to meet other people from different countries inevitably sparked my creativity during the trip. I particularly remember walking down Warschauer Strasse. I knew this was an area where many artists flocked to live and work. If I truly wanted to experience Berlin and all it had to offer, I needed to delve into the life of a German.

Berlin Train Ride
Google Maps screenshots of my daily routes in Berlin

His stage name was Greeny Tortellini. He was tall, humble, and incredibly unique. He was a producer, rapper, and a kindergarten teacher. After following him around Berlin for several days, I saw Berlin through Greeny's eyes. Although I had only known him for a week, we became great friends who shared a common heritage. We felt like we had known each other for a long time.

Once I returned to US soil, Berlin inspired me to learn about culture so much that I began a special photography project revolving around culture. I photographed 10 individuals who were born in a different country. In each portrait, the subject is wearing the traditional clothing of his or her respective country.

Mandisa Haarhoff - South Africa
Haneen Ottallah - Palestine
Jeremy Hernandez - Philippines
Asharib Khan - Pakistan
Arianna Baquerizo - Ecuador
Arianne Chand - Trinidad
Douglas Santos - Guatemala
Erwin Laiho - Finland
Valerie Fortune - Haiti
Tamara Dobry - Kazakhstan

Final Thoughts

Berlin's extremely diverse population, innovative environment and unique artistic spirit unifies everyone who visits or lives there. Berlin helped me learn more about myself and my background. Although I was far away from my current home in America, I had never felt more at home in a different country. It made me wonder whether borders are truly necessary to define a country's heritage and culture.

German Flag at the Reichstag Building

Sources: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Berlin, http://www.businesslocationcenter.de/en/business-location/business-location/economic-data/demographic-data, https://fromathenstoberlin.com/2015/10/28/immigration-theme-in-germany/

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Tamara Dobry


Tamara Dobry

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