Redefining My Identity Through Retrospection


Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa as a “Colored” labeled child, I had an interesting life. I come from a lineage of Coloreds where our roots are often unknown or vague at most. However, we have a culture of ownership, a culture we are very proud of. Being the product of teachers, I came from a stable household and was raised as free, during a time in which freedom was not available to everyone in the country. At the time the country was in negations to end Apartheid, following the release of Nelson Mandela. The Apartheid Regime was a government that ran the country by means of institutionalized racial segregation. Three years later shortly after the birth of my younger brother, Nelson Mandela became the first black democratic president of South Africa. Our country followed a series of transformations and thereby came some growing pains.


In my life, I have moved a total of 8 times, mostly between South Africa and Taiwan:

1. 11 Years Old: My family followed my mother to live in Changhua, Taiwan. She moved there two years earlier to pursue an opportunity as an English teacher.

2. 13 Years Old: Due to homesickness, following a vacation in South Africa, my brother and I returned to live with my grandparents. My parents stayed behind and provided for the family as there were significantly more opportunities and less cost of living in Taiwan.

3. 15 Years Old: During a vacation to Taiwan, my brother and I decided to remain in Taiwan.

4. 17 Years Old: We all moved back to South Africa, where I completed my senior years and

pursued my bachelor’s degree in Education.

5. 23 Year Old: I went back to Taiwan after teaching for one year in South Africa. I taught in a public school program and was a foreign English teacher at three different schools in Jhubei.

6. 24 Years Old: After completing my contract, I returned home and temporarily taught at multiple schools.

7. 25 Years Old: I moved to Dubai and taught there for a month before deciding to return to

Taiwan.

8. 25 Years Old: I returned to Taiwan and restarted in Keelung, followed by Xinzhuang, New

Taipei, and now I reside in Zhubei.


I have experienced many challenges being in Taiwan since my most recent move. I have struggled with my identity as I often felt like an outsider and occasionally being treated like I do not belong. My journey with depression started with being unable to connect the way that I do back home. Being introvert added to this struggle and caused a lot of anxiety. I always felt like I had a lot to prove and opportunities were given to me out of novelty and not merit. Coming from a small neighborhood surrounded by poverty and completely impoverished communities, I put way too much pressure on myself to prove myself.

It reached a point where I started to suppress who I truly was in order to adopt a new identity.

With time I learned that a balance was more beneficial and adapting to the Taiwanese culture would allow me to blend in and for the most part, go unnoticed. Well, it was not that easy. A socially introverted teacher in Taiwan, it’s not always that easy. Not forgetting the loneliness I experienced. I was constantly dealing with internal struggles, which I chose to bottle up and suppress. Teaching became my creative outlet and pushed me to become more social. The older I became the harder it was to satisfy myself. I had proven myself time and time again, and yet I was unable to enjoy my success and live in the moment. I had gone from knowing who I was and what I wanted in life to being pulled into all directions and overachieving but never being happy and feeling the joy of my success. No matter how well I was doing financially or how much I was praised, I remained unhappy and felt depressed. I hid these feelings well; most people had no idea. This feeling of melancholy plagued me, and I was so closed off that it caused me to isolate myself to the point that it was not healthy. When stress and anxiety increased, I started feeling overwhelmed and burnt out by the most basic responsibilities in life. I used any excuse to get away and start over whenever I could; I believed that I was always making the worst possible decisions. Left with no true identity, no sense of belonging, and a general feeling of being a disappointment, I decided to turn it all around and change my view of life.


Unconsciously, I made a few bad decisions that further drove me to make major changes. Being an overthinker and my own biggest critic definitely came at a price. My perfectionist nature and need to control the aspect of my life put myself in a position where I lost everything I had worked for. My impatience caused me to make decisions without thinking because I believed that I would just once again make the wrong decisions. What stemmed from that was me overworking myself because I had no job during a time when the covid-19 epidemic was at its peak. I had also just moved from Xinzhuang back to Zhubei and ended a long term relationship. In an attempt to overcome the boredom and do something constructive while waiting on a new teaching position, I turned to exercise. After being too strict on my fitness regimen and attempting to lose weight due to a low self-image, I significantly and negatively changed my diet. I ended up with a pinched nerve in my lower back which I recovered previously from a really bad lower back muscle injury. In turn, this affected my mental health as I was to rest and recover with minimal exercise for two months.


Currently, I have recovered from the physical injuries, and my mental health has improved. Throughout the time I was somewhat immobile, I continued to teach fewer hours every day. I have opened up more, gained countless numbers of friends, and most importantly reconnected with my spirituality. I have lived with depression for a number of years, but I am better equipped to deal with it now. My family, friends, church, school, and students have all helped to grow me in a positive way.

We all have our darkness, and we all have a past; but we are not alone, even though we often feel that way.

I learned that everything is a process; it takes time to build your character. There is no such thing as a bad lesson, life, and the world challenges us; and if we can overcome them, we can reap the benefits bestowed upon us. As foreigners things can be challenging, but we are students of the world before we are anything else – the world is our best teacher and life provides our biggest lessons.


Written by: Ryall Justin Carelse, 29, South Africa

Email: carelseryall@gmail.com


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