Nationalism is a concept that used to completely elude me. Generally, nationalism is defined as the sense of pride that an individual feels towards their home country. The country holds traits that reflect the character of the individual. Prior to moving to Australia, I never had such a strong personal connection to the United Kingdom and my British nationality. And I felt that nationalism had detrimental effects on others as it affirmed their own identity whilst belittling others. It firmly asserts that ‘we are right, and you are wrong’. Never did I think that just a mere three months later I would have an entirely different outlook on my nationality as a result of living in a different country.
Having been submerged in Australian life for nearly three months, already a considerable amount of significant political activity has occurred. As I arrived in Sydney International Airport, I was bombarded with news of the change in the political leadership of Australia. Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister following the Australian Labour Party’s controversial choice to vote out the former PM Kevin Rudd. Whilst I settled into my first academic week at the University of Wollongong, Julia Gillard announced a general election in order to validate her position – she actually had the confidence to do so, unlike Gordon Brown. As in the UK, the election resulted in a hung parliament. The main two parties, the Australian Labor Party (centre-left) and the Liberal/National Coalition Party (centre-right), wrestled for the support of the six crossbench MPs that could form a minority government. As I entered my seventh week of the university term, Julia Gillard finally won the support of four of these MPs, allowing her to remain in power.
This political environment is a refreshing escape from UK politics. Even the lighthearted articles are appealing, such as the coverage of Tony Abbott’s (opposition leader of the Coalition) surfing pursuits as he was seen with a board on the large waves that dominated the New South Wales coast last weekend. My departure from the UK could not have come at a more opportune time. Personally, I am very relieved to have left the UK following the election of David Cameron and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition. The election campaign trail made me feel more displaced than previously. I was awkwardly sandwiched between the strong views of Labour and the Tories, which felt like being amid a standoff between two overbearing parents.
However, that drowning feeling is set aside when in a different country. Unlike my previous thoughts, the British nationality, (a ‘pommie’ in Australian jargon), is a vibrant identity to others. This has been most apparent when meeting Australian and American students at the University of Wollongong. Immediately the English accent is a novelty that fascinates them. Many a time have I been asked to say ‘tea’, or had requests to talk in a cockney accent. Following this, they tend to comment on the various mannerisms associated with the UK – our obsession with tea, our quaint chivalry, our inability to refrain from apologising etc. In the UK this would obviously become tedious and annoying, yet through the numerous pairs of fresh eyes, it is revived as an attractive distinctiveness, which is a great icebreaker that sets you apart.
This new perspective resuscitates the faceless nationality that once isolated me from the UK. Rather than fixating on the negative connotations, I have discovered that it is important to look at the bigger picture. Being British is not rigidly the ‘right’ way, yet it is also not ‘wrong’ or shameful. Nationalism has the ability to affirm an identity without implying a sense of arrogance. Although the political climate of the UK does not adequately express my personal opinion, being British does not mean it has to. Neither does it entail that others will presume so. As within the ideals of Atticus Finch: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” A sense of nationalism need not tarnish your understanding of an individual, nor does it impede your own individuality.