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  • Writer's picturePreeti Bonthron

Alessandro Gontay: People make nations

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Nationality is a political status defined by the legal belonging to a specific country. It is closely intertwined with race and ethnicity and contains multiple points of intersection with other facets.

The tapestry of nationality itself is a broad construct, based not on a single point of view but on layers upon layers of human experiences across the globe.

In fact, people make nations, and therefore nationality.

Nationality is granted either by birth or by naturalisation, where one becomes a citizen of a country after certain criteria have been met. It is a human construct, albeit one that gives a sense of identity, which links back to belonging and diversity.

Moreover, going back to the days before nationality became a specific construct, many factors would have contributed to that sense of belonging to a country, nationality, a geographic area, a tribe.

Hence, if we believe that people make nationality, it is not easy to comprehend what helped to originally conceptualise it.

Part of it can be emotional.

We process thoughts through a complex neural network. In fact, the limbic brain is the portion that functions to process emotion and memory. Given that it plays a key role in how humans act, emotions and wanting to recreate that sense of belonging could have played a huge role in the creation of nationality.

However, nationality relies on multiple factors to become a complete construct.

“Is pineapple your favourite fruit?” “Is Italian your favourite cuisine?” “Do you eat with your hands or with cutlery?”

Some of you might have been on the receiving end of similar sorts of questions based on stereotypes stemming from your own nationalities.

Perhaps you answered them right away. Perhaps you were confused. Perhaps they were asked because these were the stereotypes associated with your nationality.

Following high school in Indonesia, I moved abroad. From university in Hong Kong I made a move even further for more university to Bristol, UK and then made the decision to continue to work in the UK.

Not too long ago, someone commented to me that these decisions were an indication that I did not have any loyalty or a sense of patriotism towards my home country, Indonesia.

Flabbergasted, shocked and perplexed are the words describing feelings that flooded through me in the wake of that comment. I did not know how to respond.

After some reflection, I asked myself a question.

“Does my decision to pursue my career abroad diminish the feeling of patriotism that I have towards my country?”

I never said I hated my country or that I had renounced my nationality, but this person seemed to take an action as simple as moving abroad for more opportunity as a lack of patriotism. From that point on, I’ve learned to realize that everyone has their own personal perspective towards the concept of nationality.

Society determines nationality by one’s passport or ID card and that is lawfully correct.

However, how one's reaction to, understanding of and feelings towards the concept of nationality and how they express it is what makes the difference.

Taken too far, patriotism becomes exaggerated and certain ideologies use nationality as a means of oppressing others by depreciating their perspective.

Some might consider nationality as a core component of our identity, one that we carry throughout our life and affects opportunities, privilege, and even rights and responsibilities.

For example, I am nationally Indonesian, racially Chinese & Thai, and have lived in Indonesia, Hong Kong, and now the UK. My nationality is Indonesian, but it shouldn’t be a means of limitation when it comes to achieving my goals. If it does, then it diminishes some of the greatness of nationality.

Global workplaces bring together people from all over the world, and one of the key competences to be successful in the workplace is cultural awareness and the ability to get along and work well with people regardless of cultural differences stemming from citizenship and nationality.

According to the DIAL Global Diversity Review 2023 (UK and US), nationality ranks high on the list of facets in both countries, coming in in the second place in the US and third in the UK.

UK-based companies have a higher propensity to collect data on employee nationality. However, US companies have a larger proportion of international employees and are more likely to offer support and guidance regarding discrimination.

84% in the US and 90% in the UK continue to promote the benefits of a culturally diverse workforce and 83% (US) and 74% (UK) offer inclusivity training on how to work in a culturally diverse workplace.

Nationality is such a core part of identity, so how can organisations help their employees navigate cross-cultural conversations and a better understanding of their team?

The DIAL Global Diversity Review has four key recommendations for building up global teams comprising of people from different nationalities.

1. Celebrating an organisation’s breadth of culture and differences. One key way to do this is by being open to the traditions and

values of all cultures and avoiding promoting or embracing only

one culture in the workplace.

2. Cultural training for teams

Formal cultural training that draws on core aspect representing an organisation’s specific workforce make up can teach teams about the values and culture of their coworkers.

3. Being respectful of language barriers

Different accents, or a different first language can be a barrier in how people express themselves or understand someone else. It is important to give those speaking a different language the time and space required to communicate effectively.

4. Be clear in procedures

When disagreements arise, there needs to be key procedures in place to deal with them. Organisations need to ensure that they are treating all their employees equally and fairly regardless of nationality.

The first step

When it comes to being expats or immigrants, people away from their home countries/cultures often have to actively learn to make another nation their home. As they move from city to city and country to country, they become part of a diaspora that contains a lot of cross-cultural integration and crossover.

They are introduced to other nationalities and other cultures.

This introduction and getting-to-know-you often begins with a key question, the first thing asked and answered even if the answer is complicated.

“So, where are you from?”

Alessandro Gontay is the Junior Content Producer at DIAL Global, passionate about creating user-centred design that leads to transformation. Born into an ethnically Chinese-Thai family and raised in Indonesia, he then moved to Hong Kong first, then Bristol, which led to him resonating with the Nationality facet the most, especially since his cross-cultural upbringing has played a huge role in his growth. Alessandro is also passionate about health & fitness, food, adventure, travel and an active lifestyle.

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