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What makes you, you?

Student blogger Orli West on what it means when we talk about who we are

    We’ve all experienced the dreaded question; “so, tell me a little bit about yourself?” Whether it’s on a date or in an interview, we’ve all had to scramble for an answer. Do they want to know I watched the whole first season of Jane the Virgin in a week? Or that one of my favourite foods is pickles?

    Last Wednesday, in a Genesis talk with therapist Kim Schwartz, we were asked to identify a core characteristic of ourselves. Her caveat was that it only counts as a core characteristic if it’s a trait that you’ve always had. If you had asked me two years ago to describe myself and my values, I would have found it an easy question to answer. I would have told you I am a volunteer, that I was going to study psychology, that my family is the most important thing to me, that I hate exercise, and that I’m a practising Jew but that I would never consider marrying out.

    Fast forward two years and some of those answers would now be different. Today I would tell you I’m a university student studying, and loving, education. I would tell you that I go to the gym three times a week and really enjoy running. I would also tell you that I now (try to) keep Shabbat and keep kosher, but that I recently had a non-Jewish boyfriend. The fact is, I am a very different person from the pre-uni me, two years ago.

    Most probably, if you were to ask me the same question in another two years’ time, my answer would be entirely different again. I will hopefully be a graduate, focussing on becoming a primary school teacher. I would like to be in a stable relationship, and on my way to becoming a ‘proper’ adult. The reality is, as we go through life, our identity changes. We are all on a journey to discovering who we are, and if that means that we adapt over time, then that’s okay. Our beliefs, values and what makes us, us, change through our experiences.

    But how much the environment influences us obviously differs for each person. Siblings all living under the same roof, brought up with the same traditions, will be moulded in a different way. Some will cherish the experiences and replicate them in their own homes, others will rebel and others will want to make their own way in the world.

    I often wonder who I would be if my circumstances had been different. If I hadn’t moved from a mainstream state school where I was the only Jew in the village, to a Jewish school in year 2, would I have gone to a Jewish secondary school, and then a Jewish sixth form? Would I be sitting writing this article in a house with six other Jewish girls I met in Hillel House last year? In reality, the answer is probably no; I am a product of my upbringing and environment, with a bit of my own temperament thrown in for good measure.

    But you know what’s amazing? My journey has really only just begun. Coming to university has been a huge learning curve in discovering who I am and what I stand for, and my discovery isn’t over yet.

    So, if I were to have Kim’s talk again this week, I think I’d be saying something different. My core characteristics are not defined by the person I used to be; my core characteristics are defined by who I am today, and who I aspire to be tomorrow.

    Orli West is in her second year at Birmingham University where she is studying Education.

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