Top 7 TED Talks for Immigrants

Over the last century, cultures of the world have been blended through media, art, travel, thought, music, food, etc. All boundaries have been blurred, with millions of people living outside of countries of their birth.

With the increasing rates of migration all over the world, it is paramount to talk about the issues that come up. Often the support available to immigrants is focused on the more practical aspects of their experience: language and culture classes, legal help, aid with employment opportunities, etc. While all of that is immensely helpful and necessary, we forget to support the world’s expatriates with the mental and emotional help they may need.

Either by choice or by circumstance, we had to uproot our lives and find a home elsewhere. The process is challenging in many ways, not the least of which is the inner conflict.

Many of us no longer identify with only one country, culture, or ethnic background – we have become the meeting point of many values and opinions, we’ve had to resolve often conflicting norms and standards. We feel an ever-present tug of who were, the push and pull of who we were supposed to grow into, and who we are now. 

Our families may hold us to different standards than the society we now live in. Our childhood dreams must be adjusted to fit our new context. Our own actions may often feel foreign, unfamiliar, unfitting. Our priorities swing back and forth between staying true to tradition, and wanting to fit into our new community. There are varying pressures acting upon us at all times, many compromises needed in even the most mundane daily tasks. There may even be a thin veil of uncertainty between us and all of our actions – am I doing the right thing?

If any of that sounds familiar, this article is for you. Below are 7 TED talks to help you ground amidst that inner storm. Some of them put your struggles in perspective; others help you redefine your ideas of ‘home.’ Some will help you unite yourself into a single narrative, others will offer insight into your new compatriots.


Maz Jobrani – Did you hear the one about the Iranian-American?

In this short introductory talk Maz humorously presents the inner struggles of every immigrant. He jokes about the inconvenience of personal identity being woven into a ‘citizenship,’ and talks about the anxiety of traveling as an Iranian.

But more importantly, he points out that you, as an ambassador of cultural diversity, are the key to a more open-minded world.


Aziz Abu Sarah: For more tolerance, we need more… tourism?

This short, touching 5-minute talk will help you set the foundation for how you see your interactions with people of other cultures. Aziz inspires you to drop the walls of prejudice and connect with your social surroundings, to find common ground with the most unexpected groups. He urges you to consider that exposure to YOU can be someone’s resolution of ignorance, and your openness to their story may heal something in you as well as in them.


Pico Iyer: Where is home?

Iyer brilliantly addresses the slight anxiety many of us feel at answering the question of “Where do you come from?”

Unbeknownst to many, it is a very hard question to answer. Which part of your life’s experiences is ‘home’? Which chunk of your memories deserve your identity woven into their context? Where on a map would you place your pin of identity to answer that question?

In an immensely relatable talk, Iyer gathers all of us travelers into what he calls “The Great Floating Tribe.” He gives you a sense of belonging to this massive group of 220 million people, roaming the world and growing new roots.

Iyer calls for a more modern ‘state’ of identity; he invites you to abandon an identification with a geographically defined patch of soil, and liberates you to choose your own definition of ‘home.’

He points out that today, most ‘common’ and ‘similar’ experiences of a large percentage of people worldwide are not being of the same country or culture, but being of that global community. One where we’ve shed a singular identity and replaced it with sheer openness for this constantly evolving mix.

He reminds you that with your very presence and existence, you are giving thousands of people an international experience – something he equates with the state of being in love.


Taiye Selasi: Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m a local

Along with the above talk, Taiye Selasi continues the complex answer to the question of where we are from. She recognizes the inherent controversy and conflict of even having to identify oneself in terms of a ‘country.’ With so many of us living international lives, that is no longer a fitting description.

She points out that something as abstract and remote as a ‘country’ is not a reasonable basis for understanding a human being. “Histories and cultures are real” she says, “countries are invented”.

As a ‘multi-local’ person herself, Selasi offers a way for us to define ourselves in more meaningful, ‘local’ terms. She urges us to prioritize culture and experience over the arbitrary boundaries of ‘countries’ and their dysfunctional governments.

This talk will help you extract yourself from clichés, and root yourself in your own experience. It will expand the answer to where you’re from, and allow you to weave a more meaningful, coherent story of who you are now. Selasi will show you how to carry your home within you, and remind you that its walls are much too thick to be shaken by a change of settings.


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story

This talk is particularly important for those who come from countries represented rather negatively in the world’s eyes. If you come from a place torn by war, poverty, or conflict, sometimes it may be hard to identify with it. You may worry that the country’s reputation may be imprinted on you, and if you were to openly say where you are from, people may look at you with judgment, mistrust, or “patronizing, well-meaning pity.”

Adichie discusses the complex relationship one may have with the image of their country, and the stereotypes its nationals are faced with. She warns about the dangers of giving the world only one story about a place, a person, a nation.

She encourages us to tell the stories that are not told, to fill the blanks in the minds of so many who only got exposed to one description of your background. Break yourself out of the narrow, ignorant perceptions of others. Let people be educated by your very presence. Consider that you may be the first chance they get to question their stereotypes – you could offer them another story.

Adichie also urges us to boldly walk towards our own prejudices, and allow them to be disproved.


Anand Giridharadas: A tale of two Americas. And the mini-mart where they collided.

Your experiences as an immigrant may be challenging in various ways, and whether we like it or not, racism and discrimination do happen. Sometimes you may encounter ignorance and narrow-mindedness, and when your world feels small, this talk may help you stay open.

Anand tells the story of two people, who collide in a tragic act of a hate crime. He follows the two characters and their respective ‘worlds’ through a narrative of anger, helplessness, compassion, forgiveness. Although this talk targets America, the underlying message is true for living anywhere else: no matter where you come from and where you end up, helping the world grow is our shared responsibility.

In this very real and inspiring talk, Anand shows that no matter the circumstances, you have a choice of reaction. Consider that through you, the world grows. Through its experience of you and the diversity you bring, your adopted country blooms into openness and tolerance. Your eyes are the lens through which some people for the first time may find compassion. Your story may shatter their ignorant, limited stereotypes. Your words, your existence may be their first wake up call, the first reason they question themselves. You can be the bridge between ignorance and understanding, between hate and compassion.

In the face of negativity, it will be your choice to either rage back or withdraw yourself, or to weave yourself even more into the world, healing its shortcomings. 


Sheikha Al Mayassa – Globalizing the local, localizing the global.

Sheikha offers a sweet take on reconnecting with tradition, and dealing with the tension of wanting to keep your roots but adapting them to the modern world.

She shows that our background and the particular mix of cultural experiences we have gathered along the way are exactly the things we can contribute to the world. Just like every cell of the body is very specialized but has something unique to offer to the whole organism, so we need people of all kinds, backgrounds, and interests to have a healthy, well-rounded global community.

It’s not about choosing to identify with either your roots, or the culture you are surrounded by. You can be a microcosm of your original culture and carry it with you wherever you go, growing new branches out of those roots.

Sheikha encourages us to maintain cultural identities, and be ambassadors of diversity all over the world. She invites us to open the cultural dialogue – to let ourselves be different, and to let others familiarize themselves with our unique history and background. She urges us to break the walls of ignorance and foster curiosity for one another.


So much of what we do as immigrants is focused on fitting in. It’s easy to forget that just by being our different, diverse selves we have so much to offer to our new surroundings.

It is paramount to focus not only on acculturation and integration, but to appreciate the value of your own story, and the growth you bring to the world just by being you. Carry yourself with pride, your unique self is an invaluable contribution to the age of open borders.  

You may come from a far-away place, and a part of you may always be intricately woven into its landscapes. But remember that as you discover new parts of yourself in your new ‘home’ across the world, your new identity can grow and bloom out of those same roots.

As Pico Iyer says in his talk, “where you come from now is much less important than where you're going.”

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