Thursday, January 23, 2014

A sense of belonging

It's funny what you miss when you move abroad. 

For me it wasn't particular people or places or even Cadburys chocolate - it was that feeling of being a part of a community. A sense of belonging. 

Finding your place in a new community takes time, a lot of time, and a lot of effort. You have to continually push yourself outside of your comfort zone - have conversations with people that you'd rather not talk to, do activities you'd rather not be involved in, push yourself out there in order to become part of the on going story. And it can be exhausting. 

The pull of the familiar soon becomes strong. 

I spoke to so many expats in Spain who had lived there for 5,6,7 or more years and  although they had built new friendships and formed great bonds they always felt pulled in two different directions - the country they came from and the country they now lived in. As did their kids - strangely even the ones born there. 

It's a funny and intangible thing 'belonging'. It's the relaxing back into your own language, with old friends who you have a history with, it's family and culture and knowing how all the official stuff works. It's understanding why things happen and when. It's bumping into people you know and going for impromptu coffees. It's offloading your kids to friends' houses and seeing multiple children running through your front door in return. It's being able to drop into people homes uninvited, and it's being invited out for dinner or a few drinks. It's a little like Cheers I guess 'where everybody knows your name'. 

I've a new found respect for expats who make new lives in new countries. Even when the standard of living far exceeds what you are used to and the sun never falters - it still takes guts and patience to hang in there and build that new world around you and your family.

That's not the reason I came home though - well a small part maybe - it's more just an observation that I wanted to remember for the next time I find myself hiking to school in the freezing rain and begin to fondly recall those easy strolls in flip flops and warm sunny breezes... 

(Which, ahem, may very well might be today..)

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