Cultural Belonging.

Having lived my whole adult life in another nation, my relationship with my birth country has been complicated.

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You don’t sound like you’re from here. Where are you from?’

 

Nearly thirteen years in, and I still get asked this question on a regular basis. I’ve started to enjoy messing with people a little bit. I say, ‘Oh I’m from here.’ I want to add, ‘My family and I paid loads of money to now be in possession of a wee red passport that says I’m legally entitled to all that you are entitled to.’ Mic drop. But I refrain. I can’t really blame them. I do sound different after all.

The follow up question is inevitable…. ‘Oh I mean where are you really from?’ And there it is...the emotion of displacement. Cue launching into an explanation as brief as I can muster, and moving on.

‘You don’t sound like you’re from here’....And I never will. That Scottish brogue is a beautiful thing, but very hard to put on well. Trust me. I’ve tried.

We moved over when I was barely 17. Immediately I started to make adjustments to what I called things. We didn’t have to learn a new language….but we might as well have. There was a whole host of cultural assumptions, references, and understandings that I had no knowledge of. Conversations that happened around me that I could not join in with because I hadn’t grown up with the same television shows. Constantly having to explain who I was to people. They had no reference for me, of course. No one had really known me before the age of 17. They didn’t know who I was. 

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I remember, in my first year of university, deciding to just stop talking for a bit. Or answering questions as briefly and quietly as possible. Maybe people won’t ask me the question. Or launch into a tirade about why the USA is ruining the world. Or misunderstand my meanings. Or make assumptions of who I was simply because of my accent.

And then, every couple of years, when I went back to visit extended family and friends, I would hear another statement…. ‘Oh wow you don’t sound American anymore!’ No longer belonging. No longer home. Life moved on back there, and I didn’t fit in anymore. And so it began, the grieving process of losing a home. Even now it can still hit me at random moments…

So I would go back and forth. Sometimes happy that people thought I didn’t sound American anymore. Fist pump to myself, I’d assimmilated. Boom. Other times, the feeling of homelessness, of being consistently misunderstood, would overwhelm me. Sometimes I would look back at my birth country with sentimental fondness, at other times I would shake my head in disbelief at the same worldviews I had once held.

Immigrant life can be emotionally chaotic....swinging between both a highly critical outside perspective on where you are 'from', whilst also being wildly nostalgic and semi-patriotic. Paradoxical. Third culture, is what they call it. A nice name for someone who feels like they have no real home. They'll never fully be a part of their birth culture again, and they'll never fully be a part of the one they live in now. No matter what a passport or birth certificate says. Cultural belonging is like the ability to breathe. You don’t really notice how important it is until you are waylaid with a cold and can’t sleep. So deeply a part of you.

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But over the years I have begun to love this. Even in the hard places. Because it's served to remind me where my true Home is. We are all sojourners in a strange land. Awaiting the making new of all that is lost, and all that is foreign. Outsiders brought in.

As C. S. Lewis put it, describing Aslan's country, 'I have come home at last. This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.' {The Last Battle}

This is a discussion that we will probably be coming back to time and again on this blog. For now, I leave you with a question.

Where do you get your sense of belonging from?

 {Grace}