Home is where the heart is, right? For many years, I tied my identity to a place until I finally realised that my heart is – as stupid as it sounds – anywhere I go. Unavoidably I carry it with me, through good and bad times, different places, through friendships, heartbreaks, careers and through the smaller and bigger decisions along the way.
I’ve gone through many identity crises to come to the conclusion that “happiness is not a place” as The Wind + The Wave sing. “Belonging nowhere and everywhere” is probably the best way to summarise this feeling of restlessness, always torn between a slight hint of homesickness and a strong longing for independence that many expats and long-term travellers experience a lot. The US-American author and researcher Brené Brown brought a quote by Maya Angelou to my attention and I felt a little tight around my chest for a while when thinking about it. It has hit a nerve.
“I belong every place. I belong no place. I belong to myself.”
It has given me the painful answer to a question I was asking myself for so many years: Where do I belong? The painful part about this was that I didn’t know how to belong to myself. Simple as that. I spent a year abroad in Australia when I was 19, moved back to Germany, moved several times within the country and ended up in Ireland in 2016 – without the intention of staying any longer than 3 months. Four years later I’m still here, with three years of them living with a subtle but constant uncertainty about who I was.
It took time to figure out what really mattered to me. What my values were. What I really wanted. How to live up to what was important and even sacred to me. It took even longer to get to know myself without being influenced by others’ perceptions of the person I used to be or should be in the future.
What you can’t really prepare for when you move abroad is that your sense of identity and belonging can get quite shaken up. Every single expat or long-term traveller I spoke to over the years agrees with me on the following: Living abroad challenges you but also makes you grow immensely when you realise you need to belong to yourself first.
No matter if you live abroad or not – make it your mission to know what is important to you and what you want. This will always bring you back to yourself.