Belonging Starts by Leaving Home

I have lived at 35 different addresses in my life. 13 of those addresses were before I turned 18. The 22 apartments and houses since then are the legacy of an ex-military dependent who spent the bulk of her childhood moving, saying goodbye, saying hello. My husband, who spent his entire childhood and adolescence in one neighborhood and in one house, is resigned to my relentless restlessness (eight of the 35 moves were with him.)

It’s my belief that the feeling of belonging and travel are not mutually exclusive. I think, to a certain degree, we travel in order to feel like we belong. Not only does travel give you a glimpse of the rest of the world, and therefore a snapshot of your place in it, it also helps you to see that we are all a part of one large human family.

In fact, the expatriate experience—one that you’d typically think of as apart or separate from the collective group—is really a definitive exercise in belonging. Nowhere is the feeling of belonging more strongly felt than when you live abroad and happen upon a fellow American. This could be someone you might not bother to cross the street for back home, yet in this context—say one where they are the only American besides yourself in a room of foreign nationals—they are met with real pleasure and enthusiasm.

Think of all the expatriate clubs and organizations in Paris, for example. First, there are an astounding 165,000 Americans living in France today (50,000 in Paris, alone) so they have no problem getting a taco party together to watch American gridiron or feeling like “they belong.”

Then, of course, there’s the technological revolution and how it’s affected the expatriate. When my husband and I lived overseas—he in the late seventies and me in the mid-eighties—contact with family and friends was expensive and slow. A letter to New Zealand from the States could easily take two weeks to get to me. The phone calls—expensive and infrequent—had serious quality issues, (like a humpback was squatting on the cable that threaded along the ocean floor from Jacksonville, Florida to Auckland, New Zealand.) My husband and I often remark how much easier it would be to live in a foreign country today, with skyping, and the instant gratification of cell phone contact. During the decades that he and I lived overseas, we felt truly and completely separated from our support group of friends and family back home.

The plus side, of course, was that it added to the immersion effect, for us, a large part of the reason we were overseas in the first place. He was living in Germany at the time and the lack of home contact probably aided in his mastering the language that much faster.

Like all travel, living abroad tends to give you perspective. It gives you a different point of view either of how you live back in the States—or how you want to live. Have you ever come back from a trip overseas and then made a drastic change in your life? I would love to hear how a trip or travel in general has changed you.

8 thoughts on “Belonging Starts by Leaving Home

  1. Totally agree. I am an American Citizen, and have been since 2003, but British by birth. Love living here in Colorado, but do enjoy the chance meeting with another Brit.

  2. I too have had many addresses and have been to many schools. Never did it bother me until I had to return to the states after being in Berlin for 3 years. Probably because I was a teenager and most things affect teenagers far more than any other group – they are so emotional 🙂 I was used to leaving friends and it usually did not bother me. It still does not bother me much. People come and people go in your life and you get used to that. The internet has really drastically changed that though. I now have been able to reconnect to people from that era in my life and have even made new friends who were also brats. Brats seem to have a special connection and bond instantly for some reason and begin to feel immediately as if they have known each other much longer than they have.

  3. I think ‘home’ often means ‘where you’re happiest’. I think the paradigm’s changed recently, too; the world seems very, very small thanks to skype and the various other ways web2 brings us together. I’m a New Zealander and have lived in Wellington, NZ, for most of my adult life. But part of my family are Dutch and live in the Netherlands. Keeping in touch was difficult even five years ago – but now we’re in contact most days, either via skype, twitter or even old-fashioned email (old…heh).

    Matthew Wright

    • Years ago, when I lived in NZ (by myself!) I felt so far from my family back in the states. I’d love to try it now with all the easy ways of staying in touch. I’d NEVER get homesick! (Funny, though, the round trip ticket prices from ATLANTA to AUCKLAND have stayed virtually unchanged in all these years.)

    • I did some study on the effects of moving so much in military brats and it tends to go one way or the other. Either you’re forever restless, like me, or you crave stability. My three brothers have each dug in and not moved–not even across town–not once in over thirty years. Unfortunately, the experience affected me differently.

  4. Much like you I have moved quite a few times. I’m on 41 now and had my first 20 before I turned 18. I have been in my current location for the last 4 years and I am getting that restless feeling. I wouldn’t change anything though. All the traveling and moving has made me who I am today. It has given me rich life experiences to draw upon when writing.

    • I agree with you totally. Unfortunately, moving so much is expensive. A friend of mine once said: “Two moves is as good as a fire.” He was right. Moving is a great way to clear out the junk you pick up along the way. I’ve had a slew of garage sales. Now, if I’d just stopped there and didn’t turn around and load up the U-Haul truck, I’d have a lot more money today. (Or at least that’s what my husband tells me! LOL!)

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