The question of belonging had long been on my mind.
I am what is called a “third culture kid”, my parents have two different nationalities (Romanian and German) and I was born and grew up in a third country, which is Belgium.
I grew up speaking German at home (my mother is a German speaking Romanian), French in Belgium. After studying in the UK and Spain I moved to Berlin to understand how German I am.
One of the nicest memories of my childhood in Brussels is tied to our Hungarian neighbours, who were also German (and Hungarian) speaking and whom my sister and I adopted as family members and baptized “Tante und Onkel” (aunt and uncle). Tante would make the most delicious cakes and langos, Hungarian “pancakes” covered in oil, salt and garlic and would lovingly reach them over the garden wall for us to enjoy. This little community constituted an essential part of my home and gave me a sense of belonging.
Neither Tante and Onkel, nor my family had further family members in Belgium, none of us were Flemish or Walloon. So sharing a language and enjoying their love and care, this little community constituted a deeply meaningful island of belonging to my childhood life in Brussels.
Later, I lived in numerous countries, but with time came to realise that I feel a greater sense of belonging to this multinational and often chaotic place I grew up in.
So back to Brussels I came.
It took me a while to understand that this quest for a sense of belonging is an experience shared by many. In truth, it cuts across nationalities, which are, to quote Benedict Anderson, “imagined communities”, historical constructs built up over time. They are not inherent.
The feeling of not belonging and the loneliness that can come with it, however, is I think universally shared. I think everyone can relate to moments in which you felt alien, whether it is in a job, circle of friends, even family. Yet I sometimes get the impression that it is a well-kept secret amongst us all- the painful awareness of not feeling connected, or joined in the way we would like to be.
I came to understand that the more I healed my connection to myself, to my purpose, the more settled I could feel in the world. I ended up finding my place of belonging, as of course my outer home is the mirror of my inner world. Once I found a way to connect to my sense of self and the inspiration derived from that in my life and work, I started to build my home, both within and around me.
With love, Irene