Finding belonging, Moving through life

Where are you from? Is it a question marking curiousness, otherness, or comradery? Similarly, is it a simple question? In recent years, I have come to recognize my complicated relationship with this question. I am not alone in seeing how my life between work and school has taken me to new cities, states or provinces, and countries or continents.  My experience, I know is not dissimilar from that of many others.

For me, this awareness began when I went away to college in a new region of my country.  For others this might come earlier or later in life, and for many types of reasons.   Nevertheless, in starting that degree, I left my hometown, state, and region. At that time when people asked where I was from, I often would say the closest city (who knew my small town?) or even just the New England region.

At my old university, the first year students were assigned houses: a group of people with whom you live, play sports, have baking nights, study, and do all sorts of college activities. Slowly, new groups formed around activities, programs of study, and other friendships. As these new groups formed the new university and new city became familiar, became another home.  After four years, it was time to move on.

Upon graduation, there was a distinct feeling of scattering.  Of my apartment of five people, we found ourselves stretched between four continents within the following year.



Illustrasjon: Lara Sorgenfrei


Leaving school there is the question: how does one make friends and find a new sense of belonging. Work might bring us to new places or old places with new people. At this point, do you say you are from your hometown, your country, your old university? Those around me and I found friends, and a group to be with, in the people with whom we worked or volunteered.  Sometimes a group is those you live with or find a common interest, like a book club, or even friends of old friends.  You could have these groups defined with Facebook or messaging groups with fun names.  Sometimes these friendships are long lasting, others more temporary, as we move on to new places and experiences.

Back studying as a student in a new city and a new country was once again about finding a place. This sense of place grows with knowing roommates, others in activities, and those in studies.  Here we become part of the group and exist as individuals in the group.  Looking around the reading room of those in the same master’s degree, I can see this with each desk decorated in its own way be it with photos, posters, or plants.  Again, now are you from Oslo, are you from that reading room, that desk?

Recently, when visiting a friend from my undergraduate university, she expressed this shared feeling of wandering. Each step sees us all adjusting to a new life. Now you might have a friend in an exciting city to check in with or visit. Sometimes you have sense of belonging nowhere, but it also starts to feel you belong everywhere. Where are you from? For me it has also become where have you been and where is important to you?