A sense of belonging is an important feature of knowing who you really are. The culture in which you were brought up in, the environment in which you grew up, and the people you shared your experiences with all add up to form one’s personality.
Is it possible to lose your identity by moving away from the place you grew up in?
Moving to London, four years ago to study was a huge decision I decided to make. Which, when put in perspective, has not only changed my lifestyle and habits but also my outlook on life. Exposure to various types of people, certain difficulties in assimilating into a new culture and the fascination of the new world opening up in front of you, alters one’s sense of identity.
Recently my friend sent me a quote, by Ijeoma Umebinyuo in which she talks about her experience of studying abroad:
‘So, here you are too foreign for home too foreign for here. Never enough for both’.
For some reason, I feel a certain affinity with these words. If someone were to ask me to write a sentence describing myself, I would have used this quote. Assimilation into a new culture, a new way of life, is hard for any individual to go through. Some accommodate the changes by altering themselves to fit in, while others refrain from changing and keep the sense of being an outsider.
For my part, I completely indulged in the culture when I came to London. All these small changes, which I had to get accustomed to — new people, new environment — was a lot to handle. As the years passed, London felt more like home, and I developed a sense of belonging which grew through simple daily rituals like walking to my nearest tube station in order to top-up my Oyster card. But, I began feeling as though I was loosing my identity, my sense of who I am and where I belong.
With my newfound sense of belonging in a foreign country, came a sense of confusion and betrayal. That sense of betrayal grew because of the desire to not want to leave, to not want to go back to where I grew up; preferring instead to be in a country I spent only four years in, to the one where I lived my childhood and where all my family were. Going back home for the holidays, being back in my room, felt strange. I realized that I could not call my hometown my home anymore.
In London, the feeling of being a foreigner never leaves. Everyone asks you about your nationality, while looking at you as though you are a visitor. Even in the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the world, the feeling of not belonging never goes away. With the struggle of enjoying life in London, with a sense of not fully belonging, also came the feeling of complete confusion with my sense of identity. Back home, everyone started seeing me for the person I had become; a visitor. My family had gotten so used to me not being home most of the time, that they unintentionally turned my room into a storage place and saw me more as a passer-by. Seeing some of my old friends also felt odd, as I realized I didn’t have much in common with them anymore.
The huge cultural differences which exist between my hometown and London have changed me in a way that I am now no longer able to live in either of these places, without feeling myself a stranger. Even though London is an immensely diverse city, I know that I am not seen as a native. While back home, I have difficulty readapting to my old lifestyle.
My sense of belonging is shattered, I’m foreign to the places I grew up and lived in. People go through certain stages in life which change their perceptions and identity. In the current era of interconnectedness and huge waves of migration, one would argue that it’s quite normal for an individual to move to a new place and start a new life there. However, there are repercussions to moving away from where one grew up. There will always be this state of confusion about one’s sense of belonging.
The question, which I struggle to answer, is: how do you go back to your old self? The life where you grew up in, the place where all your loved ones are, but a place with which you no longer feel any affinity, in which you are a stranger.