Popping in to Bangkok for a weekend, one of my favorite homes, reminded me of an earlier blog text I wrote about my feelings about belonging everywhere and nowhere. What does a “home” mean? I’m still facing these same questions, but am even more confident now that I can and shall define my own identity. I make my life, I live my life. I define who I am and where my home is – or more like, where my homes are. For there are many places I feel at home.
The below text was posted in 2014 in my previous blog site, at a time when my physical home was in the beloved city of Ho Chi Minh. It remains on the list of homes – where I feel at home.
Recently I read a very interesting and well written article on an expat’s life and how complicated it is to explain and understand a concept of feeling at home.
It’s not easy explaining the different aspects of an expat’s life – not always even to fellow expats but especially not to those staying at “home”. I’ve noticed, that outsiders always seem to consider Finland as my home. Are you going home for Christmas? Are you thinking of moving back home someday?
Finland is the country I was born in and grew up in. It’s the country where my parents, brother and other relatives live. It’s the country of my passport. But is it my home?
What is a concept of home, even? Wikipedia defines it as a dwelling-place, used as a permanent or semi-permanent residence. In that sense Finland isn’t my home, or my home is not in Finland. On the other hand, I believe a home is more than just a residence, a place close to one’s heart.
Here’s the thing. Finland is close to my heart and it’s a very special country to me. But I don’t feel at home in Finland. In honest, I feel more uncomfortable in Finland than elsewhere in the world. It’s not because of Finland. It’s because I’m supposed to belong but I don’t feel like I do. It’s the only place in the world where I should feel rooted in, where I should feel like I’m one of the many sames. I look like everyone else, I speak the same language, I know the customs and share the cultural heritage. But I don’t feel I belong – I don’t feel “us”, I see “them”.
Finland is the only place where I should fit it, where I’m expected to fit in. That’s what makes me uncomfortable because there is no reason for me feeling that I don’t. Anywhere else I can feel free and comfortable, because I don’t need to pretend I belong or fit in. I don’t naturally do.
The writer of the article defined perfectly how “the beauty of nomadic life is that you are detached from the flaws of the surrounding society while you soak up the best it has to offer”. Because we don’t quite belong, we don’t have the same constraints as the locals do. We are not bound by the same expectations.
For me living abroad is liberating. I’m more free to just be me. I have an excuse for being different, acting weirdly, not liking something or getting ridiculously excited about other stuff. I’m a foreigner, I am allowed to look at things from a different perspective. Living in developing countries is also a good eye opener. Makes one appreciate the own comforts and possibilities even more.
Years in developing countries have in fact made me more intolerant towards the petty complaints in the more developed countries, such as Finland. In the newspaper today I read Finnish soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan describing this. How they can’t cope with their kids misbehaving or people complaining about little things. They had seen real suffering, lived in real dangers. They can’t relate to Finnish people’s troubles.
I haven’t experienced war, but I’ve seen real poverty. People who truly are homeless and have little or no means to get their daily rice. Others who get by but barely. Poor people in rich countries like Finland might lack the means to live well. Poor people in poor countries lack the means to live at all. No offense, not meaning to hurt anyone’s feelings. Everyone is entitled to complain about their sufferings and to want for more and better. I’m just saying that I struggle relating to such problems, especially when complaints are aimed at government not doing enough for their citizens. But that’s another story all together.
In the developing countries, I don’t belong and I definitely don’t share their daily struggles. I can’t relate to their suffering as I never have and likely never will be in same desperate situation. But in Finland, I also don’t feel I relate to that life and the locals’ daily struggles. I feel an outsider. I observe, I see and I hear, but I don’t quite understand.
Maybe it’s just me. I have always felt a sense of not-quite-belonging. Maybe I’ve become a world-wanderer because that is just who I am. I don’t belong anywhere so I can be at home anywhere. Everywhere and nowhere – that’s where I belong. I belong to my life.