On the Topic of Belonging

Where are you from? A simple and harmless question thrown around when meeting new people, can stir up a lot of emotions within me. I usually reply with either one of the three: Germany, Thailand or both and don’t think much about it until I am on my own, in an unfamiliar place and thinking of where I truly belong. I never really felt that I belonged anywhere in particular, neither in Thailand nor Germany. Even the word (be)longing is interesting if you split it apart and rearrange it. Longing to be would be a much more fitting term. It is a feeling I have always felt in my life, to be a part of something bigger, something that is missing in my life.

Where is home?

The German word ‘Heimat’ (loosely translated as ‘home’) describes a place, where you belong. But for me this magical place doesn’t seem to exist, an individual Utopia, so to speak. For many years I thought that Thailand was this place the country I was born and raised for the most part of my life, but when I moved there and finally sorted out my citizenship, I didn’t feel like I belonged there, at least not in that society.

But when I look at the other end of the spectrum I can’t identify myself with German society either. Yes it is much easier for me to talk to someone from Germany and understand the way Germans think (most of the time at least), but I could never imagine myself living there at all. Once again I don’t feel I belong to that society either. There is something about the German fixation on work and following rules that makes me feel miserable just thinking about it and off course I can’t stand the weather there.

When I decided to leave Thailand exactly one year ago to travel the world, one of the reasons, at least without intending to, was to see if this magical ‘Heimat’ exists somewhere else. Every time I travel to a new city I always ask myself: “Can I live here?” Followed by the more important question: “Can I belong here?” Many times it is a “yes” for the first but never for the second one.

Where does the path lead me?
Is it out there somewhere?

Having been born and raised in two cultures is a blessing and a curse in disguise. On one hand you have all the benefits of both citizenships and the ability to understand different cultures and societies, but on the other, you always look at society from the outside. I am not sure if other ‘third culture kids’, a term to describe people that have grown up in different cultures in their lives, feel the way I do, but I this view from the outside is usually not a positive one. I wish I could ignore this and be cheering the national team on their victory, take pride in the achievements of my fellow countrymen and women and be a good citizen by working hard, making money and spending it again to stimulate the economy. To be able to go out, have a good time and not having to think about the larger implications and the triviality of human existence, would be so much nicer than the current state in my head.

You need your tribe which you can belong to

But then I met others, who have traveled, and by that I mean: spent months or even years outside of their own country. And it is those people, who I can truly relate to because they see the world as I do. There is a shared sentiment about society, the hamster wheel everyone goes through, how liberating it is to escape it and the feeling that one cannot go back there ever again.

This raises the question: is belonging just about place? Having traveled and met countless people, one thing that I kept experiencing is that however beautiful or nice a place is, it is the people you meet there that shape your experience and impressions of it. So when it comes down to it, where we should belong is not a place or even a society, but a close group of people who you share something in common with. It could be people you work, travel or live with. What you need to do is invest effort and time into the ones that you can count on and build your own tribe, where you can belong. This is the reason why I decided to stay here in Mexico City for longer, because know it is the place to do that.