“fear is the biggest barrier to belonging”

I think the concept of belonging and the word itself go two ways: there is always something you do feel you belong to and there are things that you don’t feel you belong to. I moved here when I was studying. I grew up in the States and I spent up until I was 20 in the States and then I’ve lived another 17 years here.

I just returned from a week in Hawaii so belonging is really fresh for me. When I go back home, every trip and every time, there’s been a greater sense of distance, a greater gap, since I’ve been away. That feeling of belonging is so fluid and keeps changing. Where do I belong? More and more I feel like I belong in Australia, even though I can feel the identity when I go to America but I don’t feel like I belong. It’s an interesting word.

I still have family in Illinois. My last trip through there was four years ago. It’s lovely because the family I still have there, they’re always family and there’s that sense of belonging.

I caught up with different family members on this last trip. I just felt this change, and it was oh wow, the cultural difference had become big enough so that it was a clash. How we go about doing things and how we prioritize what do we want to do on this holiday was like, ok, Is it me?  Is it them? Is it cultural differences? It was really interesting. it was a really weird trip.

kiki: We often don’t realize how much we’ve changed when we live in what was once a foreign country. 

It’s funny reading other people’s interpretations about where I’m from and so not guessing that I’m American at all anymore. A lot of people just say, You have a very mixed accent. Where are you from? and so that brings up the story. But for those who just guess, it’s 50-50 whether they guess I’m Ozzie or American.

kiki: Have you got family here now?

I’ve created a family here. I’ve got a partner and kids. We met at uni here. I was just intending to be here six months during a semester abroad.

kiki: How will you navigate the future?

I realized the four-year gap was too long between trips. I took my kids on a trip when they were really young and it put me off travelling with kids for a while. But now that they’re older and I realize that they’re growing up without that side of their family and culture I really want to get back there and Hawaii’s a very good convenient half way point.

It’s hard. You do need the time to go, the money, the resources. You need a lot of time to really have it sink in and be quality time rather than just a quick trip. Like this last trip was really quick for my sister’s 40th, so it wasn’t about that family connection with the kids. That was were I felt that gap, that sense of wow we have really grown apart. I guess that could have happened whether I was living in the States or not.

I had a friend make a really interesting comment about belonging to me: there’s always a community you can belong to. That friend is someone who’s proactive about finding a place to belong and a way to belong and it might be short-term as she moves to her next hobby, but the fact is, she can see and recognize that it’s there. I know a lot of people are held back by fear.

Fear is the biggest barrier to belonging. If you can overcome that fear you can belong. I think everyone is afraid that they don’t belong. It’s really fear-driven as much as belonging is a loving word. It’s about love so it’s interesting that it’s only fear that holds people back from belonging.

The Pop-Up Story Catcher collected this story and photo at the State Library Queensland as part of the Anywhere Festival. Brisbane (May 2016)