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A Sense of Belonging

March 2, 2010

I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. But ever since I can remember, it never felt like home to me. While I loved my family, I felt constrained and a constant sense of not-belonging. Very early on in my life, I decided to study computers and shortly thereafter I decided I wanted to go to school in the United States. (All of this was before I was 12 years old.)

It took another six years, a lot of sweat and blood for me to finally make it to the United States in 1992. Even though I had dreamt of this moment for a very long time, the first year was scary and foreign more often than it was fun and refreshing. I remember being homesick a lot. I wrote and received a lot of letters. (This was before email was as widely spread as it is today.) And I cried a lot.

There were a lot more cultural differences and language nuances than I’d expected. Pittsburgh was a very different city than Istanbul. And I just felt like I wasn’t going to adjust any time soon. Several times, I questioned my decision to take such a big step. Maybe I was just the “not belonging” type and my problems had nothing to do with being in Istanbul.

But then I made friends. I started dating. I joined clubs. I got jobs on campus. I made more friends. Slowly, I learned a lot of the colloquialisms. And four years later, I had quite a few solid friends, an undergraduate degree with a minor and a graduate degree and I had started dating the man who would end up being my husband.

I then moved to New York for my first job. New York is a lot like Istanbul: big city, a lot of people rushing around, dirty, and always moving moving moving. It’s also very multi-cultural. New York felt a lot more like home to me. My husband and I spent seven years there (working very hard, long hours) before we decided to move away. At the time, I thought I was totally done with New York.

Our next home ended up being San Diego. We moved there sight-unseen, no friends, no jobs. In many ways, it was like Pittsburgh all over again. I felt out of sorts. The culture here was too different and I felt like a foreigner all over again. It took a few years but the birth of our first baby gave us the opportunity to make some good friends and we slowly started to get used to San Diego. I must admit that both of us felt like we missed New York dearly.

A few years later, we ended up moving to the San Francisco area. Northern California is similar to New York in a lot of ways. It’s also full of computer programmers and we have a lot of classmates here from college so it feels much more like home. And yet, we now miss San Diego. We long for the beach and the relaxed, quiet life we lived there for a while.

If you notice one pattern in each of my experiences, it’s that each time it took me a while to get used a new environment. To make it my home and find my place. I think this is how “home” works. What makes it home is the people, the familiarity, the routine, the comfort. All of these things take time.

Another thing I noticed is how I always long for the previous place once I move. When we left New York, we were totally done with it and ready to move. Yet when we moved to San Diego, we remembered so much of what we loved about New York. When we moved to Palo Alto, we realized how much we missed the beautiful beaches of San Diego. I think this is also typical since we often don’t tend to appreciate what’s in front of us until it’s disappeared and we realize how much we were taking it for granted.

I’ve now been in the United States for 18 years. I turned eighteen two weeks after I moved here so this is my break-even year (I’ve lived here the same number of years I’ve lived in Turkey) and I can tell you without a doubt that I belong here more than I’ve ever belonged in Turkey. I’ve now made homes in 4 different cities in America. I’ve got an American husband and two beautiful boys. I’ve even become an American citizen (a lifelong dream come true for me) and I’ve been gainfully employed for fourteen years in American institutions.

While I firmly believe home is where you make it, I do also think there’s an innate sense of belonging that you feel in some places. A pull. Maybe it’s that the people there are more your people. Or that you connect with nature there more. Or it’s the weather. I don’t know. All I can tell you is that my home is here. And I am so thankful to have found it.

There’s nothing that feels as good as a sense of belonging. Like you’ve come home.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Gab permalink
    April 19, 2010 3:26 am

    Wow, I love how you write! I totally understand your feelings of belonging-ness. We lived in Hong Kong for 8 years and when we moved back to Australia 4 years ago it took me well over a year to feel like it was “home” again

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