Not later than the other day I was asked where I’m from.
For a very long time this was an easy one to answer. No pause, no hesitation, no pondering about what the person was really asking.
Depending on which part of the world I was in, Brussels or Belgium would fuse out of my mouth. That was a no-brainer.
Lately however it has become harder and harder to give a simple answer.
This topic of “where is home/where are you from” was completely unknown to me until 3 years ago. I am now reading, hearing and discussing it more often that I would have ever imagined. I have learned it is an extremely common discussion amongst expats or many who have ever had to leave one place to live in another one.
Although it may seem simple, “where do you come from” sends you back to who you are and how you define yourself.
Are you asking me about the country I was born in? The one I grew up in or the place I currently live in?
For me those are three different answers.
The first one was never home and was even almost irrelevant to me for a very long time as I left it when I was three months old. That was until recently when moving abroad saw me going through the administrative steps every expat experiences, getting a hold on your birth certificate and so on. Doing this I got confirmation of my dual citizenship, I suspected it but didn’t really know for sure and it didn’t matter that much to me. But now, if I ever want to visit my birth country, I would need a new passport. The “where are you from” makes me wonder if I should actually request that passport or not. Not an easy question, I told you, it brings you back to who you are and how you define yourself!
My “home country”, the one I grew up in, is it where I’m from? I suppose it is but then again it is not as easy as it seems as the following line usually refers to “where do you live?”. And obviously, it is not in the same country. And believe me, people seem puzzled when you tell them you’re from Belgium and then that you live just North of Paris.
With time, your home country becomes a notion that looses its sharpness. Each time I return “home” the city feels a bit more different, distant. Everything changes so quickly. Going with the flow you don’t notice those changes, your go-to restaurant’s owner changes, a new house is built, a one-way street becomes two-way, a bus stop is moved, little by little it evolves, it lives, it breathes. Once you leave and only visit a few times a year, those changes come as a wave that splashes in your face. You can be hit hard and it no longer feels like home.
In the end, is the question really “where do you live”? Wouldn’t that be much easier?! You always know where your current residence is!
Sadly I don’t have any new insight on this topic, I am just realising I’m not the only one to be lost when it comes to defining who you are to a stranger (or even to yourself), feeling lost when going home or even putting home on a map. I’ve come to accept this as a natural step in expatriation, one of the many things you don’t necessarily hear about prior to your first move.
I would love to hear from you! What are your views on this topic? Is it something you think about? Is it easy or are you struggling with this concept? Let me know in the comment section below.
I like to call this “The Stargate”, you can see this sculpture when entering Brussels from the South.
My childhood neighbourhood.
Enjoying the Belgian seaside during the winter holidays.