A little more belonging is what the world needs right now. Whether on the news or in our own neighborhoods, we see and experience divisiveness, misunderstandings, and corruption all around us. But those of us who have crossed cultures and lived outside our passport countries are uniquely suited to cultivate belonging both within ourselves and within our communities. Here are three ways we can do that.
I am an Adult Third Culture Kid. By the time I was 18, I had lived in six countries, attended seven international schools, and called multiple places my “home.” But calling myself an ATCK does not tell you or anyone else about my identity. It only tells you that I have had a certain childhood experience.
With this awareness, I am able to set aside my TCK experience and focus on who I am as an individual and what roles I play in my community. I learn to belong to myself through intentional reflection and processing of my intercultural experiences. In doing so, I acknowledge that even if someone isn’t interested in my global experiences, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in me. I can cultivate a renewed understanding that my being involves much more than where I have been in the world. And I can commit to connecting with others in the many ways that make up who I am as a contributing member of society.
Finding Common Ground
Belonging is not a static or settled journey. It’s an ongoing and dynamic process to lean into, celebrate, and cherish. One way to expand belonging is to consider different ways to connect on identity, talents, and skills. That is why cultivating self-awareness of your being is the first step to belonging.
Sometimes finding common ground with others in community means looking for the ‘hidden diversity’ that may not be as evident as traditional markers of diversity such as ethnicity, gender, age, race, and ability. Lean into belonging through your individual identity (or personhood) and your collective identities (association or membership to groups such as churches, gyms, or schools).
Think about how you can connect with people through your various experiences and identities. For TCKs and global workers, it could be your knowledge and experiences of living in multiple cultures. It could be those stories of adapting, adjusting, and learning and unlearning culture that can connect you to the immigrant, exchange student, or new hire.
If we know that belonging takes time, we can celebrate the process and season we are in. In the winter the ground appears barren, yet we have hope that life is brewing underground, unseen. Likewise, we remain steadfast in seasons of waiting for moments of togetherness. Even though we may not feel like we belong, we can take heart that we are still a part of several communities and becoming a part of several more. Our sense of belonging is held in our memories, moments, and meet ups. To belong means that we take a dimensionalized view of time and place, that what we do and say today to others can have ripple effects into how we and they belong in the future.
Belonging is a head and heart journey. Belonging is creating meaningful connections through self-discovery and self-awareness and an exploration of others in and through cultural and experiential differences.
Belonging is in part self-created and in part others-created. There is no prescription or recipe for belonging. Belonging involves holistic thinking — considering the relational, emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and social compositions of yourself and others. It seeks to nurture and sustain being seen, heard, loved, respected, and understood in an ever-changing world. It is difficult but worthwhile work.
Belonging means being proud of your humanity and the cultures that have built you and to which you belong. Our desire to move the world into a more tolerant, empathetic, and caring place is the work of people who have had — and continue to hold — intercultural experiences and belonging. We know how to listen well, how to celebrate the different ways people belong, and how to invite others to belong with us.
Megan Norton is an Adult TCK who calls 10 countries her “heart homes.” As a Third Culture Kid consultant, intercultural trainer, podcast host of A Culture Story, co-founder of a non-profit for diplomat TCKs, and writer at adultthirdculturekid.com, she equips and empowers globally mobile youth to recognize their cultural competencies and apply them in various contexts. She is the author of Belonging Beyond Borders: How Adult Third Culture Kids Can Cultivate a Sense of Belonging.