The other day I met with students from the American University of Sharjah as part of a virtual exchange project for my International Relations class. After a brief introduction regarding the purpose of our intercontinental collaboration, we were separated into groups so we could introduce ourselves and learn more about our teammates. Once we’d established what our names are and what our favorite hobbies include, we moved on to what turned into a very intriguing conversation about where we call home and our struggles with belonging.
For me, home is pretty simple. I come from a small town in rural Virginia – the type of place you’d assume cow-tipping to be a leisurely pastime. I grew up playing minor-league baseball and fishing with my friends on my grandparent’s pond. I always felt a sense of belonging and familiarity.
Photo by Southern Living
Living in a small town sheltered me from the rest of the world at a young age. When I’d travel out of state – I’d be culture-shocked. I soon discovered there was more out there than just farmers and fields. A similar realization occurred to me once again when I discussed ‘home’ with my group members.
Home is defined by not only where you live, but where you feel you belong. Most of the members from my group who lived outside of the United States all related to the feeling that they don’t quite feel a sense of home in the UAE. One group member, from Iraq, shared his experience moving away from his country and explained though he lived in the UAE, it didn’t feel like home. Similar experiences were met with other group members, and factors such as ethnicity and cultural upbringing all helped articulate their struggles with belongingness.
Thinking back, I am glad that I was able to have that conversation with my group members because it helped me redefine the meaning of home. I’d always pictured home to be a place, a town, or a country – but never a feeling. I look forward to further collaborating with my group members.