Sunday, April 11, 2010

Guest Post Series: Where do I Belong? by Tiffany Jansen

Personally, I love living in the Netherlands. I love the area in which I live. I love learning the language. I love meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures. I love the rich history and the old buildings. I love the cycling culture, the personal freedom, the royal family. Though I could certainly do with less rain and longer days in the winter, there is very little that I
disapprove of or feel uncomfortable with in my new country. If anything, my Dutch husband has more of a desire to head back State-side than I do.

Now, it’s not that I don’t love my home country. I’m very proud of our new president and I am proud of the fact that we went from a fledgling nation to the most powerful country in the world. And I certainly miss family and friends and hobbies and pastimes that I left behind.
The other and probably more pressing reason is that I’m not sure I belong there anymore. I notice it more and more with each time I return for a visit or when family and friends come to see us in the Netherlands.

Sometimes it’s the big things. I don’t understand why only the wealthy are entitled to healthcare. It still boggles my mind that only a handful of States have legalized gay marriage. I disagree with the drinking age being so high and the driving age being so low. The fast-pace, no-rest, workaholic lifestyle makes me wonder why life expectancy in the US isn’t lower – all this pressure American society puts on its people can’t be healthy.

It’s also in the little things. The knife, for instance. I’m convinced that this utensil is headed for extinction in the United States. When we eat with my family or friends, their knives remain completely unsoiled. They never even pick them up. My husband and I ate at a restaurant in North Carolina over Christmas that had no knives whatsoever.

To make a long story short, the longer I stay here, the less I belong there. I’m changing and seeing things differently and having all these new experiences that can only be had by living in another country. Seeing friends and family so seldom means that we move on without each other and in different directions. We can never be as close as we used to be. How can we? Skype, Facebook, blogs, telephone and email can help tremendously, but they just can’t replace a one-on-one, in person relationship.

And as much as I’m adapting here and as much I really love life in the Netherlands, this will never really be my home. Not truly. Not completely. For starters, I’m not Dutch. When my Dutch friends sing tunes from Kinderen voor Kinderen, that’s something I can’t participate in. I just didn’t grow up with this show. If I retaliate by crooning songs from Kids Incorporated, I find myself doing it alone. Certain jokes I will never really understand. No matter how fluent in the language I become, it will still be more taxing than speaking English. Let’s face it: I’m not Dutch. Nor will I ever be.

I think the worst part of being an expat is that you get torn between two countries. Two lives, really. And certainly two homes. We humans hunger for a sense of belonging. But where exactly do I belong now?

Thanks to Tiffany Jansen for this contribution. You can read more about Tiffany on her blog sites:

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