One of the struggles of being an expat is the constant need to establish a new sense of belonging every time we change our cultural environment. We are constantly challenged with feeling like an outsider in our new life and even in our home country. We are left feeling as though we belong everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.
What is a Safe Place?
One of the ways that we can establish a sense of belonging in our new community is by finding what I call your safe place. A safe place to me, is a place you can go to outside of your dwelling and feel at HOME, re-centered, and grounded. This kind of place leaves me feeling like I have pressed the reset button within myself.
As, I have traveled around the globe I have had a variety of different safe places. In Dakar, Senegal my spot was the shared pool outside of my bungalow. That pool was an oasis from the chaotic streets of Dakar. It was a safe spot for me to retreat to after a stressful week and always left me feeling calmer, lighter, as if I had just come back from vacation. In Buenos Aires, my safe place was the beautiful cobbled streets where on Saturday mornings I would walk with my dog while drinking a Starbuck’s chai (a taste of home). By the time I moved to Abu Dhabi it was clear to me how important it was to have a safe place for myself, so I made an investment and became a member of the beach club. The beach club gave me access to a private beach and cooled pools, as well as to a yoga studio with an amazing teacher. Although, each safe place has been different – there is a pattern. It is being outside in the sunshine that brings me a feeling of home within myself, a sense of belonging.
How do you Find your Safe Place?
The first step is awareness. Do you have a place that gives you a sense of a belonging? Notice that sense of belonging might be a connection to your community, maybe a sense of connection to nature, or yourself. If you don’t have a safe place already it might be helpful to determine what was your safe place in your last location? The next step is to be INTENTIONAL. Try new activities or go to new locations in your community, and always with the intention of exploring what place brings you a sense of belonging.
Prioritize your Safe Place.
Once you find your safe place make it a priority to spend time there. This may sound simple but we often don’t make time for the things we need. It’s helpful to identify what you gain from this place for yourself and share this with family members. My second year in Abu Dhabi, when I had to decide whether to rejoin the beach club, none of my friends had become members and it was expensive. However, I worked in a stressful environment and I knew that spending time there gave me something to look forward to and a weekly sense of solace. I made the INVESTMENT. In Argentina, I sometimes felt guilty walking around like an American with a Starbucks cup which was so not that culture, Argentines sit and drink their coffee. However, I had just come from Senegal where there were limited American products, and walking with a cup of chai felt like such a treat. When you identify what, you need, don’t feel ashamed. Just give yourself permission to connect with your sense of belonging.
Often for expats, just when we finally feel we have made a place a home it’s time to move again. Our life is filled with foreign, unknown places, where we are rarely if ever feel fully comfortable. Although this can be exciting it can also be exhausting, which is why I think it’s important to intentionally identify a place where you can feel at HOME. Find your safe place, and make it your priority to spend time there!