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Belonging

Every once in a while I like to take the time to lament the affects of being something of an American nomad. 

Most recently, I started school at a new university. There’s a sense of community not just at institutions like schools but also within the departments. As a student at UNLV I should have had a sense of belonging because I graduated from a local high school. But I only spent two years at that high school, sophomore and senior year. Junior year I was out of the four walls of school, on my own. The few connections I made with people were ultimately superficial, and I take a while to warm up to people and places anyway. So no, I didn’t have a sense of belonging at UNLV. Plus, I transferred there from the smaller college in town.

That’s the one thing I feel is impactful when you enter a 4-year institution right out of high school and stay there throughout your education. You get a sense of belonging. You take 100-level courses with professors who know you well once you’re a senior taking 400-level courses – and you know them well. Their teaching and testing style. It’s valuable information and I feel that has a very real impact on your education. But I can’t say for sure – I’ve never had that luxury. 

I’ve always moved around. Sure, I spent a chunk of years in various states and cities, staying there. But when you’re young your life revolves around school. And I’ve never spent too much time at one school. The only school I ever attended start-to-finish for the intended years was middle school. I will always have a sense of that being “my” school. But my high school was not my school. UNLV could have been. I loved it there. But I left. NIU does not feel like my school. I am hoping into 400-level courses where my peers are known by name by the professors, they share inside jokes, they are familiar with one another’s research… and I’m just here for a grade. It doesn’t feel very nice. 

I think not feeling like I have a place to “belong” has affected my personality in some ways. I am distant, cool, reserved. I don’t engage people too deeply unless I may have something invested in it. I don’t reach out too much. I don’t try to depend on people too much. I don’t assume that anyone has any unique interest in me because as far as either of us may know, I’m just passing through. Investing time and energy … well, it’s an investment. And I have to know it’s worth it. 

 

I think that’s one reason I quickly came to like it here in Illinois so much. For the first time in a long time, I made friends. I’m not incapable of making friends. I know that. But because of certain personality characteristics I’ve come to have from my past experience and because of my natural personality, combined with the circumstances I’m often given, it’s not always easy. I have simply never made friends easily in school. That requires thinking someone might actually want to TAKE TIME to get to know you, even though it’s a risky investment. But I’m the only one who considers it a risky investment because I’m the only one with this strong sense of things being very temporary and transient. But when I started my job here in Illinois just a couple weeks after moving here, I was blessed to be surrounded by warm, accepting people. I was blessed to be shoved and pulled into a circle of people who gave me a sense of belonging. With that foundation, I began to flourish. I became more confident and with that foundation I was able to more easily make connections with others outside of that immediate social sphere. My experience here in Illinois has been invaluable to my personal growth. It’s just what I needed for a long time. 

My boyfriend complains once in a while about having been in the same place his whole life. He’s traveled a lot though, and I think there is a lot to be said for knowing where you’re from, where you belong, and where your home is. There’s immeasurable value in being able to return to a place you confidently call home, a place you know and feel comfortable. Illinois has come to be like that for me, a little. I can see myself making this place my home. I can see myself settling down here. California, my home state, is pretty well established nowadays. But there are still a lot of nomads there and not everyone is that great at making you feel welcome and like you belong. It’s up to you to jump in there. But that’s not for everyone. Plus, so many people are nomads themselves that they won’t take the time to make you feel welcome for that reason – because they’re just passing through anyway and they don’t have that “authority”. Here, people have been here for a long time and have a sense of it being “their” place. Almost everyone I work with has lived here their whole lives. This is “their” town and they had the “authority” to accept me into it. I couldn’t be more grateful. 

❤ 

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