All About Belonging with Passports and Adventures

All About Belonging with Catherine Jordan

Cath is an Irish expat who now lives in Portugal with her husband and son. A former scientist, she gave up working when they emigrated south from the UK. She is a family travel blogger and hopes that, through her blog, they will inspire more families to travel, especially with the toddlers in tow. As a family they love travelling and have started working their way through their family travel bucket list. Cath writes about their family travels and experiences on her blog Passports and Adventures.

If someone gave you the chance to live in a warmer country and give up work, would you jump at the chance? Even if it meant leaving behind a life you loved and moving somewhere where you didn’t speak the language. I did.

My husband has wanted to live in a hot country for as long as I can remember. He never stopped moaning about the wind and rain, whether we lived in Ireland (where we’re from) or in the UK. He always said he wanted to move somewhere warm, or hot, and I would agree, nodding my head, thinking “yeah, when we retire”.

My parents had been holidaying in Portugal for many years and had decided it was where they wanted to retire to. My Dad always wanted to return to a hot country and, since he knew some Portuguese having worked with some Portuguese nationals during his time in Angola, my Mum agreed as she knew he at least spoke the basics of the language. They spent time travelling around before finally deciding the Algarve was where they wanted to base themselves.

In September 2016 they bought their holiday home and set things in motion for my Mum to retire from work, my Dad having retired many years before her. We thought “brilliant, we’ve got somewhere to go for holidays”. Then, the tenants in our rental house moved out and the new tenants became a nightmare from day one. So much so, we paid for them to move out and put the house on the market. We didn’t need the hassle and thought we could use the money to buy a holiday home in Portugal near my parents.

Holiday home talk turned to talk of a more permanent move and at Christmas we made the decision to sell up and move to Portugal for several reasons. One, to stop my husband complaining so much about the weather. Two, to give our son a more outdoor life. We had realised that by the age of three he had spent more than two thirds of his life stuck indoors because it was too cold and miserable to let him play outside. And three, the tax breaks were better for my self-employed husband.

Fast forward five months, and with the car packed to the brim, we set off on our marathon two-day journey to drive from the UK to the Algarve via the Santander ferry. We arrived in May and the summer was soon approaching but we got settled into our new home and enjoyed seeing my parents on a regular basis after fifteen years of living away from them. Our son started forming a proper relationship with his grandparents and life started to take on a more normal routine. That routine becoming more settled once our son started Portuguese preschool.

However, it hasn’t all been a bed of roses for me. While my husband is thrilled and topping up his tan, and while my son is enjoying being outdoors and having fun with new friends, I’ve increasingly felt like I’m lost, like I have no sense of belonging anymore. To the point where if you gave me the option to move on, I’d jump at the chance.

The language barrier is a big reason why I feel quite unsettled compared to the boys. Our son is talking and understanding Portuguese as he is immersed in it from 9am to 4pm in preschool. My husband is picking up bits here and there, but his work life hasn’t changed one bit. He works remotely and speaks English all day. However, I am the one at the frontline, trying to cobble together what I can to speak to people. And my favourite phrase in response is often (in Portuguese) “sorry I only speak a little Portuguese”. Now, 50% of the time the person I’m trying to speak to has some English, enough that we can get our points across. However, the other 50% of the time they don’t, and we’re completely lost. It never helps when you are trying to do something official like get social security numbers for everyone, so our son can stay in school. Or to register with the local health centre, again because we need something from them for school. And as I don’t work, it’s always me who has to do it.

As mentioned I don’t work, having given up my job as a scientist before we left the UK. I left a job I had grown to love and cannot work in Portugal within the same industry because I don’t speak the language fluently. And I really miss my job. I recently returned to Wales to see my ex-work colleagues and it really hit home how much I miss my old job. I didn’t spend nine years in university getting a PhD to sit at home twiddling my thumbs all day. I feel wasted and I’ve really lost a big part of myself as a result. Yes, I have my blog to keep me busy, but it’s just not the same as going into work and wondering what’s going to come through the doors for me to get my teeth into.

Last summer, as we settled in, everything was a bit of a whirlwind and it partly felt like an extended holiday. Once our son started going to school, that’s when my sense of not belonging started to set in. But the worst thing is I can’t tell my husband outright as he’s living his best life. He loves it here, yet not much has changed for him other than the weather is better. He still has his job, albeit for a different client, and he travels regularly for work. He doesn’t need to do much of the “official stuff”, and the bits he does he can do in English because the bank manager and his accountant all have very good English. It’s me who must do all the struggling with everything else.

I’ve started dropping hints that I don’t feel Portugal is our forever home, that I am not going to die of old age here. He’s half-heartedly joked about moving to New Zealand, a part of the world I swore I’d never move to because it would be so far away from our families. But my parents aren’t getting any younger. My Dad is eleven years older than my Mum and I genuinely feel if he goes before her, she’ll move back to Ireland, even if we are still here. So, I’ve said New Zealand can be on the cards for another move. My reason; to be able to go into any office, supermarket, building and know that no matter who I need to deal with we will be speaking in English. Everything is just so much harder when you are struggling with a difficult language.

It’s not as if I am not trying. I have a good grasp of the basics and have been taking lessons, although I’m on a break as my teacher is on maternity leave. But I just don’t feel like I’ll ever get good enough at the language to hold a full conversation or even enough to apply for a job. Yes, I want to work again, and I want to return to science in the future. I don’t want to feel like my university years are going to waste.

I want to live in a country where I don’t struggle on a daily basis. I want to be able to understand every word someone says to me when they speak to me. I want to make friends, something I haven’t been able to do because I don’t work and none of the mums at the school gates speak English. They’re polite enough and nod, smile and say “Bom Dia” as we pass, but I feel rather alone in this country.

Don’t get me wrong, not all of it is bad. The weather is great, although I can’t take the heat of July and August. It’s unbearable and made worst because our son is off school in those months and it gets too hot to go anywhere with him during the day. We have no things like soft play or bowling near us, so we’re stuck together, in a tiny two-bedroom holiday home, while my husband tries to do work calls around us.

The cost of living is cheaper than the UK or Ireland, and the people we have met and interacted with are lovely, especially when they know we are trying with the language. We’ve got my parents close to us, which is so lovely after 15 years apart.

But deep down, I know we’re going to have to move again, for me this time. I cannot put my hand on my heart and say I love it in Portugal. I like it but given half the chance to move to an English-speaking country and I’d be gone in a flash. And if New Zealand talk springs up, I’ll encourage it. I’ve even hinted I’d move to America, another country I always said I couldn’t live in.

We left a beautiful six-bedroom house in Wales and I left a great job when we took the leap of faith to move. And while I don’t regret it, I know deep down this isn’t my forever home, whatever my husband thinks. For now, our son is settled, my husband isn’t complaining about the weather anymore (it’s me doing the complaining instead), my parents are close by and we’re saving for a bigger home, although we might not buy a house. But if anything happens to my parent’s situation, or if our dog dies sooner than we think, I’ll be actively encouraging my husband to agree to a round-the-world-trip as a family, with a view to settling in an English-speaking country when the time comes for our son to attend high school. I am lost and really don’t feel like I belong anymore. And that’s got to change in the future. I just don’t know when – that light at the end of the tunnel isn’t even a faint blur yet.

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All About Belonging with Picking Up Toys

All about belonging is a blogger guest series – you guessed it – all about belonging. I have invited other bloggers to share their stories, thoughts, opinions, and ideas to do with the theme belonging here on Kate Lili Blog. I hope this guest series showcases the variety of views on belonging, and the many ways having or not having felt a sense of belonging has affected people’s individual life experience. Each new guest post will go out on Wednesdays at 6pm so stay tuned.
I’m chuffed to welcome Julie to my blog to share her thoughts on belonging. Julie is mum to 3 children, one teenager, one 9 year old and one 6 year old so she has a breadth of experience. Oh and she also works full time while blogging too. So an all round super star in my book! Julie is one of the few people I’d count as a blogger friend so I’m really pleased to share her guest post about belonging.

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Julie – Picking Up Toys

Have you always felt that you belonged? Always just slotted in somewhere and bumped along nicely or do you always end up feeling like the piece of a jigsaw that got kicked under a table by mistake? You were important for a while but quickly forgotten and moved on from. If you’d just been found and the dust blown off you might have slotted in and made a huge difference.

Work Friends

When I was younger I always felt I belonged. I was shy and quiet but never really had any trouble making or keeping friends, in the street, at school or even Brownies. I kept the same group of friends throughout my school years but once school ended those friendships sadly drifted apart. People moved away, moved on and remember those years with fondness.
I started working and forged new friendships easily, I worked in a bar where everyone grouped together, went around to each other’s houses and there was always someone to have a night out with, I even shared a house with my best mate. We had our struggles but mostly we loved it. I met people from all sorts of backgrounds and liked lots of different things about them. We all had different music tastes, different views on life and different families but we just accepted everyone for who they were.
Then I moved onto a call centre where again I had an abundance of friends / colleagues and people I could share a cigarette and a gossip with. Those friendships were just as easy to fall into. Sat next to the same group of people it was normal to spark up a conversation over a love of cake or a mutual eye roll over a particularly tricky customer. Nights out were often planned for all to get involved and the friendships at work spilled into ‘real life’.

Lost Confidence

Fast forward 10 years and I’m in a completely different situation altogether. I don’t really feel like I belong at all. At home, of course I belong, to my kids, my partner and immediate family I’m hugely important but outside of that I don’t have a huge circle of friends. Actually I don’t even have what you’d call a small circle of friends. As most of the friends I’ve had in the past have come from work I really struggle with being only 1 of 2 people that work where I do.
The longer it’s gone on the more I now struggle to make friends, I’ve completely lost my confidence.  I can’t just walk up to strangers and start chatting it makes me really nervous and like I’ll say the wrong thing so I tend to be the one that everyone talks ‘around’. Whenever I go to work meetings and see people I more or less see only once a year, we do the cursory “hi, how are you?” and that’s about it. Maybe they think I’m arrogant and up myself? Maybe they just think I’m rude but rarely will anybody make an attempt to coax me over to their ‘clique’. I’m often the one pretending to look for something in the bottom of my handbag because I have no clue what else to do with myself.

Adult Friendships

I don’t know where to begin to change it though. How do you start to belong again? Where do you search for an elusive group to belong to, that accept you for who you are? It’s so much more difficult as an adult to try and make friends. You can’t just admire someone’s hula hoop and ask if you can play, that would just be too weird, so how do you do it? I am the first to encourage my children to get involved and talk to other kids, to make friends but how hypocritical am I being when I can barely do it myself?
I wouldn’t say I’m particularly unhappy but I would love to have a group of people I can belong to and call good friends. One day I’m sure it will happen again. Even if it’s just Doris, Lizzie, Pat and I giggling like idiots in the old folks home.
Belonging

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You can read more on Julie’s blog called Picking Up Toys. I love this recent one I Survived Parenting A Teenage Boy

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All About Belonging with Artie Carden

All about belonging is a blogger guest series – you guessed it – all about belonging. I have invited other bloggers to share their stories, thoughts, opinions, and ideas to do with the theme belonging here on Kate Lili Blog. I hope this guest series showcases the variety of views on belonging, and the many ways having or not having felt a sense of belonging has affected people’s individual life experience. Each new guest post will go out on Wednesdays at 6pm so stay tuned.

I am delighted to welcome Artie Carden as my first guest blogger for this series. Artie’s blog focuses on writing content for people who feel marginalised by mainstream media. Having personal experience of this is what motivates Artie to fill the gap. An absolutely perfect first guest blogger for a series all about belonging! This post about belonging takes a look at Artie’s experience of identifying as bisexual at school and what it felt like to find a home in the end at uni. Thanks Artie for getting in touch.

Belonging

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I’ve always had a lot of friends, or more like acquaintances, in different groups. I have always been able to get on with all kinds of people, but is that really belonging?

In school, I knew these kids on a superficial level; I knew enough about them to keep up conversation and I’ve always been very good at making people laugh. I couldn’t really get along with their friends though… I had one or two friends per clique, and the others always looked at me with blank stares like I was an alien specimen or they’d make fun of me.

I would have my main group I’d normally hang out with, and I would get on with more of them than other groups. Really though, they weren’t very nice to me either. They told me I was annoying and a suck up and would stare me down if a joke didn’t land well. I can’t forget about the occasional body shaming and being bullied by them for not being sexually experienced (I was 14-15 at the time…). On top of all that, I’m bisexual. I learned this term because of this friendship group and am still a proud bisexual person almost 10 years later, so I have to thank them for that. It just involved more shaming from them.

Groups of Friends

The girls of the group all identified as bisexual and looking back I don’t think they did at all. It was a fashionable and edgy thing to be (and being a group of emo kids, you gotta be pretty edgy) and it was often used to seduce boys. It just made me feel more undesirable: how were these girls kissing boys and girls, and I wasn’t really kissing anyone?

I can hear you shouting at your screen ‘why didn’t you just leave?’ Well, that’s a lot more difficult to do than say. At this point in my life I was suffering with Severe Depression, I self-harmed and attempted to take my life more than once all because I felt completely alone. I’d been alienated in every group I’d gotten close to and felt like the communal punching bag to make people feel better by taking abuse. These other people I spoke to? I couldn’t tell them any of this, and with them I got to be someone else, someone who was funny and charming and a little ridiculous but friendly and fun.

I think the only way I survived this time of my life was getting to be someone else for periods of time. I thrived on stage and people loved me, but when I’d step off set I wasn’t liked anymore. I did eventually leave this group and remained friends with a few of them for a couple of years.

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Mental Health

My biggest trigger for my mental health is feeling alone, like there’s no one I can go to for support, no one who will accept me for who I am.

Belonging, to me, is finding ‘your people’. These people learn who you really are behind the bravado. I had two people during school and neither were part of this group (surprise, surprise…) one of them I still see and speak to now 12 years later. They weren’t around a whole lot, but they were there when I needed someone.

Uni Friends

I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere until I went to university three years ago. I found my people whilst at university, my writer friends, my LGBT+ friends, my fun hilarious and brilliantly intelligent friends.

These people have seen me at my most incredible, my most vulnerable, in love, heartbroken, and they’ve seen me battle my mental health. They have listened to the ridiculous rants at 2am and have also told me when I’m in the wrong, which is super important because you know they aren’t pandering to you and they want you to thrive and better yourself!

It’s okay to struggle to find your place, we will have many places in our lives and sometimes it takes a while to find somewhere that feels like home. Hold on and take care of yourself first. If people don’t like you, then never mind. It hurts but you don’t need them. Your people will find you eventually.

~ Artie Carden

Read more of Artie’s blog at:  artiecarden.wordpress.com

Artie on Facebook: www.facebook.com/artiecarden

If you liked that, you will like this post about belonging too.

 

Selling Belonging

Feeling a sense of belonging is crucial to our overall well-being. We have an innate desire to feel connection. Connection to things, places, and other people. Brands have long ago caught on to this and they use belonging as a concept to sell things.

Social Media Marketing

Everywhere you look you are being sold something. People want your money! With the advent of technology, it’s a known fact that we are all available all of the time, and that means we are available to be sold to all of the time. Back in the good old days, only the T.V pervaded our privacy but now we are sold to from all angles. Browsing the internet, social media, straight to a device in the palm of our hand that we choose to dedicate a lot of our time to voluntarily.

What’s interesting is how sophisticated selling has become. Consumers have become more discerning too. As our options for choices have opened up so has our power as consumers. Brands know they have to play the long game in order to retain loyal customers.

In The Club

Sales Belonging

One of the many ways marketing has evolved is with this concept of belonging. Brands know we want to feel a part of something, a part of the club. From adverts that show you something you want to be then offer you the solution to get there (I’m thinking weight loss products) to the supermarket giants competing for your attention, lots of marketing campaigns hone in on feeling a sense of belonging.

Brand identity is huge because brands need to relate to their customers, or actually, to help their customers feel like they relate to the brand. It’s imperative for a corporation to define their brand well in order to stay afloat. Think of any of your favourite brands and you might notice they are not all things to all people. Each brand has a very specific ‘personality’ and consumers are able to choose which ones they identify with. This is because they want to appeal to particular people so that they can feel like the brand fits with their identity.

Money Can’t Buy Everything

Companies have discovered how powerful a sense of belonging is. It’s something we all crave in our lives. We like to feel a part of the club. It’s an easy ‘in’ for brands because as much as we want to belong we also don’t like to admit it. We have been spun a yarn somewhere along the way that longing to belong is somehow weak or inferior.

We can’t buy belonging. We must endeavour to find causes we want to be identified with, whether that’s through our work, home life, or church. Finding out what makes us feel like we belong contributes to our mental and emotional well-being. And it shouldn’t be a taboo subject.

Would You Challenge Group Behaviour?

When we talk about belonging perhaps what comes to mind most immediately is our own experiences of being left out. All the times we have felt like the only person in the world on the outskirts of the clique. However, there is also a certain amount of accountability that needs to come into the conversation about belonging.

Responsibility

As the feeling of being left out of social groups is really common, then surely, we ourselves may have been responsible for this at some point. I’m not suggesting we are all horrible people. What I want to focus on in this post is group mentality.

I went to a picnic this week. It was at a toddler group and I arrived late. My toddler really enjoys picking up every rock and stone we walk past so despite my best intentions, we were late. When we arrived, the picnic was already set up and everyone was settled on a couple of picnic blankets with all the shared food laid out in the middle. Everybody looked at us. Nobody moved. Nobody even tried to squidge over even remotely. There was nowhere for my 2 yr/o to sit and I started to feel slightly stupid when the organiser of the group jumped up and invited me to take her spot.

It was a squish for room there’s no doubt about it, but what had essentially happened there is a great example of group mentality. Because nobody else made an effort to budge over they each felt they didn’t have to either.  It was a sort of group thought of ‘we are settled, you are late, that’s your problem.’

Accountability

I must say, this is a lovely group that we go to often and everybody is always very lovely and friendly. This scenario played for about 3 minutes in total before we were sat down and joining in. It’s just this one instance got my brain ticking over about how we all have to have some accountability when it comes to belonging.

If I had approached each person in that group individually afterwards and asked why they didn’t try to make some space for my little boy to join in I’m sure the big majority of them would be mortified when they thought about it. When they realised how it would have made them feel if it were them and their toddler who was late. If everyone or even a few people had moved around we all could have fit on the blankets. What got me thinking is that fact that we have probably all displayed similar behaviour at some point and maybe not thought much of it or not even realised.

Which Are You?

This group mentality translates across all areas of life. The dinner table at high school, the full meeting room when somebody arrives late and there are no chairs left. Would you be the person who gets up and fetches a chair, or helps the person find one? Would you be the person on the bench to budge over at the park when you see a mum with a pram looking for somewhere to perch to feed her baby? Or would you be the person to continue sitting in the middle of the bench reading your book pretending not to notice? Or the person looking up at the flustered late colleague thinking ‘more fool you for being late, I’m settled.’?

Group mentality is so easy to fall into. It’s part of a survival instinct buried deep within our amygdala. But there is no need for it in our day to day situations. And just because everyone is acting a certain way does not mean it’s the right way to act. Be the person who gets the chair, budges over on the blanket or says hello to the only person in the room not talking to somebody. Shift the group mentality. Challenge it at every opportunity.

If you liked this post you will like this one about not fitting in.  As always feel free to leave a comment below and let me know if you have ever been affected by a group mentality.