About the term “belonging”

I attended the “Food For Thought” event organised by Crossing Borders where filmmaker Dennis Dalgaard presented his documentary called “Denmark does not exist”. The audience got to know the story of two Danish sisters whose mother is a black woman from Zambia and whose father is Danish. Even though they were born and raised in Denmark, they decided to leave Denmark and go to Zambia as they didn’t feel at home in Denmark. Their story involved different issues such as racism and belonging.

My attention got especially caught by the issue of belonging. I am a white young woman from Germany and I have never experienced any kind of racism against my person or major struggle about where I belong to. I can only imagine how people with a coloured skin feel in everyday life when they are faced with different kinds of racism. I also can only imagine how it is to have one or both parents from a different country and growing up with different backgrounds and struggles in regards to where to belong.  

When I was thinking about belonging on my way home after the event, I realized that belonging can mean a lot, and something else to everyone. In the German language, we have the term “Heimat” which is actually a term that is difficult to define as it entails aspects that are not that clear to characterise. When translating it to other languages, I do not find a word that fully describes what I think of when I say the word “Heimat”. The dictionary offers me the terms “home” or “native” in English, “la patria” or “el país natal” in Spanish, as well as “le pays d’origine” and “la patrie” in French. But “Heimat” means something else than the country which you were born in. Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior even has “Heimat” in its name (Bundesministerium (Federal Ministry) für Inneres (Interior), Bau (Construction) and Heimat (translated as Community)). On their webpage, it says that “Heimat“ is where people feel well, accepted, secure, where they belong to and are part of a community. The main areas of the ministry involve social cohesion, volunteering, demography, spatial development, integration, religion, national minorities, and equal living conditions. The main aim of the ministry is to foster and improve the cohesion, sense of community, and identification with and in the country.

“Heimat” and “belonging” can mean different things and can be applied on different levels. My main reference point will always be my little town of 10.000 inhabitants where I grew up and went to school, and where my closest family lives. My next reference point is Germany as I am a German citizen. On the one side, it is easy for me to link my sense of belonging to Germany. But on the other side, it still stays a bit difficult as I still do not know all parts of Germany. I realized that I need to know my home country a lot better to feel a stronger sense of belonging to this big country with its 83 million inhabitants. I might share this experience and thought with other people who also do not know their home countries that well.

At university, we were once asked if we feel German/English/French/Spanish/Danish etc., European, or Cosmopolitan. It was a difficult question. I needed some time to find an answer. Most students (me included) felt European. Feeling European or even Cosmopolitan seems to be another layer of belonging. Also, in this case, I feel not completely convinced as I do not know very well all European countries. I actually have only been to a third of all European countries. I, for example, do not have many connections yet to the Eastern European countries. In this aspect again, for some reasons it is easy to say that I feel European, but there are also other reasons for letting me be a bit more sceptical about such a statement. Just this week we have been talking about nice places to go to in the Eastern European countries. Intercultural environments such as Crossing Borders as a work place or youth exchange programmes foster the exchange of information and the raise of awareness about other countries and cultures. We might then after a while be able to say with total pride: “Yes, I feel very European” or even “Yes, I feel like a global citizen or Cosmopolitan”.

Everyone would write something else about belonging and “Heimat” as everyone has a different story and background. Some people have a strong sense of belonging to a specific part of a country, some people feel a very strong pride for their nation, some people have been growing up in different countries, some people have parents from different countries – everyone feels a different sense of belonging, to one, two or even more places. At Crossing Borders, I have already met a lot of people with different cultural backgrounds who are strongly connected to their home countries or the home countries of their parents. They work for Crossing Borders to change the circumstances for the society and find solutions to social needs. I am always very impressed when I listen to their stories, wishes, objectives, and struggles.   

Written by: 

Simone Rom

Simone is from Germany and started her internship at Crossing Borders in the beginning of August. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Intercultural Management and Communication and is currently studying the Master’s programme Social Entrepreneurship and Management at Roskilde University in Denmark.

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