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A quest for belongingness

Last updated 4 months ago by UtrechtCentral.com

A few days ago, I came to a realization that I had been living in The Netherlands for six years. To tell you the truth, I never had a plan to stay in this country for more than a year. I literally thought that I would just have to study in this cold, small country located in the western part of Europe for a year, and then graduate and fly back to my home country, the biggest archipelago in the world located on the other side of the world, called Indonesia. But now here I am, sitting at the corner of a library in The Netherlands with a mask covering the lower half of my face, pondering upon belongingness. When do I feel like I belong? Is it when I do not have to keep my guards up and have the freedom to live authentically? Or Is it when I do not have to take into account the so-called cultural differences before I act, speak, or think? Or perhaps, before addressing such an intriguing question, there is one question that I need to address first, and that is: What does belongingness actually mean?

I still remember the time when I came back to Indonesia for a short visit, after having lived in The Netherlands for almost three years. I still remember the strange feeling I had when I was there. I felt this weird sense of unfamiliarity in a place where I was born and spent the first twenty-four years of my life. Nothing had drastically changed, it only felt foreign to me. Of course, I still enjoyed its delicious food and tropical weather, but that did not negate the fact that it did not feel as homey as it did before I moved to The Netherlands. There were moments when I found myself being puzzled by how people thought and behaved there. Why do people disregard personal space? Why do people really care about when the daughters of their neighbors will be married? Why do people attach so much importance to their social status? This sense of unfamiliarity persisted…. until I met my friends there. All of a sudden, the sense of familiarity that I had been yearning for emerged when they were around me. I suddenly felt a strong sense of belongingness. I felt comfortable being with them, no “why” questions popping up in my head. It definitely brought a sense of relief afterwards, but at the same time, I could not help but ask myself: So, what actually generates a sense of belongingness? Is it the place where you were born and grew up in? Or Is it the people whom you hold dear to your heart?

A cyclist rides through the city center of Utrecht. Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash.
A cyclist rides through the city center of Utrecht. Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash.

The Realization

On my way back to The Netherlands, I realized that, despite the fact that I had lived in The Netherlands for quite some time, The Netherlands had not been completely homey to me either. There were, still are, days when I feel like I just want to end my journey in The Netherlands. To this day, I still struggle with how direct Dutch people can be, or how unpredictable the weather in The Netherlands is. Perhaps, I will never feel that I completely belong here. But then, whenever I reflect on my friendships with people I met in this country, I suddenly feel a strong sense of familiarity. I suddenly feel at home. I suddenly feel fully accepted. I suddenly feel that I belong here, whatever “here” means. I instantly gain the same positive feeling that I had when I was having my friends around me in Indonesia. 

This reflection helps me find the answer to my own question of what belongingness actually means. At the end of the day, belongingness is not about the place from which you came, nor is it about the community you were raised in. I have come to a conclusion that belongingness is all about the relationships that you cherish in your life. It is about the relationships that you have with those who are able to accept you for who you are. It is about the jokes, the care, the empathy, and the love that you share with people whom you hold dear to your heart, wherever they are. I believe that this is an important insight that we, immigrants, always need to keep in our minds. Whenever we feel lonely, or feel like we do not belong in the place that we currently live in, remember that there are always your friends whom you can reach out to. These are the people who will make you feel at home, and help you rejuvenate that sense of belongingness that you might have temporarily lost. 

Bramesada Prasastyoga
Bramesada Prasastyoga
Bramesada Prasastyoga (Bram) is an Indonesian PhD student at Leiden University. He has been living in The Netherlands for the last six years, and has been enjoying his life as an immigrant with all the ups and downs. In addition to being a PhD student, he is also a behavioral change consultant. Bram is a person with a mind that seems uninterested in taking a rest. This can be either a gift or a curse. This is why he aspires to be a writer, in the hope that his restless mind can be a gift instead of a curse.


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