"A sense of belonging".
I wrote that phrase in an essay a few weeks ago without really thinking about what it means.
But halfway through my first term away from home, I've decided that it needs to be addressed.
In some ways, I feel as if I'm in a sort of limbo. It's almost as if this is a holiday; that my life in NI is on hold for the moment and will resume when I return at Christmas. This is a temporary space, where I'll spend eight weeks eating and studying and then go back home, to my friends and my family.
Except.... this is my home now.
This thought hit me when I was lying in bed trying not to think about all the work due for the week ahead. And it really shocked me; not because I hadn't thought of it before, but because the reality of it hadn't fully sunk in until then.
When I go back to my family home, I know that I will miss things about Cambridge. And yet when I'm here, I miss things about home. For the next four years of my life, I will be pondering this question:
Where do I belong?
Is it here, with new friends and libraries and books?
Is it in Northern Ireland, with my family and friends and familiar places?
And then that got me thinking about the Year Abroad - will I face the same issue?
And what about in the future? I've always said I wanted to travel. But if I do, where will I truly belong? I'll have put roots down in so many places that were will be a tangled muddle of friendships and memories scattered across the globe.
It would be very easy to to hold back in this situation, afraid of the vulnerability that comes with putting down roots and making a life for yourself. You could spend eight weeks here barely mixing with anyone else, walking from the library to your room every day, cooking by yourself in your tiny kitchen. You could make friends, but not close friends, because you don't want the complications that come with having friends who live a plane journey away.
But that's not how life works. It's often hard to deal with change, but the truth is, we need it. We need changes to make our lives interesting; to challenge us, to enable us to grow as we wade through the joys and the trials of living. We need to meet new people, to build friendships, and to learn about the world around us.
Yes, it can be hard. Yes, it sometimes means that you have to step out of your comfort zone and invite someone to go shopping with you, risking rejection. And yes, sometimes you'll feel as if it was all so much easier back home, where people knew who you were and you knew who you were, too. Here, it can be confusing; you're forced to introduce yourself every time you meet someone new, repeating the same spiel of information over and over again ("My name's Emma, and I study MML"), without truly having a meaningful conversation. It's tiring and frustrating, but it passes; conversations extend and expand, and friendships form - even when you can't see it happening yourself.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'belonging' as being a member of an organisation, or having an affinity for a special place or situation. And whilst belonging is both of these things, I would argue that it's also more than that.
'Belong': to feel appreciated and valued by members of the same society. To feel secure in your own identity, knowing that your qualities are what make you stand out as a unique individual. Belonging involves give and take; it is both a conscious effort to reach out to others, and reciprocation when they do the same to you. It can be difficult, but it is also extremely rewarding.