When I was growing up, in a country in which I hadn’t been born and of which I didn’t hold the citizenship, and then later, when I moved to another such country, I never considered myself a migrant. Always slightly like a fish out of water, yet also always at home, I was just me, with my unique mish-mash of identities.
I am Italian and German, and identify strongly with these nationalities acquired by birth and parentage. I often describe myself, only half-jokingly, as having a fiery Italian temperament with a slightly pedantic German insistence on good grammar and punctuation, and things being ‘just so’. Yet, having been born in Italy, I grew up in Luxembourg from the age of two until, at 18, I moved to the UK to study, met my now-husband in my first year at University and stayed. I have lived my entire adult life in the UK, in Yorkshire to be precise, and have adult daughters who, like me, delight in their sense of mixed heritage and belonging.
Or, at least, it was a delight until the UK’s EU Referendum in 2016, when our worlds crumbled. Suddenly, I was no longer a citizen of a union of countries, living in one of those countries, but able to celebrate my background. Suddenly I became ‘other’; part of a mass of ‘migrants’ blamed for all the UK’s self-inflicted ills of austerity, a crumbling and under-funded national health system, and a shortage of affordable housing and school places. For two and a half years, I have been ‘In Limbo’, labelled as a bargaining chip, a drain on the system, and even a ‘queue-jumping’ cheat.
Yet the UK is my home. I don’t know ‘how to adult’ anywhere else! But then again, when I visit friends and family in Luxembourg, I say I’m ‘going home’, and I also say that when I go on holiday to Italy. Having never lived in Germany, I feel a strong pull and, when on a recent business trip to Cologne, found myself feeling ‘at home’ there, too. In Luxembourg, I grew up speaking a lot of French and watching French television. Many of my cultural references from my formative years are French. When I visit France, I feel ‘at home’, too. My spoken French is fluent and devoid of any accent (though perhaps on occasion a hint of English accent creeps in), and the same can be said for my Italian and my German, yet I am also 100% ‘Yorkshire lass’ and sound like I am, too! I love the British sense of humour and cutting wit, I adore Yorkshire food and feel quite proprietary towards my ‘home’ – Yorkshire. When it comes to writing, the only language I am proficient and confident in is English.
So, Where Is ‘Home’, Then?
As the saying goes, home is where the heart is, and my heart is in the UK, Italy, Germany, France and Luxembourg, in no particular order. Home is all of those places, and were I to move somewhere else, that would become home, too.
For the past two and a half years, I have felt in emotional pain and turmoil, because my concept of home and belonging has been shattered. I have felt angry, betrayed and heartbroken, all at once. Yet I am grateful for one thing. This ‘Brexit’ that has turned my world upside down, as it has done for millions of people, has also opened my eyes, and for that, I am grateful. In my work, I always stress the importance of gratitude as a key element of happiness and positive mental health. Positive psychology research also shows us that having meaning in our lives is crucial to wellbeing, and I now have more meaning than ever before; I have become a political campaigner, and I know that, whatever happens, I will never close my eyes again to what it means to be a migrant, to the lives of migrants all over the world and how they are often affected by circumstances outside of their control, and to the political machinations that can place an entire continent in turmoil.
Home, then, is not just one place. Home is a feeling, an emotion, a sense of belonging. Home is where you live, but also where you love, and where you make, and find, your memories. Home is wherever you choose it to be.
Frederika Roberts, 46, is a speaker, trainer and author (‘Recipe for Happiness’, 2013; ‘Character Toolkit for Teachers’, 2018, with E. Wright). Her expertise is positive psychology – the science of wellbeing – and she is due to obtain her MSc in this subject in 2019. She is also co-founder of the ‘RWS | Resilience Wellbeing Success’ programme.