I just came back home to Sweden from visiting the Netherlands, the country where I was born and raised. It is a strange feeling to have two countries that both feel like home. But Sweden and Holland feel like home for me in two very different ways and traveling between them always affects me, more than traveling to any other country does. Here is why:

First of all I deeply recognize how fortunate I am to be able to travel back to the country in which I was born and raised. Many people on this earth, including some of my friends, will most likely never be able to go back and stand in front of the house they were born. Grab a bike and cycle past the school they attended when they were little. Eat the local food. Meet the people they grew up with. I cannot begin to imagine how that must feel…

It’s a special feeling to be back in your native country when you haven’t lived there for many years (in my case 20+ years). How to describe it? To me, being back in Holland feels incredibly familiar. I recognize the road signs, the stores, the food, the bikes everywhere: the whole vibe in the country makes me connect to a place of recognition inside myself. I deeply feel: this is where I come from. This is the environment that was all I knew when I was little, before I started traveling the world. My parents live in Holland and so do friends I have known pretty much my whole life and with whom I still feel deeply connected. This means the world to me.

Being back in Holland however also feels extremely foreign to me. The roads and buildings are tiny, there are people literally EVERYWHERE and people are, compared to Swedish people, very direct and outspoken. This being a natural effect I believe of 17 million people living together on an area of 42.000 km2  while Sweden is roughly 10 times larger than Holland but has a population of only 10 million. My friends talk about things I don’t know anything about: Dutch TV shows, happenings, even the language has changed over the years. When I am back in Holland I can easily feel like an outsider and someone who doesn’t fit in/belong anymore.

The thing with having two home countries is that I feel I don’t fit 100% in either one of them. Because for the life of me, as a person of Dutch origin, I will never understand why Swedish people generally seem to have such a hard time connecting to strangers. I enjoy talking to people I don’t know but it just not done in Sweden in the same natural way people connect with each other in Holland, in stores or by bus stops for example. And what’s up with all these unwritten rules in Swedish society? As I wrote before, sometimes to me Sweden really feels like Westworld.  

The feeling of not fitting in/belonging is a tough one, at least for me, because belonging is a deep human desire that I believe we all share.

So I wonder: what constitutes true belonging? Is it about nationality or other labels we define ourselves by such as our hobbies, professions or political affiliations? Is it about other people, or is it perhaps linked to something inside ourselves?

Once again I come back to Brené Brown. She links true belonging to us as individuals and connects it to self-acceptance, authenticity and vulnerability. She states:

The truth is: belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.

I love this statement, it feels so true to me. When I connect to this truth, my uneasy feelings of not fitting in any of my home countries fade away. My truth is that I don’t have to belong in Sweden or Holland. It’s OK to feel like an outsider in both of my home countries because I know and fully accept the unique person that I am. I don’t have to label myself as Dutch or Swedish in order to feel that I belong. Instead I can show the world my true self and still feel that I belong. And that, to me, is true freedom!

Photo: Amer Mughawish –

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  1. Like you Nanda, I was born and raised in The Netherlands, migrating in my mid twenties and now already living longer in Australia than I lived in the Netherlands. To me ‘belonging’ is a state of mind. So elegantly put by Brené Brown does it indeed start for me with self-acceptance. Surely, when I open my mouth in Australia a usual response is: ‘Where are you from?’ To me that does not sound like: ‘You don’t belong here!’. I hear: ‘You seem like a well-travelled person of interest, can you share some of your background with me?’.
    When I visit The Netherlands, indeed, there are points of recognition may be even a bit of memory lane, but also currency, habits and language have changed and moved on that feel unfamiliar to me.
    That does not mean I feel I don’t belong there anymore. In fact I feel I do not have to belong to anything man-made. Not to a sports club, a shopping chain, the city or the country I live in. In any case: I never feel like an outsider in either country, I feel special!

    1. Dear Eric, thank you for reading and leaving a comment! I love your statement “I do not have to belong to anything man-made”. That really resonates with me. I hope our paths will cross again some day! With love

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