Wherever I Belong

11:06:00 AM

image © Nina Strehl |  
One of the hardest parts of being in a new place is making the transition from feeling like a stranger temporarily living in that space, to feeling like you belong there. I’ve recently started attending bi-weekly meditation sessions led by a monk. Usually we have a solid half hour of meditation and then the monk gives a talk. Last week he talked about home sickness and feeling out of place in a new space, wanting to go back to the familiar while wrestling with your identity in a new place. One of the things he emphasized was creating habits, small daily routines that you look forward to, ones that bring you comfort as a way to counter homesickness.

I’m a great believer in asserting myself wherever I find myself. I truly believe that I belong wherever I want to belong. Whether that’s in a boardroom full of people older than I am, or in a classroom learning behavioral economics concepts with students from all over the world. Yet, as a newcomer in Coventry which is made up of predominantly old white lower-middle class people (driving Nissan jukes) and super rich Chinese students who casually sling $5,000 purses onto coffee tables at Warwick Business School, feeling at home in a place where I can’t just decide on the fly which cafe/library/park/restaurant /bakery/pizza/store I want to stop by at any moment of the day can be hard.

I’ve therefore had to be intentional about making Coventry feel like my space. And just as the monk predicted, I’m finding that one of the easiest ways to make Coventry mine is by developing simple, familiar routines even in the littlest things. At home in New York I walked most morning from my house to the train, stopping at a deli to pick up a small cup of (slightly terrible) black coffee every morning (except Wednesdays when I drove to the train and stopped at a different deli to pick up my coffee).

image © Ronaldo Arthur Vidal

The coffee culture in Coventry is a bit different than New York (you’ll find more americanos than filtered coffee and you have to insist that the barista fill your coffee to the top as opposed to leaving half the cup empty for milk—but Starbucks here do offer coconut milk gratis(!)) a few weeks ago, I decided to reinstate my walking habit, and while walking to university in the morning (a 30-40 minute walk) I stumbled on Coventry’s equivalent of a deli, offering instant coffee that I could make and take with me to start my day. In that moment, clutching a paper cup of cheap (slightly terrible) instant coffee, I felt like I was home.

Productivity expert and reporter, Charles Duhigg discusses a mechanism called the habit loop. Repetition creates a mental association in our brains, connecting our environment or context and what we do. In New York, I liked walking to work as a way to get in some exercise and stopping for a coffee was my reward. Yet somewhere in my years of doing that, my morning walks became a part of why  I belonged in New York. My walks through the same park in different seasons noting changing leaves, foraging squirrels and the occasional sunbathing rabbit (I’m not even making this up), the transition from my neighborhood to the neighborhood where the train station is and of course, the delis where I picked up my coffee all contributed to making those areas a part of how I expressed myself and my belonging in New York. Reestablishing those patters in Coventry almost triggers my brain into thinking yes, I’m home, I’m comfortable here, I belong here.

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