I grew up like an international nomad (a story for another day), and have never developed a strong sense of rootedness or belonging in any particular community. I’ve lived in East Africa, Ecuador, South Korea, China and of course the US. When I was getting settled into my current home of Washington, D.C., I worked at the International Language Institute, an academic English program for professional adult students. The students came from a variety of backgrounds. Some were from affluent families in the Middle East and others were refugees from war-torn countries. I had moved to D.C. hoping for a job in International Relations or International Development, and in a way, that is exactly what I found – but it didn’t look a thing like I had expected. It wasn’t broad or universal; in fact, the closer I got to the heart of it, the more specific and local my relationships and work became.
Ironically, exposure to multiple international communities has taught me that genuine development, progress, and healing are always personal and local. There is no such thing as international relations, because a relationship by nature is specific. Wherever you are, what matters is how you treat the people in front of you.
My craving for place and belonging teaches me this lesson again and again: My healing comes in the specific, not the abstract. It comes through the broken reality I inhabit right now, and not in a distant place, past or future. However international, however broad one’s experience, the truth is that healing and growth always occur in immediate moments, relationships, and places. I no longer seek the grand and universal; instead, I pursue the fullness of small and quiet moments, the life-shaping, daily, utterly unique and yet ordinary moments that teach me to be where I am.