Struck By Cultural Loneliness In My Invented Country
It’s 6:00 PM.
From my top-floor balcony, I hear the honks of buses and cars, an ambulance siren in the distance, and muffled conversations from the people talking on the streets below.
The smell of diesel mixed with freshly fried plantains drifts through the windows I’ve cracked open. Night comes quickly in Central America and within minutes, the warm tropical air turns cool and breezy.
As I sit in the apartment I’ve rented for the week, I like to pretend I’m home, that I’m one of them, that I belong here.
Yet, despite the fact that I hold a national identity card, know the culture, speak the language, and can make the food, I’m still the other.
The reality is that feelings of isolation and cultural loneliness are quite common when living in a foreign country…and even while living in the community you grew up in.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- Cultural Loneliness For A Global Citizen
- Feeling Culturally Isolated At Home
- How To Overcome Cultural Loneliness
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.
Cultural Loneliness For A Global Citizen: My New Reality
“Word by word I have created the person I am and the invented country in which I live.” ― Isabel Allende
Through my life’s many experiences, I have become an eclectic mix of backgrounds, smells, textures, tastes, and sounds.
I love ketchup on my salads, coffee with every meal, speed walking down city streets, and painting my nails. I flat iron my hair daily, rarely leave the house without makeup, and feel most like a woman in heels and jewelry.
I also love to walk around barefoot, slam every door too hard, and find it incredibly difficult to take naps.
I value hard work, my God, and my family. I believe in feminine energy and leadership. I value patience, showing up on time, and following rules.
No such country exists that checks all the boxes that adequately describe me.
I am not from there, but I’m also not from here.
I hold two passports but constantly battle a nostalgia for countries I’ve never visited and I miss people I’ve never met.
I am, in essence, culturally lonely.
Blogger Nomadic Matt can certainly identify with loneliness caused by cultural shifts in his own life. He states, “Our true home is being surrounded by the unknown.”
I have yet to meet another individual who enjoys ketchup on lettuce and also peanut butter on jelly. Someone who worships in one language and loves in another. A soul who is as local as she is foreign.
When I am here, very specific parts of me are nourished and little switches in my soul turn on, reviving me and reminding me that I am alive and that I am a beautiful, powerful woman.
When I am there, I am my mother’s daughter, free to work all day, say whatever I want, and grow professionally and financially.
My hope is to be able to build a bridge somewhere between these two worlds.
I have been traveling the globe for over two decades. I love the person I have become and wouldn’t change my life for anything.
Traveling and living abroad and in different parts of my home country has taught me to value diversity, develop an incredible amount of tolerance, and increase my love and compassion for all human beings.
I’ve discovered that at our core, we are all the same. We all want love and to be understood — no matter where we are from.
Feeling Culturally Isolated And Alone — Despite Being Home
When I lived abroad as an expat, I used to think my cultural loneliness would be cured after returning to my home country.
Being an outsider for so long made me fantasize about the way my own compatriots would surely embrace me, laugh at my jokes, acknowledge my hard work and dedication, and treat me with respect and dignity.
The truth is that I have never felt so alone than when I returned “home.”
I quickly realized that my global experiences forever changed and shaped the unspoken nuances within me, lighting up like Christmas tree lights and letting the locals know “she’s not from here,” making me feel more anxious to reach out to others.
Loneliness is a multidimensional experience that is universal among all humans regardless of their background, culture, religion, or any other differentiating factor.
None of us completely fit in anywhere.
When we have experiences with other cultures or people from other places that we identify with, it can provide a sense of belonging.
At the same time, it also exaggerates the sensation of being an outsider.
Most days, my city feels like it has a population of one — just me in my in-between world, trying to fit in everywhere I go but constantly feeling like I belong somewhere else.
I often feel most fulfilled when I am traveling from one destination to the next.
The illusion of relief that will come from arriving in a new land that will finally “get me” is empowering.
At the end of each trip, I am often happy to leave…but not yet ready to go.
I have become a member of the special club that all global citizens and travelers are in: the one where your home is everywhere.
If you’re like me, you leave parts of your heart in every new location and find yourself always missing something, someplace, or someone — although you can’t identify exactly what, where, or who that may be.
That feeling can strike even if you’ve never left your hometown.
How To Overcome Cultural Loneliness
At the end of the day, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Truer words have perhaps never been spoken.
If you’re a global citizen struggling to connect with others or you’re living abroad and dealing with expat loneliness, it is essential to learn ways to adjust to your new reality no matter where you are in the world.
Here are some tips that have helped me to feel less lonely:
- Own your unconventional past experiences and accept that this has formed your current identity.
- Look for other individuals who are doing the same. Find people who will not judge you or ask you why you hold your utensils facing down or pronounce your words in a different way.
- Seek those who won’t question your taste in music or fashion nor will they criticize your choice of food.
These people exist. I exist.
There is a whole community of us out there. You just have to be brave enough to find it.
Following the advice of author Isabel Allende, the best antidote for cultural loneliness may be found in creating your own unique space that carefully weaves together all of the threads of experience that have made you the person you are today.
Regardless of where we are going, we all crave companionship and acceptance.
If home is where the heart is and you consider “home” to be everywhere, you’re certainly not alone.
Welcome to my world.