Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


When I was in Poland, I discovered that writing was something I really enjoyed. I could go off in my own little world; exaggerate, play around with words, see what happened. When I got to Belgium I (re)discovered that public speaking was something I really. did. not. enjoy.

Despite the theatre courses, the singing performances, the drama classes, the choir concerts, all the times I had shamelessly shown off in public when I was young, something had changed. Standing up to make a speech showed me what 'fight or flight' really meant. I seriously considered fleeing rooms, hands flailing in the air, screaming 'no! don't make me!' on more than one occasion.

So, this really started pissing me off and I decided to get my act together. It was time to sort myself out. I joined toastmasters. I could pretend it was easy - I sauntered in each fortnight and took it all in my stride, but no. It was a challenge each and every time just to walk through the door. Still, gradually it got less terrifying and now, after a few months I don't feel sick just thinking about it... small steps my friend, small steps.

Last week I made my first speech. I didn't tremble too badly, the audience laughed in all the places they were supposed to, and the fools even voted me the evening's best speaker. The light at the end of the tunnel is shining bright.

So, here it is. Speech number one: The Icebreaker

Fellow toastmasters and very welcome guests,

I would like to talk to you this evening about a very simple question that does not always have a very simple answer. 'Where is home?' By telling you my answer to the question, I hope to share something of my life and myself.

For some, answering 'where is home?' gives the same answer as 'where were you born?' I was born in London, right here [there were props - this is when I placed a heart sticker on a map of Europe, on London]. I lived in a nice area, with pleasant neighbours and good friends. Some of my other London-born friends have never left and tell me London is the only place they would consider living. Nothing else lives up to the bustling excitement of London life. I might have continued living in London, except that when I was three, we moved to Paris, here [another heart sticker on map - home is where the heart is, gettit?].

Living in Paris meant a new place, new people and most importantly a new language. When I started in my ecole maternelle, the teacher had to explain my silent presence to the other children: 'This is Rebecca. She's not stupid, she's just English.' My little brother was born, I soon spoke fluent three-year old French, and then we went back. Back to London.

For ten years, London was home. I grew up, I made friends, I learned German at school. Just after a school trip to Germany, where I decided I didn't like the language at all, and was very confused by the 'imbiss' sign that was shown on all snack stands, I was told we were moving. To Bonn, in Germany. I realised I would have to learn what imbiss meant. [another heart sticker on the map]

The biggest culture shock to hit me in Germany was swapping a strict girls' school with good exam results for a mixed international school with great parties. I had a seriously good time. After finishing school though, my German had not improved to a level that made me want to try out the German university system, so I went back 'home' to England, to university in Leeds.

I decided to study psychology and philosophy, based on my deep interest in people. The most interesting discovery I made about people though was probably the one that I did not have much in common with the English people I met. 'You're no London girl' someone once told me at a party. She was right.

After a masters in European Law, I looked for somewhere that would give me work experience and get me back into a more international environment. That place was Brussels. When I first arrived I did an internship with an NGO working on human rights, then moved to another in the European Commission. There I bumped into people from nearly every step of my life that far. I met girls from both primary and secondary schools in London; proper London girls. I ran into a guy from my school in Germany. I met people with different nationalities and accents, and I felt right at home.

I met one Polish guy in particular, and he led me to the next place I call home. Warsaw [another heart sticker on the map] The official Warsaw assignment was first one, and then two projects working with refugees. Here was work I could really get into - talking with people who had been forced to leave their homes and were trying to adapt to a new culture and language. We bought a flat in Warsaw, something that usually grounds people in one place. But not me. I left Poland and returned to Brussels exactly a year ago.

So for the second time, I find myself in this Belgian city. This time I am accompanied by a Polish fiance who, until this year, called one place home. I do meet plenty of people though who answer the simple question 'where is home' with a similarly, or more, complicated answer to mine. When people respond to my 'oh I don't have one home' with pity, I see they have not understood. Having no fixed home needn't be a disadvantage - to me, home is a feeling you can have anywhere.

Thank you.

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Blogger expateek said...

Great post! We, the expatriate "homeless", can totally identify.

Keep up the great writing.

8:41 am  
Blogger Steve said...

I agree

4:12 pm  
Blogger Monef said...

Fantastic post Boodles! I just wrote one the other day about how I feel like more of a 'global citizen' than anything else these days and here you are echoing my thoughts!

12:27 am  

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