A place to belong

150522placetobelongBy Liz Hussey

Moving to Malaysia to live was an adventure for me. A chance to step out of the comfort zone and explore new ideas. Dust off the cobwebs.

Little did we know that this was the beginning of a ten year incredible journey living overseas. First, to Malaysia for four years, then India for two, and then Holland for another four. I could write a book. About so many life changing events that have passed and become a chapter of my story.

But with all the positives of becoming an expat, I felt a new sense of loneliness and a new thirst to connect to community. An experience that has connected me to millions of people who also feel lonely, isolated or excluded for so many reasons.

Little did I realize that my passion for singing and music would provide the solution to my isolation and opened the cultural door far wider than I ever imagined.

Singing led me to find a place where I belonged. It’s easy to see the possibilities that singing and music holds for creating an inclusive culture for others who suffer this epidemic of society.

I was pregnant with our first child and enthusiastic to dive into our new cultural experience. I was restricted from working due to visa requirements. Although this put my midwifery career on hold I figured that our Malaysian experience would far outweigh the temporary sacrifice. And besides, the thought of living as an expat sounded quite glamorous and exciting.

What I learnt abruptly was that aside from all of the amazing life journey experiences, living in another country can be very challenging. What I hadn’t considered was the loneliness of starting from scratch socially. I was no longer working and was away from the support safety net of friends and family before the luxury of internet communication.

My sounds of everyday busy social connection were replaced with the echoing hum of quietness. Aside from the loneliness and isolation, there are the language, social and cultural challenges of adapting to a new life. Where do I buy a ladder? What is the name of plain flour in Dutch? How do I find a plumber? Where is the local GP? All the things that you take for granted in your own environment. But of all the challenges in living overseas, isolation was the greatest poverty for me.

I was powered into action by listening to my intuitive need to make strong local community connections within the Malaysian culture. I really wanted to experience and be part of Malaysia without the expat goggles. And the best solution: Join a local choir. So I set out and found a local choir by asking around. I had to audition, which was a little daunting but after surviving that process, found a place where I felt included. I had a ball.

There were about 45 people and we sang anything from musicals to classical. I felt connected through our harmony. Although I gradually got to know people in the choir better over time, I felt that sense of belonging from the first night.

The nagging sense of loneliness stopped tapping me on the shoulder and I decided then and there that I would always belong to a singing group of some description wherever in the world I was.

A song always helps us belong. Singing and music was, and always will continue to be, a great way to meet people and help to develop a deeper connection between us all. Sayonara isolation and loneliness.

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