Nik Spyratos

My Myths of Belonging

From the moment we’re born we’re shoved into circles of belonging. Direct family. Extended family. Town, religion, and nation pop up too. That can be fine and dandy for most and you might even develop a sense of pride for your in group. You could also be lucky enough to be in a group that cares for you in a particular way. But what about the shadows? What about the limitations? Most will simply ignore the negatives of their group or shrug and say “it’s all I’ve got”. For those of us who can’t ignore the negatives, what can we do?

For those brave enough and able, they move. Move towns to get away & for larger opportunities. Convert religions. Marry into better families. Finally, the glaring one: leave your country.

Emigration carries its own burdens. You still have to live with yourself, so if you’ve got problems in one place you’ll have them in another.

If emigrating from a country, there can be questions of national identity coming up. Am I truly South African if I leave? Am I giving up? Is it selfish to not want to be part of the “I’m staying” crowd trying to make things better?

What follows is my own story of emigration & belonging with Greece and South Africa. I’ve moved thrice between them. These are two countries that have struggled to be successful in the 21st century.


In 2002, we moved to SA. I was 6. My Greek accent used to be rough in the beginning! Kids adapt though. I did well in school. In late 2008, we moved back to Greece. The Great Recession and Eurozone Crisis then hit, tanking the Greek economy with it.

Greece at the time was a fall from grace for me. I faltered in school as I had to re-learn Greek at a time when I should’ve already been proficient. I struggled to make friends. We suffered rising cost of living while my father’s pension was being constantly cut. My mother passed away, and shortly after that I admitted I wanted to come back to South Africa.

I knew that the Greek system would have very few opportunities for me. Youth unemployment was skyrocketing (in 2013 it would reach 60%). With limited and competitive seats in universities, there was no chance I’d get in. On top of that, with Greece’s conscription, I’d waste 9 months (12 months as of the lockdown era) of my life in the army. Tough break. I saw a better path in South Africa for education and career opportunities. Even if I was wrong, I’d take the risk instead of the meek existence in Greece.

South Africa

That was 2010. In mid-2013 we finally had the means to move back to South Africa. There were many ups and downs I won’t go into, but I’ve come through it all a stronger person and have had fun along the way. Once I graduated and started working in 2018, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.

That didn’t last too long. South Africa is far from a perfect country. Alongside my opportunities and natural beauty I’d seen, there are as many struggles.

Healthcare system in the pits. Gated estates and endless security measures to live safely. Loadshedding (this is a fancy term for scheduled power cuts to avoid grid collapse). One of the highest rates of inequality on the planet. Corruption on an epic scale.

Topping this grand rate of service failure is 1st-world level taxation. It’s a common refrain I hear: “if I were at least getting my money’s worth, I’d be happy to pay these taxes”. Then we have so-called “stealth taxes”: the private services you pay for to live comfortably. Private medical aid. Private neighbourhood security. Inverter and battery setups to endure loadshedding.

The way I see it, we pay a lot to pull the wool over our eyes and live our lives. To me this isn’t a reasonable way to live. I also believe in voting with your wallet and your feet. Yet for the first time I’ve felt resistance to leaving.

Moving on

Having moved this much, I always assumed I’d leave SA. However, it goes deeper than “Do I stay or go?” once you get into belonging and even duty to “your people”. It’s easier to stay than to explore. “If I no longer belong here, do I belong anywhere?”

The answer will differ for most. I thought about this for a while. I’ve more or less always felt like an outsider to both my cultures. Too South African for the Greeks, too Greek for the South Africans.

In my previous post, I spoke about a personal “tribe” of sorts. This can bring that sense of belonging by your own crafted group instead of the default you grow up with. For the more traditionally minded, the other form of this idea is to start a family. It’s one avenue worth pursuing. But before that, we need to rethink belonging in the societal sense.

I recently came across Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness” which touches on belonging. From it I discovered this Maya Angelou quote:

You are only free when you realise you belong no place - you belong every place - no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

The book was worth the buy for this quote alone. For me, this is the answer to belonging. Turn this “outsider-ness”, the social vagabond, into a strength instead of a weakness. By belonging nowhere, I belong everywhere. By belonging everywhere, I belong nowhere.

The price is high. The reward is great.

This is also the answer to the question of duty: “am I giving up by leaving?”. If I’m wanting to leave, then the only way to give up is to stay. Would you rather disappoint a vague sense of society, or yourself?

I don’t know your story, but my life is too short to keep disappointing myself.

PS. I do want to acknowledge that there is a privileged position here. As a dual-national with Greek citizenship, I have an easier time moving between countries. I don’t need a visa to live and work in Europe. I believe this does not change the themes of this post, as it goes beyond logistical ease and into why to move or not to move.

If you enjoyed this, follow, subscribe, yadda yadda. I write stuff from time to time. My next post is titled "Swimming in all directions, ignoring the rope on your leg".

#belonging #communities #emigration #life #lifestyle #self improvement