Lifestyle & Culture

The Search for Belonging

Shelby Hutchinson speaks to first-year Creative Industries student, Sote Chemngorem, on her move from Kenya to Newcastle.

When I first met Sote Chemngorem, a first-year student in the School of Creative Industries, we were discussing our motivations as creatives and what themes we return to in our creative work. She told me about her life in Kenya, her experience of moving to Newcastle earlier this year (just before Covid-19 struck Australia), and, her search for belonging in both places. I was inspired by her experience and decided to interview her about what her experience was like living in both Kenya and Newcastle, how COVID affected it, and, whether or not she has found what belonging is and means to her.

What was life like growing up in Kenya?

It was calm and peaceful; I grew up with a lot of love from my neighbours and family and friends. I would walk over to our neighbours for lunches and then my friend’s house for dinner and sleepovers. I was never really lonely, I always spent time around people.

However, I moved to Newcastle because I wanted to discover what it’s like to live in and belong to a new community, and the University of Newcastle was one of the few universities that offered the Bachelor of Creative Industries.

How have you found things since living here? Was it what you expected?

Very different. The way people interact with each other is different, definitely friendly. I expected to get a huge culture shock but funnily enough, it hasn’t been extremely difficult to hold conversations and find common ground, and I have social media and the internet to thank for that.

What has been your experience as an international student at the University of Newcastle?

It’s been both lonely and exciting. I get to make new friends from different cultures and different places, but at the same time I haven’t found Kenyans my age yet, so it does feel a little lonely in that aspect. Seeing people bond over their shared experiences growing up and speaking the same slang makes me miss my Kenyan friends.

 Did Covid have an impact on your experience here?

Yeah, it did a lot, I never got to really experience Newcastle enough because I mostly stayed home or just went to the malls and parks. I also never got to form enough lasting friendships because Covid made it hard to hang out with friends.

Going through this Covid period has also made me appreciate my family now more than ever, and I feel like I need to spend time with them so we can all really heal from this year together, so I’m going back home this year to be with them.

What does ‘belonging’ mean to you now? Have you found it?

I’ve found that belonging is really just about the people around you. Yes, there is a sense of belonging that comes from living in your own country but your community plays a larger role. I can move countries 10 times but if I’m lonely, then I’ll never truly feel like I belong in that country. Why? Because it’s about being surrounded by people who love and care for you.

Have there been any key aspects of life in Newcastle that has made the experience of moving here worth it?

Definitely, being exposed to the creative culture has made it worth it. I’ve seen people who are extremely passionate about their craft and it’s just very inspiring. People here love to express themselves through their clothes, their body art, etc and that’s made me want to be more expressive. I think now that I know where belonging comes from for me, it’s definitely going to be easier to find it.

Feature Image: Bea King, Yak Media Designer

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