In this article, the awareness of belonging of Latvian emigrants is analysed and the factors that influence changes in sense of belonging explained, using unique empirical data. The data used were sourced from a quantitative longitudinal survey of Latvian emigrants and returning migrants conducted in 2014 and in 2019. Using these longitudinal data, researchers have been able to follow, for the first time, changes in sense of belonging, not only in particular Latvian emigrant groups but also on an individual level.
Analysing a person’s sense of belonging (place or group attachment) and identity formation in the context of migration is a challenge in itself. Sense of belonging and migration are concepts which, similar to nationalism and globalisation, are contradictory from the outset. Belonging is associated with concepts such as rootedness, a sense of place and balance, whereas migration is associated with action, mobility, borders, uncertainty etc. (Hedetoft 2002). Starting a new life or living for lengthy periods of time in another country, people tend to search for new belongings, thereby gaining (or not gaining ) a sense of belonging to the new country, territory, place, as well as to the local community. Sense of belonging provides a feeling of security which facilitates individual’s integration into the new environment. On the flipside, inability to integrate can be difficult to bear, even traumatic, creating a feeling of alienation and emptiness, negatively influencing one’s adaptation and integration into the new environment (May 2011).
To identify various types of belonging, cluster analysis was conducted, based on sense of belonging indicators (to the source and host countries and their societies). In addition, regression analyses was used to single out factors that influence changes in sense of belonging at an individual level.
Time spent living abroad, as well as the particular wave of immigration used both play an important role in changes in sense of belonging, as these are associated with motivation for migration and the emotional backdrop of leaving Latvia. Social ties also have significant meaning – whether an individual lives abroad by themselves or together with their family and friends. A longlasting sense of national belonging and its strengthening over time are also influenced by family and close friends living in Latvia, as well as by materialistic component – property in Latvia. Participation in various diaspora organisations also contributes to maintaining a sense of national identity.
Other indicators that influence belonging are subjective factors. If an overall satisfaction with life, and a higher level of trust in it fosters a positive sense of belonging to the host country, as well as the source country, then the opposite – dissatisfaction with one aspect of life – work, family life, socio-economic conditions – significantly affect alienation, a sense of (not) belonging. Separation from loved ones that is often the cause of unhappiness in family life, as well as dissatisfaction with work and life as a whole can impede the growth of feelings of belonging to the host country.
The results of the study show that a sense of belonging to the source country and the development of a new sense of belonging to the host country (or lack of it) have a significant correlation with an individual’s plan to stay «there» or return.