Think of all the migration, whether voluntary or involuntary that’s happened worldwide.
The term ‘Irish Good-bye’ (or shamrock shuffle) is, so I’m told, a phrase coined as a result of those Irish who left their home country without saying good-bye, so as not to have to deal with the upset of their family. A good (and logical) explanation, although I’ve since looked it up and cannot find that explanation anywhere. (However, I like it, so I’ll keep it.)
If the good-byes were painful, what about the arrivals? Those months in the port towns of the US, struggling to adapt and to carve out a life for themselves. My mind boggles at the number of people past and alive today who’ve been forced to find new lives in foreign places and the untold struggles that must have been suffered along the way.
Over the last three years, I’ve lived in four places for longer than a couple of months. I’m one of the privileged few – each time I’ve felt fortunate to be moving and done so out of choice – for fun.
Even among those voluntary émigrés, I sense a hint of respect when two people share their experiences living away for some time.
Some people are such natural vagabonds, or light-footed, that each move is a pleasure. Moreover, I’ve friends who’ve slid in and out of war-zones, dust bowls, refugee camps and chaos with alarming nonchalance. They are clearly made of sterner stuff.
Nonetheless I’ll stick by the belief that moving to a new place, especially alone, is not easy. Sure, it can be a incredible, unforgettable adventure, but there are lows as well as highs. Most people who’ve woken on Saturday morning in a foreign city without a single friend, a plan for weeks or return flight booked, will admit moments of bleakness, no matter how gregarious.
In San Francisco, the first of my moves, I struggled a little in the first few months. Speaking to those hardy adventurers mentioned above about my surprise at finding myself alone, I suddenly realised this was something they all had to deal with regularly. Often without complaining, or turning to e-mails, Skype and Facebook to allay their isolation.
Here in Berlin, two places later, the move has felt much, much easier. To make things work I suggest the following:
- Sharing apartments with several locals
- Buying a bike in your first few days
- Saying yes to everything –however incongruent to natural inclinations
- Asking friends to connect you with people they know in your new place
- Learning to lean on new friends somewhat more than you would at home
- Taking a friend or lover with you
- Being happier alone
My point, if I have one, is that for all the glamour associated with jetting off to live in a faraway place and the Facebook stream of photographs of women and hot tubs, is that there are bleak moments of self-awareness.
These moments are good.
They remind you who you are when your circumstances and your life’s backdrop change. They cannot be gained by just going for a month’s holiday, or staying with people. In a changing environment, with various cultures, smells and rhythms surrounding you, you learn who you are. Sometimes a desire for change prompts such a move and that change is often a desire to ‘be different’.
If I’ve learned anything from my moves, it is that I’m the same wherever I am. Moving doesn’t change one’s insecurities, self-esteem, confidence, abilities or happiness. Perhaps there are temporary blips, blooms and blots, but eventually, the gravitational force pulls you back to you. No running away then. Your problems are faster than you are.
Many of you who read this are fortunate enough to have had, or have, the opportunity to voluntarily move abroad, knowing that there’s a base to return to. Think for a moment of those who haven’t. Then book that ticket, head away and enjoy the highs and the lows as a vagabond for a while.
You’ll never forget it, but you’ll never forget you.