Sowing the Seeds: The Pros and Cons of Emigrating
By Davey Womack
When I was a youngster my family moved to Tanzania. Images of zebra-filled craters and the sun-bleached savannah fill my early memory. It was a magical time filled with wonder and adventure: the sort of childhood all boys dream about. When we returned to the UK, however, my parents were sure to remind me that it wasn’t all sunshine and smiles. Nevertheless, this love for discovery and new life had taken hold. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to get out and explore new lands for myself.
Thankfully for me, the UK is the land of the gap year, so I didn’t have to wait long before my parents would allow me to go off gallivanting. Eighteen and fresh out of school, I headed straight to New Zealand, the furthest possible destination from my home. Three months later and I was hooked. The following five years were filled with travel. Extended stops in Ghana and Mexico punctuated my running about the planet.
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However, as I reached my mid-twenties I was looking to slow down a little, though I still had no desire to settle for the familiarity of my homeland. As such, emigration was on my mind. Then Brexit happened. I was in Mexico on the day of the vote, halfway through a solo expedition from the very top of Alaska all the way down to the very bottom of Argentina. Overnight, the pound plummeted. This made it clear to me how uncertain the future of the UK was, and, as I’d always dreamed of living in Spain, I figured it was now or never. I began searching for jobs and was offered one in Sevilla. I packed my bags and off I went; another immigrant to Europe.
All people have their reasons for emigration – often a compelling mix of reasons, both positive and negative. To simplify this, it could be said that emigrants are always either running to something or running from something. In the case of southern Europe, a large percentage are either retirees running to the sun, or refugees running from war and persecution.
Friends and Outcasts
As I was going to be moving to Seville, I decided it might be wise to start reading up on the place, its people, and their culture. I read of a relaxed people, proud of their culture, but also of closed communities. It’s said of Sevillanos that they’ll be the first to invite you around their house but the last to tell you where they live. This idea of welcoming strangers, but keeping them at arms length after that, was alien to me, almost the exact opposite to the attitude I’d grown up with.
The day to move came and I found I made friends remarkably quickly, with roommates and friends of roommates. This all happened very organically as my roommate and I just clicked from the off and began sharing friends we met along the way, building up a network of expats looking for friendship. I felt blessed to have seemingly avoided one of the major pitfalls of moving to a foreign land: loneliness. Often people who move to a place where they know nobody struggle to make friends. Many cities have expat meet-ups and language exchange programs, which are great ways to meet people, however I never attended any.
Loneliness was never something I experienced in immigrating. However, as time went on I found myself more and more frustrated by my lack of Spanish friends. It was not because of anything malicious that they hadn’t befriended me, but simply because they already had friends. They were too busy having fun with their friends to think to invite me. This is one of the major cons of emigrating, in my experience. All my friends are other foreigners, as these are the only people I’ve encountered who can relate to my experiences. My roommate, a German, has had the exact same experience. Although we have both adored meeting new people from such a wide variety of cultures from around the world, we have both, at times, felt like outcasts from society.
Learning and Doubting New Skills
Another hard part of moving to a new country, and perhaps one of the more obvious challenges, is having to learn a new language. This is both a pro and a con. At first it’s a negative. As anyone who’s ever tried will tell you, learning a second language is really hard! Not being able to understand or be understood inevitably emphasizes the alien feeling.
When I first moved to Seville I struggled with this, often resorting to hand gestures for the most basic of tasks. However, after a few months of immersion, I began to get the hang of Spanish, and this negative became a positive. Not only had I learnt an invaluable skill, but I could appreciate my native language on a much deeper level.
In studying Spanish, I learnt the building blocks of English. I should have known it before, of course. At a very young age I had been taught English grammar in school, but never really took any of it in. However, as I was taught Spanish grammar, I found I also learnt English grammar. When is the correct time to use past perfect, or what a tag question is. Random things that I knew on instinct in English but never knew why.
Euphoric Exploration and Homesickness
As a wanderlust-filled child I always dreamed of living in a foreign land, experiencing exotic cultures. I’m sure the young me would be overjoyed to see that I’ve gone and done just that!
Undoubtedly, this new culture is a huge pro, but I do often miss my own culture. Fish and Chips, after work, and polite queuing. It’s the little things that you miss the most.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling homesick I find it therapeutic to go out for a walk in the Seville sun. Just something simple like this really helps me battle my homesickness. It reminds me of what I’ve gained in emigrating. For me it’s good weather, but everyone will have something small which they wouldn’t be able to enjoy back home.
Clearly, then, there are two sides to every coin. Every aspect of emigrating has pros and cons attached to it. Should you decide to move countries, you will have to take the good with the bad. You will make friends from all over the world, but also feel like and outcast from society at times. You will learn new skills, but often feel out of your depth. You will feel euphoria in embracing a new culture, but also intense homesickness.
Emigrating is by no means an easy ride, sometimes you’ll wish you were back home in the safety of familiarity. The challenges you will face are huge, and sometimes you’ll encounter locals who’d rather not tolerate you in their city. However, in my opinion, the mountains you will have to climb are worth it for your growth as a person and for the wonders you’ll see along the way.
I know I have no regrets about my decision to move, and I know my parents are proud of the man I’ve become.