One tends to think of the immigrant/emigrant experience as being one of cultural difficulties and social adjustment, but as Eve expresses in her recent post at Queen’s English, the personal and emotional impacts of moving to another country can in some ways be greater. In fact it’s no exaggeration to say that one’s entire sense of self can be challenged to a surprisingly large degree.
The thing is, as psychologists have pointed out, our sense of who we are to a large degree relates to memory. So suddenly having nobody around us who shares any of the major experiences from our previous life can be unnerving and troubling from an emotional point of view. Often when we meet up with old friends in our everday lives, we will reminisce about events from the past and the people that we’ve known, both good and bad. It backs up and reasserts a sense of who we are.
I must admit that one of my favourite fantasies when seized by bouts of homesickness is just to be in the pub with old friends. People who know me, understand where I coming from, get my sense of humour. They’ve done some of the same things as me, met some of the same people, and lived in the same places. (I sometimes yearn for my previous access to affordable health and dental care too, but that’s another matter!)
Of course, one can’t allow oneself to be too much seized by nostalgia. It is easy to slip into the trap of romanticizing one’s homeland, if you’re not careful. There is nothing worse than the sentimental expat barfly, crying into his beer. Plus for me personally, I have been through some not dissimilar experiences before – leaving home and going to university in another part of the country, for instance. I have also known many people in the UK who’ve come to live from other places. It sometimes seems like half the world is hopping around between countries nowadays.
Given the pressures, I can understand why some emigrants return to their homeland within a year, or university students drop out before the first term has finished, but that isn’t really my style, and nor is it Eve’s, I would venture.