Being An Immigrant

earthsmlIt’s hard living in a different county to your friends and family. Don’t get me wrong this is a choice my husband and I made for ourselves. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy choice. Choosing to move counties itself was quite easy; as soon as my South African husband said he was interested in moving to the UK I was on the phone telling my UK friends almost immediately. But leaving loved ones behind, is not easy, especially knowing that you have no desire to live in the same country as them. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I should give you some background.

I was born in England and my family, consisting of myself, my old brother and my parent, emigrated to South Africa when I was 8; leaving behind an abundance of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. At 20 I went back to England with my then boyfriend and spent a year and a half, moving around the country doing a variety of jobs. I went back to South Africa at 21 when my boyfriend’s visa expired, but I knew I wanted to return to my motherland. Back in South Africa I split with my boyfriend and fell for my future husband, and when things started getting serious I made him aware that I wanted to go back to England. In 2006 we made the decision to move to England together, a decision we took very seriously (I still have the list of pro’s and con’s I wrote up), but it felt totally right. For 8 years we rented and at the beginning of this year we bought out first house.

Over the years we have discussed whether we would ever go back to South Africa and the main pull has been leaving our friends and family behind. Both of our parents are back in South Africa and that has probably been the hardest part. Our are all now in their 60’s and 70’s and though they may live to 100 it’s definitely in the back of our minds that we aren’t near them and that if the worst happens we may be left with a lifetime of regret. But the reality is we are here to stay. We have set down roots and of course anything could change and there is nothing stopping us from selling up and going back, but at the moment that’s not the plan. Apart from the emotional strain, the other main difficulty is definitely being away from your network. We moved cities 2 years ago too and have struggled to make any sort of friend base. We are both home bodies and not very outgoing and this has left us rather isolated. When we bought our home I got my boss to witness us signing our mortgage application, and moving in was a solo venture. In all honesty we are quite OK with this too. We don’t have much need for lots of people around us; but it does impact bigger life decisions. We are 33/34 years old and we have been wondering about having children for a long time. The knowledge that we are alone certainly impacts my thoughts on this. It’s not like I could drop our child with the grandparents for a night off. There would be no night off unless we paid a stranger to babysit, which is less than ideal. Also the advice and experience of trusted loved ones won’t be as readily available as it would be if we lived near them. I know there is still video calling and text messaging which helps make the world a smaller place, but it’s not really the same as being able to pop over for help with a concern.

Obviously there is a long list of benefits for us living where we do too. Safety for me was a large part of what made me want to leave. Despite all it’s sunshine, South Africa comes with another type of dark cloud that hangs over your head; the worry of your personal safety. Some people are OK to live behind burglar bars and locked doors, but I struggled with it and the constant looking over my shoulder made me paranoid and anxious. I still feel that way when we go back on holiday to see our loved ones, and coming back to England always gives me a sense of relief.

There are other things I love about England and the list is long. Great services, a Government that is actually accountable to the general public, the shopping is amazing, a comfortable lifestyle, 24/7 electricity! In general it’s just where I feel comfortable.

So what is my point? It’s not about me, it’s about the bigger picture. I was born here and I sometimes feel like a foreigner in my homeland. So what must it be like for a true immigrant. Someone with no ties to the country they live in at all. Someone who moved out of desperation, escaping violence, or to try make a better life for their family. Someone who is seen as an outcast in the society they live in, be it for their nationality, skin colour or religion. My heart goes out to them. Because if this is how I feel… How must they feel?