2.09.2013

Being an immigrant: from abstraction to reality

Notes about immigration. 

Immigration is a process that happens for many reasons, not ruled by a single element or outcome. The first glimpse of thought can derive from a very specific aspiration or need to change, but the process of becoming an immigrant is far more complex.

From my point of view, immigration was always an opportunity to experience a whole world, with all that entails. It was an opportunity to live a very demanding challenge and getting to know a portion of the unknown. From the beginning, it’s nothing but an abstraction of a life with certain and limited experiences.

Abstractions have the power to oversimplify projected complex living experiences into some very narrow blocks of meaning. Obviously, those are not isolated silos that don’t communicate with the inevitable, YOU and the WORLD.

Linking an oversaturated emotional and cognitive exercise, like that of questioning the specificities of the culture where you live, in my case, Portugal, and diving into action, is a difficult endeavour. Reality smashes you in the face with all the details. As they say, the devil is...you know.

It all starts when you try to give form to the abstraction. Why leaving? Which country? How can I do it? When should I go? How’s it going to be there? Am I prepared? What should I take? How long will I stay? What happens if I don’t like it? Am I ruining everything? Am I being naive? Will it be worthwhile? Am I coming back? How’s going to be there compared to here?

For this first post, I’ll try just to answer these questions, as they give structure to the reasons that made me consider a new experience abroad.
  • Why leaving?
For many reasons. First, I always wanted to experience how’s it like to live in a significantly different country, one considered to be much *better* than Portugal. Better here means quality of life, education, etc.
Also, I have very strong opinions about how the Portuguese society works and the causes of its apparent underdevelopment, when compared to other countries in Europe, Oceania or North America, for example.
Having the experience of analyzing Portugal from a privileged outsider position, trying to understand what are the dynamics that cause this current state of affairs, was a big driver of change for me.
I think in Portugal we live a permanent flow of insanity, one that gently reminds us of schizophrenia. Our delusions, disordered thoughts or, on the other hand, an apparent anhedonia and avolition to change, are our ever present stumbling blocks. I wanted to understand that.
  • Which country?
Having visited Canada several times before and knowing of its natural beauty and famous quality of life, as well as the fact of having friends here, helped me to make the decision. Additionally, Europe was/is going through rough times and I didn’t know anyone there that could give me a hand.
  • How can I do it?
Keep in mind, coming to Canada is not an easy thing to do. I’m a permanent resident here because I was approved successfully in the Federal Skilled Worker program for the national occupation list 4151, Psychologists. Also, it takes money. Substantial sums.
My advice would be to get all the information necessary and deciding on which aspects are more important for you. Europe is definitely a more easy alternative of immigration. All the hassle of documents and visas are a no go for many that want to immigrate to other regions outside Europe.
  • When should I go?
There is a never a perfect time to do it. It’s inevitable that many tears will be shed, many laughs will be heard, regret will show in every corner. I assume that you should go when the practical conditions are met. An advice though, plan it with enough time.
  • How’s it going to be there?
You really don’t know. It’s unexpected. You need to understand that in order to better adjust to change. It has been a really interesting experience, full of positive moments but also difficult challenges. Do you think you’re fluent in English? Think again. Do you think cultural differences are beautiful? Not always. Do you think that people will love to hear about your work experience and your degrees will make the difference? Probably not. Be prepared to work in a job not entirely related to your education or experience. Build from there, for it’s a foot in the door.
  • Am I prepared?
Prepare yourself but keep in mind that it’s never really possible to be prepared.
  • What should I take?
To put it bluntly, everything that is essential. The definition of essential varies considerably. Clothes, some books, my computer.
  • How long will I stay?
You don’t know. You will have to find out. You will find the answer while you’re living the challenge.
  • What happens if I don’t like it?
You change. Again. That’s not a problem. Don’t worry. Life is change. Life is beautiful and change is inevitable. One thing, though. Not liking is very important, as loving it is great. They are experiences, they are lessons, they are consequences of living. It’s not because you change that everything will be perfect, but it’s also not because you’re not open to change that everything will be wonderful. There are pros and cons, and remember, it’s life enriching.
  • Am I ruining everything?
Hardly. What’s your definition? What were your goals? I don’t think so. Not enjoying the experience or considering that it wasn’t the best experience in the world, is just as valid as liking it. You learn, you grow, you experience.
  • Am I being naive?
It depends. Do you think it will be perfect? Think again. It’s not that different from living in your home country. There’s ups and downs, just like everywhere. Be realistic but open minded.
  • Will it be worthwhile?
Every person will have his or her opinion but what I can tell you is...yes. It’s a great experience. I have learned a lot in the past 5 months. I’ve met wonderful people, visited beautiful places, lived experiences of starting a life where everything is new and sometimes not very pleasant. Change is not a sea of roses but it’s not a road to hell, either. You have to be prepared to leave your comfort zone.
  • Will I miss family, friends, pets and the small things?
This one is obvious, at least for me. A LOT! Very, very much! You will miss everything and everyone that were very important for you and being abroad gives you different sense of what's really important in life.
  • Am I coming back?
Again, you don’t know but you will. Do you need to think about it all the time? You don’t. Is it important for you to know the answer now? No. Will you have to make a decision? Yes. Is it important? Definitely. But now? No.
  • Should I be embarrassed or feel guilt if I go back?
Why should you? You’re living an experience, what you fought for. Enjoy life and don’t feel guilt if you decide that it’s better to change. Again, it’s part of life and you will only know after being there.
  • How is it “there” compared to “here”?
A sea of differences but a lake of similarities. 

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