Yesterday: Existential Migration

I posted this on Facebook and Twitter last night, but was too tired to write about it at that moment, so I’m writing about it today. 

Last night, my friend Aimee (also my new personal trainer) posted this Wikipedia link with the simple comment “Yes.” Aimee is a TCK but doesn’t always identify as such. (Sidebar: I find it interesting that some of my TCK friends don’t like that label at all, while others cling to it proudly.) I am not a TCK, and some have labelled people like myself as Cross-Cultural Adults (CCAs?), but I’ve just never really found a description that quite “fit.” Expat? Sure, I guess… though the term expat(triate) implies that at one point I will return to my country of origin. And hey, at one point that was indeed the intent. But here I am, nearly 12 years later… 

So when I read the Wikipedia entry on existential migration, I, like Aimee, found it really resonated with me. As often happens with me and Wikipedia, I found myself exploring the source links voraciously, and a couple of hours later I had another 12 tabs open in my browser. I became infatuated with Greg Madison‘s work, mostly because in everything of his that I read or that was referenced, I found myself so clearly. It was a bit like reading a my own unauthorized but rather accurate biography. When that kind of thing happens, it’s quite arresting. I felt a deep connection to what I was reading.

I posted it about it to Facebook with a plea to my friends and family who have never understood why I left “home.” You see, I still get asked. I left Canada in July 2001. I return to Canada (Alberta and BC) every summer — I have to, for my own reasons and for my family’s reasons — and I couldn’t imagine it any differently. But I also couldn’t imagine living there again any time soon, as much as it breaks my heart sometimes. And still my family and friends say things to me like, “So when are you coming back?” or “When you do finally think about settling down here…” and “How much longer till you’ve had enough overseas?”

I know why they say these things. They love me. They miss my company. They wish they could see me more often — especially the kids. And I feel the same way — about all of these things! I really, really do. My choice to live overseas has had nothing to do with any of these reasons — ABSOLUTELY nothing. That needs to be very clear. I do hope they understand. But sometimes those questions and comments come with a tinge of something that makes me feel that they’ve taken my departure very personally — as if they believe that I left because of them. I didn’t. NEVER. And I want them to understand this, though I know they might not. It has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with me.

That’s why this concept of existential migration is so very important to me. I want all my friends and family and loved ones to read about it in the hope that they can better wrap their heads around why I chose not to stay in the same city or country where I was raised. I loved it — I still LOVE it! immensely! with the biggest heart you can imagine! — but I cannot live there. Not right now. Maybe not ever, though I’m in no position to predict that. My choice to live overseas — and at times, to keep moving — is strongly linked to a personal need to explore the world and other cultures. This need is about my making sense of myself and my place within the world. This need is about how I express myself and how I feel comfortable. It is not about abandonment of family, nation, or community. It is not about escape — rather, it is about discovery. Like Greg Wesson says, “I … moved abroad because I felt like it was what I had to do.”

That’s not to say I’m never coming back. I might. Or I might not. The truth is, I just don’t know yet. And that’s okay. I am very comfortable not knowing that. I realize my family and friends might not be comfortable not knowing, and for that I’m sorry. But I just can’t say anything different, and I don’t want to lie. 

So there’s my truth: I’m comfortable as a foreigner. I suspect I always will be. It brings me comfort. It might be hard for you to understand. It’s hard for me to explain. But I hope that means we can still love each other, because being far away is a silly reason not to.

I am part of a community of migrants across the globe, searching out situations where they are strangers in strange lands, all so they can feel at home. –Greg Wesson


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