Some of us like to travel more than others. New places, the sound of other languages, the smell of exotic food, the colors of other skies may have an intense attraction on our senses. But it is another thing to leave the country you were born or the place you grew up, pack your things and move to a foreign country.
Maybe many of you have had the opportunity of studying abroad and have experienced what it is to be confronted everyday with another culture, another way of life. The shock is even bigger, if you move to a country where you first have to learn to speak the language or where you know that you’ll never learn it.
What could be the reasons for such a big step?
The one I mentioned above is a very common one, though studying abroad is not really emigrating. Most of the students living somewhere else have the idea of going back to their countries when they finish their studies. I’m sure that we all know somebody who stayed abroad and without planning it from the beginning, they ended up moving to a third country.
The film “L’auberge espagnol”, a French comedy on the life of an Erasmus student living in Barcelona for a year is worth watching.
A very frequent and romantic reason to emigrate is: love. You move to another country because your sweetheart (… maybe not always that sweet ;-)) is a “foreigner”. Are you willing to become a “foreigner” because of love? In my case, you may know the answer: yes, I was. Although I was already very familiar with the German culture, I experienced some cultural shocks, some bigger some smaller, but read the word again: …shock… I think one of the things I disliked the most were the opening hours. Everything, from a big supermarket to the small stationary store around the corner closed weekdays at six o’clock and on Saturdays at 12:00 o’clock! Coming from a big city such as Mexico City and being used to the USA, where you could find everything anytime, I was shocked and had to plan ahead what I could need past six o’clock or at the weekend. Staying with the topic of “opening hours” the funniest and weirdest thing I found was the newspaper stand at the U-Bahn station (underground train) that closed from 12 – 13:30 for lunch. The funny thing is that they also had sandwiches and beverages, but not at noon. We have now everything open till eight o’clock.
Another shocking, really shocking thing was the first time I went to a lake in Summer. In the smaller ones there were no changing cabins. Most of the people used to change into their bathing suits using a towel to cover their bodies. However, others were not that shy and changed their bathing trunks (mostly men) just in front of you, which left you just… speechless! Even during a nice walk through the English Garden, the biggest park in the middle of Munich, you could find some sunbathers who weren’t shy… Some couples were like Adam and Eve without the leaf… or many of the female sunbathers were topless. If you come from a culture, where nakedness is not for all audiences, well, then you really have to get used to it. Nowadays, there aren’t as many “FKK” or “Freie Körper Kultur” = nudist fans as there were then, and “sadly” the ones left are not the youngest…
As you may imagine, I could go on and on telling you about my experiences here, but that is not my intention, don’t worry.
Let me get back on track…
Emigrating to another country looking for a better job and consequently a better life is a reason that has motivated millions of people to move or emigrate all along history. If we think of our ancestors, in the very early history, they firstly migrated from the African continent to spread almost all over the world. We also know that there were others later on in time with that special restless gene who crossed the icy and frozen Bering Sea to conquer an empty continent.
All along history there have been many many groups who have conquered their neighbors and have got very far away from their original homes. I can think of the Mongols, the Romans, the Arabic-speaking peoples, the Vikings… And as one of my favorite teachers of Spanish Literature and Language used to say: “ where the sword goes, goes the tongue” (en español with a nice Castilian accent, because she was from Spain,“a donde va la espada, va la lengua”) . This phenomenon is of interest because of the influence of one language to the other, for example in vocabulary and phonetics.
Mentioning all of the huge human movements in history would be an impossible task. If you’re interested in taking a look at the first raids of the vikings in Britain you can watch “Vikings” a very well documented and realistic TV show on the beginnings of their expansion.
Coming back to our era, some people decide to emigrate hoping for a better future.
Some may have to move because of their companies. Their positions have been moved to another subsidiary and, in this case either you move or you lose your job.
This makes me think of the film, “Outsourced” about an American salesman moving to India to train the customer service department. It’s a hilarious movie with a little bit of a love story.
Other employees move to work in another country for a limited period of time, let’s say for two or three years. They are considered expats. Some are expats their whole life not having really accepted the culture of the country they moved to.
I experienced what it is to live as an expat somewhere else. For me it was a different feeling, than when I moved to Germany, because I knew it was for a certain amount of time. It was a highly interesting experience and I learned not only about a different culture and another language. I had the opportunity to get to know very nice people in Sāo Paulo. I really like Brazil and love their people!
In our modern world, lots of people move some where else for economic or life threatening reasons. Most of them do not move with comfort and welfare. They leave their precarious lives with the little possessions they have and hope to get financial help in the countries they move to. Sometimes they are war refugees and sometimes they have to enter the target country illegally.
About this topics you may have watched a lot of films or read books that deal with this topic. I remember one that is in a sense cruel, but one that tells the story of a Mexican wetback couple with irony and humor. If you’re interested, it’s “The Tortilla Curtain” a novel by T.C. Boyle.
As I prefer to point out the humorous side of life I’ll finish this post with the film I watched last weekend. It’s called “Casse-Tête chinois” or Chinese puzzle and it’s about the the French student Xavier, the one in L’Auberge espagnol, who 20 years later decides to move to New York to follow his children. The film shows in a very naive way this guy emigrating to the US and his French view of life in Manhattan. I didn’t find it as good as the first one, but I laughed a couple of times 🙂
Till next week from abroad!