Hello all. If you’re a long-time Doper, you might remember me. I joined in '99, and then six or seven years ago I took an extended break from the boards.
In the intervening time, I relocated my family from the United States (Pacific Northwest) to Europe.
This is intended to be a permanent move. We’ve been here going on four years, and have no intention of returning to the US. My wife and I are actively pursuing citizenship. Our children are enrolled in local schools; they have achieved fluency in two of the three local languages and are functionally capable in the third (on top of their native English). I myself am employed by a local company, outside the ex-pat bubble.
This is our home, and we are immigrants.
It’s an interesting adjustment in mindset, making this realization. Considering what a hot-button topic immigration is in the US (and no, this is not a political thread), our time here has given us some pretty fundamental insights into what life must be like for people trying to carve out their own little piece of the American dream.
So I decided to start this thread, in case anyone wants to ask questions and learn firsthand about uprooting one’s whole world and transplanting oneself thousands of miles away. It’s not quite an “ask me anything” — there are a few areas I’m going to be vague about, such as the specific country where I’m living. There are personal reasons for this which I can explain via PM for the curious.
The first observation I’ll share is this: Being an immigrant means you feel stupid all the time.
No matter how capable you might have been in your home country, almost everything in your new country is done at least a little bit differently. Whatever you might have learned before, you have to unlearn it and do it again, for the first time. This applies to nearly everything in your day-to-day life. Even the most mundane tasks, like calling for service on your washing machine or buying stamps at the post office, can be intimidating and frustrating. It’s not just the language barrier, though that’s part of it; there are lots of little differences in procedure and expectation that trip you up. You ask the wrong question, and you get laughed at, or you fail to ask the right question, and things don’t happen the way you expect.
When you first relocate, you blunder ahead in ignorance, but you realize in short order how little you know, and how frustrating literally everything will be. At that point, your coping strategy becomes a choice between stubbornness and avoidance. Every time some new obligation arises — aw, crap, I gotta replace the tires on the car — you have a little conversation with yourself about how important it actually is, weighing whether you can postpone it a bit to save yourself the headache and embarrassment of being stupid about yet another thing, versus feeling okay in the moment and choosing to grind through one more unpleasant learning experience, because goddammit I live here now and I gotta know how to do this.
Eventually, over time — and this takes years — you acquire some confidence about the new culture, and about how to navigate its challenges. You learn a bunch of specific tasks and procedures, and then you start to generalize, recognizing the social rules that govern everything, which gives you the ability to predict, roughly, how new experiences will go. This makes a huge difference, and I can’t overstate it. And then, after even more time, you begin to feel, very slightly, less stupid.
So that’s my initial bit of wisdom. I hope it’s interesting.
Anything else anyone wants to ask about?
(And if there are others who have the same experience as me, relocating and adjusting to a new country with a significantly different culture, please feel free to join in and comment as well.)