Have you ever thought about moving abroad? What would tempt you to leave, what would hold you back from making that decisive decision?
Why are you in Rome? Is the question I am most frequently asked by Italians. I came to Rome as I’d always wanted to live and work abroad and then I met an Italian man and the decision was more or less made for me.
September used to be my back to school month. As a teacher here in Rome for five years, a new school year signalled a new start. This time of year was always a point of reassessment and reflection. Going back to school after a few weeks of holiday in Bradford, always led to re-examining my decision to emigrate. Why was I here? As an expat (and I use the word advisedly) there can be an almost constant questioning of your choice to settle in another country; why are you here, would you be better off at home? As my friend Sam rightly pointed out, if you haven’t been forced to move through economic necessity or even fear, this questioning is going to be a constant. If you can always move back tomorrow, if you have a choice, the pull of home can be strong.
We’ve all heard people dream the dream for a better, different, more interesting life abroad. The fantasy of escaping the rat-race, boredom, seeking new adventures, good food, or a better work-life balance in a country where the sun always shines. I was one of the daydreamers. In Britain, the daytime television schedules are awash with people agonising over the decision to move their family abroad for this better life, which is invariably presented as that abroad. Yes, you’ll miss family and friends, but with more opportunities, better services, better quality of life, you’d be a fool to stay is what is implied. This striving for a better life as an emigrant is seem as normal, glamorous, brave.
So why is our search for the better life considered more worthy, less distasteful than that of the people caught up in the current refugee crisis (people with far more reason to escape their homelands than the thought of more outdoor dining opportunities)? We devote hours to home or away tv programmes and conversations with little acknowledgement, awareness or sense of irony when criticising immigrants to our own countries. I am an immigrant. I am a foreigner in Italy. I came here for a better life. What’s the difference?
As part of the European Union, we have the right to migrate to another EU nation. But most people don’t. Few people actually do take the plunge and take advantage of the opportunity that this provides. Leaving family and friends, the comfort and security of home is a huge step that many people don’t want to make. Most people are extremely happy to live their lives close to home. Some people couldn’t think of anything worse than leaving everything behind for the unknown. Most prefer to stay put. Better the devil you know.
And then ask yourself again, would you move?