An immigrant’s story

I had lunch today with three lovely colleagues and somewhere in the middle of our conversation I realised that all three of them would be classed as immigrants. To me, they are my colleagues, highly capable in their fields and settled (for the most part) in their lives in England. One is Nigerian, one is Polish and the other is American. The Nigerian has been here 8 years, as has the Polish colleague, but my American colleague only moved here 6 months ago.

I find it fascinating that something happened in all of their lives to uproot them and move them to a new country to start over. Interestingly, all three of them said they wouldn’t choose to do it again and yet, it is part of their story. It is part of where they are today.

We got to talking about the classic ‘immigrant’s story’ of moving with the hope of a better life – dreams of a good job, a beautiful house, a healthy family and no worries. But of course, the grass is not always greener on the other side. As a wonderful friend of mine put it to me earlier this week “the grass is only greener on the other side until you walk up to it”. So I continued asking these colleagues questions, about how they each found their new lives.

The Nigerian moved his family away from something he felt would suffocate them and potentially put them in danger. He had reached a stage of his career where he had nowhere to go except start his own company and become his own MD. He has been very successful and is very happy in his new life but still, when I asked him, he said that one day, he will move home and “finish his life where he started it.”

The Polish colleague moved here to be with a girlfriend. She was French, he was Polish, they met in Denmark and when they finished their studies they wanted a new country to call their own. They broke up not long after moving to England but both stayed in the country and he has now made a life for himself here. When I asked him whether he would consider moving back to Poland, his response was simply “I have nothing there for me now, it would be just as hard to move back as it was to move here.”

The American colleague moved here with her new husband because of his work. She was blessed to find work fairly quickly but she is still in those initial overwhelming stages of her new life. She hasn’t met very many people yet and work has been tough on her until our recent move. She was the only one who, when I asked, said, almost blinking back tears, “yes, I would move back home in an instant.” She misses her friends, her family and her old life. I asked her if the positives outweighed the negatives of being here and without a moment’s hesitation she said, “He makes everyone worthwhile.” Completely as it should be, her love for her husband trumps everything.

Three completely separate reasons and yet three very similar stories.

What made me sad was when we realised that a lot of homeless people in the UK are immigrants and they are not homeless for lack of trying. Perhaps they were a little naïve in believing that their dream job, house and relationships would materialise within weeks of arriving in this new and exciting country but the thing that stops them from returning home is rarely the failure itself, it is the shame. Our society is so conditioned to believe that a good job, money, a big house and a perfect relationship are what define success that we unwittingly force others to believe they are unworthy if they do not achieve their initial plan. Without realising it, we stifle dreams, shatter hope and clothe others in shame instead of lifting them up, walking them through and encouraging a new dream.

Even though my three colleagues have escaped the all too familiar immigrant’s tale, they are so aware of what they have achieved. They don’t measure their success by the fact that they have secured stable work. Their success is what they achieved in overcoming the loneliness, the challenges and the risks that are involved in beginning again.

I want to live counter-culturally, without judging those who don’t always live up to the established definition of success, because I myself am one of them. We all are. None of us have a perfect job, a perfect home and a perfect relationship. But we do have each other and in a culture that is so defined by loneliness in a crowd, I want to make sure that my eyes are open, my conversations are real, my dreams are unending and my encouragement of others is genuine. One day at a time, we make one another’s lives worthwhile.