Ten Years Abroad, Ten Lessons

Every migratory experience is unique. Here’s what I’ve learned through mine. Maybe it resembles yours

  1. Some things are less painful to say if you say them in another language. For me at least, it’s easier to write this in English than to do it in Spanish.
  2. As with any other form of grief, the pain of migratory loss (in case you feel it, some fortunate people don’t) won’t disappear. It rather morphs into something more manageable, as long as you allow it to. 
  3. Beware of nostalgia: let it flow through you like a bittersweet, even creative emotion. But don’t let it park on you and take over; you’ll end up like Lot’s wife in the Old Testament, frozen into a salt statue for looking back.
  4. When you spend time abroad you stop being completely from your country of origin, while remaining unable to be completely from the country you now live in. Detachment from the starting point is inevitable, even more so if the country you left keeps changing; integration into the new country is possible… but only to a certain point. For my people back in Venezuela, I became something else: for the people here, I will always be an immigrant and never truly one of them. You are a hybrid: assume it, and own it. 
  5. Identity is real. You’ll hear people say that it’s a construct, or whatever. But no, it’s very real. Even if you decide you don’t belong anywhere, you have to face the concept and opt to ignore it, if you can. You have a national or binational or multinational identity, whether you want it or not; and you certainly have it in the eyes of everyone else. Don’t try too hard to remove labels from your forehead, because for the rest of the people, they will always be there. Best work to try and control what those labels read.  
  6. You can disconnect from news, politics, current affairs and remain very Venezuelan in many aspects, such as your accent or your sense of humor. Because what connects you to a place or an identity is not the present, but the past; it’s memory, not the ongoing experience.
  7. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Venezuelan people. I knew that already, but living in a country so different from Venezuela as Canada proved to me that humanity is pretty much the same anywhere, despite some obvious cultural nuances. What makes life different from one place to another is institutional quality: that outcome of history, economic possibilities and political incentives that implements rule of law and makes a society more functional. Set yourself free from 19th century positivist prejudice about how lazy or corrupt or barbarian Venezuelans are; just remember how so many people who grew up within supposedly advanced societies started to behave in the pandemic.  
  8. Don’t let your kids grow without Spanish. That’s not only their heritage, but their inheritance as well, and they are entitled to it. Knowing Spanish won’t prevent them from integrating into the country they live in. Their minds and hearts have enough space for both languages, and more, especially if they are little.  
  9. Once you leave your home country, you understand that no destination should be assumed as definitive. After the big jump that represents leaving your homeland, it’s easier to consider leaving anywhere else—should a better opportunity arise. Similarly, you shouldn’t assume you won’t return in the future. Or that a trip you started as a temporary adventure can’t become a permanent relocation.
  10. Migration can do a lot to you. It makes you change, even when you may try to resist. Some people blossom, some decay. I can say so far that living abroad shattered my ego and made me experience forms of sadness unknown to me. But it also forced me to distill into a leaner, more focused and (I hope) better version of myself. It’s the least we can make out of an existential crisis, and to migrate certainly may throw you right into one.