The Five Stages of Immigration
“I am from there. I am from here.
I am not there and I am not here.
I have two names, which meet and part,
and I have two languages.
I forget which of them I dream in.”
― Mahmoud Darwish
Immigration is a bizarre experience. You uproot every aspect of your current life and try to plant the same tree on different soil. Unlike travelling or even studying abroad, you do not get the luxury to fully appreciate the new scenery upon arrival.
First, you probably have a lot of baggage. Second, you face a whole slew of problems – the million arrangements you have to make when you try to settle into a new place; for example, school registration, rent, living arrangements, etc. (If you are a kid, this part will be easier for you since the adults will be taking care of most things.) Then, when you finally get to the end of your problems and try to sink your roots in, waves of emotional turmoil hit you… and the tree will never be the same again.
I’ve had two immigration experiences in my life so far: the first time at 9 years old from Myanmar to Singapore, and the second time at 16 years old from Singapore to the US. Both experiences have deeply affected me as a person, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this topic of immigration.
And I realized that the immigration process could be broken down into five stages, just like the five stages of grief:
The Five Stages of Immigration
Before you leave, you try to get every piece of information about your future home. You ask people who’ve been there and hope they only say nice things. You look into your possible future workplaces/schools and dream about them.
Hopes are high. Imaginations run wild.
You think, “There is a place on the other side of the Earth waiting for me and I am ever so ready to explore the green land!”
Except you weren’t quite ready, and no, the land was not waiting for you.
You are overwhelmed by all the differences you acutely see and feel. Typically, the further away you move geographically, the more intense the culture shock you will experience.
You feel FRUSTRATED. Why do they say “elevator” instead of “lift”? Why are there so many stop signs around?! Why are even the A4 sizes different?!?! Did I move to a new country or a new planet?!?!?!
*you passionately cursing in your native tongue*
There is no place you’d rather be than home. This strange land is not your home. You miss your home.
You take out your belongings from your homeland and perhaps shed a few tears. You make your native food or look for restaurants in your native cuisine. You call up all your loved ones back home and tell them how much you miss them and how hard life is for you right now and how horrible the local food tastes here and how you feel so l o n e l y… … ...
Sometimes, some people choose to rebel. They write DD/MM instead of MM/DD. They spell “color” as “colour”. They insist on walking barefooted around the office.
But no matter what, there will be some conventions you eventually give up.
Slowly but surely, you are adapting yourself to the values of the new culture and you are changing. This is an irreversible process.
As the proverb goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
At some point, you will learn to strike a balance between the old and new.
Yes, you will still miss your home. You will still make your native food and hug that soft toy you brought from home.
But you will also have gained new habits, made new awesome friends, and become fluent in a new language.
You realize you are now freer, braver, and stronger.
You learn to take the best of both worlds and become the best person you can be.
And at some point, it strikes you: This is also home...