We Need to Talk About Economic Migration

About two years ago, when I first explicitly asked friends about their experiences of economic migration, I was surprised to learn how many didn’t see working abroad as a dream, or even a choice. Many told me they’d much rather be in their home countries but they didn’t think there was anything waiting for them there. To go and create wasn’t incentive enough. “Reforms and opportunities need to come first, then people will follow,” a Brussels-based though Italian-at-heart public health expert told me.


When someone braved a return home, we who stayed abroad raised our eyebrows. “You’ll be back before you know it,” was the catch-phrase at most leaving-dos.


At home, returners were welcomed with cautious skepticism. “People tell me to keep my expectations low,” I learned from someone who moved back to Egypt following his Ph.D. in Egyptology. “Everyone who could make a difference here picks up and leaves, so it’s hard. But I think people appreciate that I’m trying to contribute,” he said.


Moving home is tough and many of us migrating adults end up in our childhood rooms. With our foreign qualifications and experiences often unrecognized, without credit or tax history, we start from scratch in the old country. Unwilling to accept the terms and conditions of junior positions we’d already held ten years before, and which don’t give us much hope for ever moving out of our parents’ house, many leave again.


“I spent two years looking for a job in Naples. It’s home, it’s where my family are and where I wanted to stay. But there was no way,” an Italian friend told me. With an extensive background in finance and sales, she recently moved to London for the second time.


“I’d rather be home, but there’s no way,” is a sentiment I hear more and more often from increasingly reluctant migrants.


“The hardest thing about moving here was leaving mum behind,” a Polish friend said. With a Ph.D. in life sciences and experience in translation, he recently moved to the UK to work in project management for a biotech company. “Dad died a couple of years ago, mum is on her own. I worry every day. But, the way things are [economically and politically], what can I do?”


When we move for work, it’s not just places we leave behind, but also the people and the support structures they form around us, and which our absence weakens. Checking in on an aging parent or having a sibling or a friend-who-is-practically-a-sibling for emergency childcare is out of the question when we live abroad.


“Moving to a new country is exciting until you realize that you’re giving up all your life and everything you’ve ever known,” said a UK-based medical researcher originally from Kenya.


This is no small concern for anyone wanting a family. “Our baby was born just before we moved to England,” a French colleague said. “Without grandparents or state support for childcare, it is very difficult for both parents to afford a full-time job. Sadly, the way things are in France means that there aren’t any [science] jobs for me.”


Although moving parents closer seems like an idea, it’s rarely if ever an option. Finances aside, there are cultural differences that can be impossible to overcome. “We tried to get mum here after my dad died,” a lady who works at my local coffee place told me the other day. “She didn’t last. At home, she’s independent, she has friends, she knows the city like the back of her hand. Here? With barely any English, she was entirely dependent on us, which was probably more traumatic for her than being on her own back home.”


This language barrier is something I understand very well. My parents don’t speak English. When they visit, they depend on me and so they visit rarely. Any social or professional life I built in English is not something I can easily share.


As a result, my parents and I don’t know each other the way we did when Sunday breakfasts were part of our weekly routine. They can’t read my writing or get to know my friends. I know only vaguely what excites them about their days. Hard as we try, our realities are so far apart they don’t transmit over Skype.


It’s a shared experience. “We try to keep in touch, but, over time, more and more calls are missed and never rescheduled. Connections fray and next thing you know, you lose track of your own family,” my Kenyan friend said.


As adults, we rarely admit the toll it takes on us to miss out on time with our parents as if ceased to matter on the other side of eighteen. For some of us it certainly does and putting physical distance between our parents and ourselves is a source of relief. For others, it’s a source of longing and regret.


“I was a very different person when I first left for London fifteen years ago,” my Italian friend said as she packed to return to England. “I will always be grateful for the time I had with my parents in the last two years in Naples. We got to know each other as adults and that’s really important.”


As I grow older and migration is no longer an exciting episode but a complicated lifestyle, I increasingly wonder why certain locations absorb all the talent and skill while other parts of the world provide solid training but not enough opportunity. I also wonder about the economic and social consequences of such state of affairs.


For example, the staff crisis within the British health sector has received plenty of media attention. At the same time, relatively little has been written about the decisions of consecutive governments that allowed it. Now, the NHS is able to absorb many foreign-trained professionals. Professionals who, evidence emerges, are often paid lowered wages and whose visa payments appear to be a source of profit for the UK government.


Meanwhile, countries that had invested in the training of their staff are left with shortages they can’t easily plug. When well-trained workforce decides to emigrate despite relative job security, they’re most likely looking for higher quality of life or better work comfort compared to what they have available in their home countries. Even if migrants from other countries replace them, it’s usually for a short time. People who already moved once tend to move again.


Overall, contemporary economic migration raises three types of serious and complex questions. One: Who is responsible for training and retaining a nation’s public workforce within a state? Two: In times of mass migration, whose job is it to create social support structures and professional incentives for people to remain? Three: What are the dues and responsibilities of individuals to societies that invested public money in their training and development? In other words, as “global” citizens, to whom do we owe our taxes and who will pay for our care?


Economic migration is not without dilemmas and sacrifices some of which aren’t immediately apparent. We need an open, global conversation about the costs and benefits of moving for work. A conversation that allows us to understand the motives to leave or remain, and which will ultimately allow us to create solutions that support a globally collaborative society.


Zuzanna Fimińska is the community organizer behind Project Neighbours and a writer aiming to fill the world with great conversations and many points of view.  Her work has been published Mslexia, eyeforpharma, Time Out Amsterdam, Polish Express, TRANSITION, Cadaverine, Hospital Drive, Prick of the Spindle, Examined Life and others.  She occasionally performs and a podcast featuring her short story is forthcoming with The Other Stories.

Reading in Spain: A Walk from Train Station Kiosks to Bookshops.

Courtesy of Ugur Akdemir

An assessment of the reading rates and the types of readers of any country could be metaphorically imagined as an itinerary from train-station kiosks to bookshops. From literature understood as a pastime to reading thought as something adding meaning to one’s life. Indeed, I think we should look at reading from this angle where it becomes something else rather than just the processing of information contained in some pages.

The latest account developed in Spain on reading habits points towards this direction by saying that ‘reading might be understood as a wide set of cultural practices or as an activity reduced to something much more specific’ (FGEE: 2017, 81)—I agree with this conception of reading as something that might be lived in other ways beyond paper. Actually, I believe most part of the reading we do daily doesn’t happen through books. Read More

The Relevance of Science Fiction

Courtesy of NASA

Ever since I was young and watched my first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise I’ve been fascinated by science fiction and the stories that can be told in this genre. Since then, I have watched many other science fiction shows, and I have read a good amount of science fiction novels. I feel this genre is often misunderstood as a literary genre and not always taken seriously or fully appreciated. While I understand it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think the beauty of science fiction is that there are so many layers and ideas inside of these stories that can make us reflect on whatever issue or aspect of society we care about.

While by definition speculative, and often considered as futuristic, science fiction has a long and rich history. Arguably the first work can be dated all the way back to the 2ndcentury AD when Hellenized Syrian satirist Lucian wrote A True Story. This novel contained themes that are still explored today in the genre, such as travel to outer space and alien life forms. Some stories from The Arabian Nights also include elements that could be considered science fiction. However, science fiction really took off with the dawn of the Age of Reason and the emergence of modern science. Isaac Asimov, famous for his Three Laws of Robotics, considers Johannes Kepler’s novel Somniumto be the first real science fiction story. Read More

Political Poetry?

Courtesy of Valentin Salja

The term ‘political poetry’ brings to mind impassioned verse denouncing dictatorships, demanding social change, or describing the struggle of oppressed groups. But this is only the surface of political poetry. Scratch a little deeper and you find that nearly all poetry is political when we take the broader view that politics is the struggle of taking groups of humans and attempting to make them co-exist with each other, with the environment, or with any other situation. A poem about flowers becomes an environmental love song. A love poem becomes more than just the human value of affection. The fact that poetry has allowed generations to wrap the voice of the oppressed in a non-political guise has led it to be one of the most political art forms in human history. These “quieter” poems, where the political message lies below the surface affect me most. My favorite poet, Chimako Tada, whose poetry—both subtle and introspective—demonstrates how a restrained voice can amplify the power of its hidden meanings, illustrates this.

Born in 1930 in the Fukuoka region of Japan, Tada’s adolescence was spent in the shadow of war. She went to college to study French literature, where she became a regular in the poetic and intellectual circles of the time, including the Japanese avant-garde movement. Her first collection—Hanabi—appeared in 1956. She continued to publish works and teach poetry for the rest of her life, though she almost always wrote in isolation. The recipient of numerous awards including the Modern Poetry Women’s Prize (for her book Hasu Kuibito), Tada has come to be acknowledged as one of the most important and powerful female poetic voices of the last century. Read More

Psychological Benefits of Creative Writing

Much of the research I am going to discuss is on writing and happiness. It deals with the therapeutic value of writing and its relation to improved well-being and reduced stress levels for those who do it regularly.

Research by Laura King, for instance, shows that writing about achieving future goals and dreams can make people happier and healthier. Another study by Adam Grant supports this claim. He found that when people did stressful fundraising jobs, and they kept a journal about how their work made a difference for a few days, their hourly effort had increased by 29% over the next two weeks.

This indicates that writing is not exclusively only for professional writers. In both emotional intelligence and hard sciences like mathematics, writing has been shown to help people communicate highly complex ideas more effectively. The reason is that writing helps eliminate the “it sounded well in my head” line of thinking by forcing your hand to put it out on a blank sheet and to give the thought a tangible form. Brains might forgive whimsical abstractions, but prose does not. Read More

Is It Possible to Still Publish Epic Novels?

Courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo

I’ve been pondering the title of this article. It’s a heavy one, with three monumental words on it: Publish, epic, novel. Which of the three represents the biggest challenge? Well, that’s a big question too. To create and develop an interesting, epic plot. To have the discipline to write the draft until it can be called a novel. To get it published. Wow. There’s persistence behind these tasks. Tons of work behind these words. And much love for the craft of writing.

What does it take to transform the sparkle of an idea into a novel? And how do we know it will grow until it becomes an epic novel? There’s no universal answer here, although, to the first one I would say “persistence”. The acute feeling that this path is the one you want to follow no matter what. And you stick to that gem, your nails sinking into that lonely trunk afloat in the river. To the second one, I would attempt a quiet “we just don’t know”. We write that’s what we do. We work hard and enjoy while we work. Then we follow our hearts wherever they want to get us to. Maybe one day we’ll find ourselves struggling with the possibility of publishing that magnificent story we’ve poured into the pages along the years. Read More

Paper vs. Digital

I was standing last week in front of my bookshelves, looking up at the dusty, colorful, but forgotten books I haven’t stared at in a long time. Searching for an empty spot where to place Irene Nemirovky’s Suite Francaise, I pondered the book’s heaviness. It’s quite a thick book, a precious book, and of course, I couldn’t find any place for it. I wandered around the house, then, and found myself seriously considering and struggling between my preference of reading in paper versus the physical impossibility of storing more books at home.

I actually read both digital (e-reader or tablet) and paper books, but I totally love the touch of the page and the old resin, foliage-sort smell of books. If I can choose, I choose to hold a printed book, caress it, breath its perfume. Then, have a close look at it, page by page, beginning from the end, slowly balancing the depths of the story before jumping into it. But there’s truth in my storage problem, and setting aside all romanticism, I think it’s fair to give a thought to the digital alternative to reading (and writing) as a storage solution. Read More