Behind one’s choice to move to a different place are many reasons: Some are forced to escape from persecution or war, while others seek new opportunities and a diverse lifestyle or maybe they found love. In my case, it was a combination of things: the deep connection I felt with Australia when I traveled there during my university years, the need to embark on my own personal and spiritual journey and my lifelong-learning nature, which pushed me to challenge myself. Overall, my inner voice was so loud that I could not ignore it. I never regretted my choice and I am happy to call Australia home, but little did I know that having some good friends and meet them regularly would be so hard.
Twelve years ago, I packed up my things and left my home country, Italy, to start a new life in Melbourne. Some people understood and supported my decision, whereas others did not and probably never will.
With no guarantee that I could stay in Australia after my course, I went back to university to undertake a Graduate Diploma of Education in order to be able to work as a secondary school teacher, completely shifting my career and putting at risk everything I knew and loved in Italy. In my spare time, I was a Business Developer for a Taiwanese Information Technology company, which allowed me to earn some money and increase my future professional opportunities.
Some feel content spending their existence in their birthplace, in their comfort zone, with their routines surrounded by family and friends, but for others, life is an ongoing discovery made of endless experiences, travels, different people and cultures. None of these two lifestyles is right or wrong and they both have their advantages and downsides.
I obviously belong to the second group of people and, as such, I went through numerous changes adapting to new addresses, housemates, habits, food, cultures, languages, and jobs. All of these aspects made me who I am today, however, that did not come without sacrifice.
The life of an adult migrant is everything but easy and, despite what many might think, it is not a walk in the park, just enjoying the benefits of a new journey. There are many hardships in it, only known to those who have left their homes.
To start, being bi- or multi-lingual also means being more persons in one. Each language comes with its own culture, expressions, intonation, pronunciation, and mechanisms, which all together stimulate and develop speech and behavior in different ways. When I speak Italian, I feel more confident, I do not need to think too much and can understand all phrases and their backgrounds. When I speak English, despite my level of knowledge, I am more reflective and, at times, I miss the context behind words, which makes my understanding and interactions with others less spontaneous.
Then there is “home.” After some time as an adult migrant, one feels that one belongs in two places, two realities and, most likely, not completely in either of them. As much as the new environment becomes home, it still is the country where one does not have a past. At times, this turns into a sense of loneliness, even to those who found love and a family. This feeling will last and grow in the heart for a lifetime, as I have learned by talking to most elderly Italian migrants, who have idolized their birthplaces.
Younger generations are faced with some difficulties too. Marco, 46, from Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy) has been living in Sydney for over a decade. Despite having a good job, a partner, and some strong interests, including photography, he finds hard to make “true friends” to share his values with. When asked for possible reasons for this, Marco answered: “Probably due to my age, the fact that I arrived here as an adult and that social relationships, especially in a big city, are very light and ‘on and off.’ All this does not favor deep connections. In the best-case scenario, you can find a stable relationship with a partner, but succeeding at creating a group of friends to meet regularly is very hard.” What Marco misses the most about Italy is his loved ones and “the sense of belonging in a group, may it be family or friends.” He recently started to attend some events organized by InterNations, an ex-pats association aimed at helping migrants to expand and cultivate their social network.
When loneliness kicks in, it is hard to find someone to share it with, someone who can really understand, and it seems that the only people who can comprehend are other migrants, even though each experience is different.
My friend Elisa, 37, from Aprilia (Lazio, Italy) lives in Sydney, where, after years of study and work, she was able to buy a unit and is about to start a family. I recall our endless phone calls over the years, sharing our hardships as single migrant women facing all sorts of difficulties, from achieving the status of citizens to establishing significant connections with those around us.
Elisa believes that “people from diverse cultures seem to have a completely different understanding of friendship […] and some are here temporarily, which makes hard to continue a certain type of relationship.” What she misses about Italy are her friends and family.
Meaningful relationships originate from several factors and types of knowledge, including one’s culture, individual experiences, values, interests, and thinking, therefore one’s past and upbringing have a considerable role in their interactions and the development of possible friendships.
Marco and Elisa are open, sociable and love calling Australia home. In spite of having met a large number of people since having moved here, they have both struggled to create meaningful relationships. At times, we fall into that void that all migrants sooner or later feel in their hearts and are faced with.
All of a sudden, any little detail reminding us about Italy, becomes precious: a cup of coffee, a pizza made “the right way,” an Italian song. We try to build a piece of our country of birth out of it, but with a twist, just like the older generations did. Our spoken Italian becomes, sometimes, tainted by English words like “applicare” (from “to apply”) used as “submitting an application,” which in Italian has a different meaning.
Those who choose to stay in their home countries, at times make the mistake to believe that migrating is about earning more money or finding success. That is definitely part of the deal, but no amount of money or job satisfaction can fill the void when it hurts. The life of a migrant is earned and built one little step at the time, day after day, but that is why, when we achieve something, it feels truly special.
In my case, I was fortunate enough to find my spiritual path by discovering a beautiful cultivation way called Falun Dafa, which I have been practicing since 2008. Its values, Truth, Compassion, and Forbearance, gave me the strength to face all sorts of obstacles and even in the hardest moments, a clear direction. I also have a few good friends, even though due to our busy lives, I only meet occasionally. In Italy, seeing someone regularly and organize an outing at the last minute is the norm, whereas here you must “book” people months in advance.
It is certain, though, that technology has made keeping in touch easier, even though an online relationship is not as fulfilling as a face-to-face one. Overall, I believe that amid many discouraging events in this world that sometimes seems degraded to the core, traveling offers endless opportunities to meet interesting people, learn and grow, and make life fuller and richer.