For years I have listened to stories of people displaced from their homelands for various reasons. I listened with interest without fully understanding what it would be like to constantly wonder about a life, land and culture elsewhere.
Now I have finally come to understand, in my own ‘lite’ version, the concept of living between two worlds. I am fortunate to have a safe place to call home although after voluntarily moving our family to Spain and creating a new life for a year, it has put into question where and what home is.
We are torn between two equally wonderful and different places. One place represents the familiarity, safety and security of a long-term relationship (Australia) while the other boasts the excitement and novelty of new romance (Spain).
Having lived a dream-like year in Spain, Australia now feels like a well worn blanket; comforting and familiar but a bit dull. Meanwhile, Spain holds all our memories of new and exciting adventures. We were just getting to know each other when we had to part. All those romantic clichés of absence making the heart grow fonder are applicable as we pine for that existence once again.
We have been back in Australia for three months and our fond memories of Spain, while real, are prone to hyperbole due to our geographic distance and the dream being over. Our memories tend to focus on the wonderful and overlook many of the daily realities we experienced while living there. Similarly our perception of Australia since our return has been tainted by our romantic memories of Europe.
Adjusting back to the rhythms of Australian life, we are grateful for the ease of familiarity, interesting work, networks of friends, family and acquaintances. On the other hand, staying in touch with our friends in Spain highlights what we are missing as they continue their lives on the other side of the planet.
Yes, these are first world problems borne of the privilege of travel. They are however real issues for an increasing number of people who have chosen or been forced to live far from their place of birth and have friends or family spread across the globe.
In my mind, the affordability of modern travel and hyper-globalisation have created opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, economic advancement as well as creating individual challenges of cultural identity and sense of place: being caught between two or more worlds.
This has made me think of the waves of migration throughout history due to war, poverty and various upheavals. For centuries and beyond, people, including my grandparents and parents, have moved and adapted to new places and cultures usually for basic survival. For many in the developed world, today’s movements are a personal choice in the pursuit of career advancement, love, family reunions or cultural experiences. What I find different about today’s global movement from previous times is the element of individual choice.
That choice can be both a gift of opportunity and a burden. While broadening and enriching one’s perspective and experience, straddling two or more countries can also breed discontent: always comparing one to the other.
As the 19th century philosopher Emile Durkheim noted, the birth of the industrial revolution, and growth of individual wealth and choice corresponded exactly with the increase in depression. So much individual choice became overwhelming.
Emile Durkheim tried to explain why people had become so unhappy in modern societies, even though they had more opportunities and access to goods in quantities that their ancestors could never have dreamt of. He wrote:
“Under Capitalism, it is the individual (rather than the clan, or ‘society’ or the nation) that now chooses everything: what job to take, what religion to follow, who to marry… This ‘individualism’ forces us to be the authors of our own destinies. How our lives pan out becomes a reflection of our unique merits, skills and persistence.
If things go well, we can take all the credit. But if things go badly, it is crueller than ever before, for it means there is no one else to blame. We have to shoulder the full responsibility. We aren’t just unlucky any more, we have chosen and have messed up. Individualism ushers in a disinclination to admit to any sort of role for luck or chance in life. Failure becomes a terrible judgement upon oneself. This is the particular burden of life in modern Capitalism.”
And so, as we weather the ups and downs of our choice to move to Spain for a year then return to Australia, we remain grateful for for the opportunity to experience another life and culture. For it is only through the challenges and inquiry that we learn and grow as people.
As a postscript: One thing that currently keeps me connected to life in Spain is helping other families from around the world realize their dream of living in Spain. I have launched a new service called youryearinspain.com that provides a relocation service specifically for families and couples who want to spend an extended period of time living in Spain as we did.