Thursday, December 24, 2015

What If?

An insight into the mind of a first-time migrant

There I sat, in a buzzing hairdressing salon one week before Christmas, staring silently at my own reflection. I was privy to the erratic movement and chatter of the clients and staff around me, but all were blurred in slow motion as I contemplated my immediate future.

A wonderfully appropriate nineties playlist echoed through the speakers in the ceiling above. I ebbed in and out of consciousness, my reflection intermittently appearing as if I were looking through the lens of a camera drifting in and out of focus. When I wasn’t lost in the evocative lyrics of songs like 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up?’ and Eagle Eye Cherry’s ‘Save Tonight’, I found myself mulling over feelings of frustration and situational isolation.

“Migration is exciting, exciting, exciting!” so anyone who has never migrated internationally will tell you. Migration, particularly for the first time, is scary as all hell. Yes, there are many attractive elements - the promise of adventure, opportunities, and immersion into a culture other than your own which brings with it an abundance of exciting experiences. Inevitable though are the insecurities and uncertainties that are all encompassing in that final month before departure.

While the psychological adjustment is a major part of migration, so too is the time consuming process of ensuring all paperwork and legalities are checked off before leaving the homeland. Unfortunately, this list is continuous and will not see completion until the day of departure (if you’re lucky).

As I mentally checked off my own ‘to do’ list, the nineties music persisted as a suitable soundtrack to my current mindset. While Deep Blue Something's 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' left me lamenting lost time with someone special, the uplifting lyrics of New Radicals' 'You Get What You Give' reminded me of my own willingness and tenacity to succeed in a foreign country; this song, in that very moment, was the life jacket to provide buoyancy while preventing me from drowning in the sea of stress I’d ultimately succumb to.

A hairdresser pulled at my strands as I sat in the obnoxiously large black chair, the intense heat of the hairdryer blowing heavily upon my face as she frantically brushed at my scalp. I used this ironic moment of solitude to introspect upon the multitude of uncertainties clouding the forefront of my mind. They ranged from the deeply personal to the highly trivial – there seemed to be no in-between. I mulled over my growing list of ‘what ifs’ until my frenetic mind had reached an unexpected level of clarity…
  • What if my money isn't accessible in the UK upon arrival?
  • What if I accidentally leave essential paperwork in Australia?
  • What if I’m not paid on time?
  • What if I can't work out the bus schedules to and from school? What if I’m late on my first day?
  • What if I can't handle the cold, English winter?
  • What if I can't find an affordable gym close to home and the lack of exercise drives me mad?
  • What if I can't find my favourite vegetables in abundance? Will my healthy diet suffer?
  • What if I can’t afford wifi?
  • What if I don't like my apartment, or I have bad neighbours?
  • What if he’s ‘the one that got away’?
  • What if I’d never misunderstood the sudden distance? Will I always wonder what could have been?
  • What if he never really cared in the first place?
  • What if my mum cries at the airport? What if I do too?
  • What if someone in my family gets sick? How will I possibly take care of them from the other side of the world?
  • What if my siblings forget about me? Will they become accustomed to life without a (present) big sister? What if they’re ok with that?
  • What if my beloved dog passes away while I'm overseas? How will he know that I never, ever stopped loving him? Will he know that I miss kissing him above the eyes and tickling his chin?
  • What if my Nan thinks I've forgotten about her because I can't afford to call? Why won't she get the Internet already?
  • What if I go weeks or months without so much as a hug?
  • What if I can't stand my new school?
  • What if my students can't stand me?
  • What if I feel incompetent, and the U.K. curriculum reads like jibberish?
  • What if I like him more than he likes me?
  • What if New Year’s Eve doesn’t go as planned, or it is cancelled altogether?
  • What if his opinion of me changes? 
  • What if my friends and I miss each other terribly? 
  • What if we don’t? Will I make new friends?

  • What if I'm unable to save money because the cost of living is too high?
  • What if my worry is in vain and I love the U.K., never wishing to return to Australia?
  • What if I forget all about New York City, and end up regretting it later in life?
  • What if leaving for London was the best decision I ever made?

Despite the ‘what ifs’, my conscience is resolute in deciding to leave Australia for the United Kingdom; this is the right move for right now.

While the underlying anxiety that comes with first-time migration cannot be avoided, the element of excitement deep within will certainly allow it to gradually subside. Wembley Stadium rock concerts await my arrival, as does Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (and the 400th Anniversary celebration). The pop culture convention I’ll be working in February will undoubtedly provide me with stories for my friends back home, whereas the cobblestone streets I'll photograph and the castles I'll explore will feed my sense of wanderlust tenfold.

The bold decision to migrate may have started as a flight response to a frustrating breakup, and the journey has indeed been time consuming and emotionally trying, but the rewards I am yet to reap are lifelong and highly complemented by my determination to make the most of what’s yet to come.

By Belinda Pearce

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