Moving Across an Ocean- Here's How it Affected My Life (and maybe yours)

The way to adulthood is filled with exploration and self-realization. Having pondered on my “identity” for a few months (and I'm definitely still growing and defining myself), I have come to the realization that one particular event has shaped quite a lot of my character and inner world. At the age of 10, I moved across the Atlantic from Israel to Massachusetts, United States. I remember the experience being exhilarating, yet somehow astoundingly isolating. Within the United States, I moved once every three years up until high school, where I stayed in my town for a whole four years before moving to college. It’s doubtful that so much change and relocation had no effect on me as I grew up. So, I dug a little deeper into myself to spot some of the effects that moving to a completely different society had on me and boiled them down into this article. I hope that some of my readers will find solace or relatability in this article, as I am sure that I am not the only one changed in these ways by frequent and radical variations of scenery.

Firstly, from speaking to others who have immigrated to other countries and from personal experience, I can say that many immigrants find themselves feeling estranged or foreign even after settling down in their new communities for years at a time. For those of us who moved more post-immigration, the effect is even stronger. I now find that I associate “home” with my family rather than a specific location. Oftentimes, people say that they are bothered by feeling “like a tourist” in a foreign country. I am no longer bothered by that feeling because it has grown to be a near constant for me. In no way is this a complaint. Always feeling like a foreigner allows me to look at people, behaviors, and societies through a slightly different lens, and I find that because of this I am always learning.

To stem from constantly experiencing impermanence with your social relationships, especially as a child, you learn to put extra value in long friendships and relationships with others. I have few close friends, but these are friends that I have known for over a decade. You learn to treasure the time you have with the people you have now and you learn to keep in contact despite distance. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that if you truly want to see someone, distance isn’t a boundary. If they are your friend and truly love you, they will make sure to keep in contact somehow and come see you whenever possible - and you should do the same! Also, you might attach a lot of emotional value to objects that have remained permanent with you throughout your travels. It might be a stuffed animal, a book, a photo or a piece of jewelry (maybe even a food!), and you will treasure that object more than it’s probably worth.

Social impermanence can affect your integration abilities too. I started out as a very social child in Israel, but moving made me shy because I feared my accent. Once I mastered English, I still had trouble in social settings because I grew tired of constantly wasting my energy making connections with classmates, only to be torn away as soon as they formed. Furthermore, Melissa Moreno, LCSW-R, a Talkspace therapist, stated that frequent relocation can “impact one’s ability and desire to build and maintain relationships.” Growing up the way that I did taught me that not all relationships have to be bone deep. It’s ok to have some more shallow friendships. For all you know, they will strengthen with time, or you just had a good time while it lasted. On the other hand, you might become more socially capable by learning from experience. For example, my younger sister blossomed everywhere she went, making friends quickly and catching on to trends. The constant flow of new faces allows you to practice without judgment and figure out the face you want to present socially. Research shows that the major contributor to this difference is whether a child is introverted or extroverted, and I suppose my quieter personality made it more difficult for me to find friends than it was for my sister.

Obviously, there are many more smaller effects that I have found other than the three I listed above. Many of these effects are specific to my experiences and should not be generalized over all frequent movers. Overall, I would say that living in so many different places has made me a more curious person. I am no longer afraid to venture out into the world and I don’t panic under unfamiliar circumstances. None of the negatives listed in this article are meant to dissuade you from moving about and exploring the world. I strongly encourage you to do so, actually. You will meet plenty of incredible people, learn new skills, and discover aspects and strengths within yourself that you never knew before.

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