Who, What, and Where Will Be Next

It strikes me that the reason most people emigrate from the country they’ve always called home is to find a “better life”.  Granted there are as many ways to define better life as there are people emigrating. Often that means running away from some sort of persecution, or living somewhere with more amenable social customs.  But more often than not it means finding a more lucrative work/pay situation.  That said, given the migratory nature of the world’s recent economic boom/bust cycles, I wonder if we are in danger of creating a permanent nomadic immigrant community.

The big unspoken question simmering in the back of every immigrant’s brainpan is, “Will it be better in the new place?” Yes, the niggling thought that perhaps you’ve avoided a mud puddle but stepped in shit is a constant companion during the adjustment phase of early expat life. Perhaps it never goes away.  I’ll wait for expats with more time on their clocks to weigh in on that score.

In terms of trading good for better (or worse), I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the economic boom that so many seem to be chasing these days.  Living in Ireland we hear on a nearly daily basis that the economy is in a slump as compared to the boom days of the Celtic Tiger (a period of robust economic growth in the Republic of Ireland that lasted from the mid-1990s through the mid to late 2000s, depending on which economist you listen to).  The Celtic Tiger, much like the “tech bubble” in the U.S. saw those making money buying houses the size of modest castles and generally spending like drunken sailors.  Both countries then hit the skids, hard. The housing markets tanked, and ultimately just about everyone was over leveraged. It’s more than a little creepy to realize that almost exactly two years after America went bust, Ireland did the same thing, in pretty much the same way

These busts didn’t hit just those who were making money. They touched everyone. Some say it’s harder to have money and lose it than it is to never have money.  I think that’s bullshit.  And I say it’s far worse to lose what little you have because a few hedge fund carpetbaggers tanked the economy for everyone so they could afford their wife’s next Botox injection.

And now, with the economy tanking (or tanked) in Ireland, many of this country’s best and brightest (those with the skills to compete elsewhere) are hotfooting it to other countries.  During the Celtic Tiger, immigrants from Eastern Europe made their way to Dublin.  Now, firmly rooted in their jobs, they hold down positions that might otherwise go to graduating Irishmen and women.  Instead, Ireland’s young workforce is by and large headed to Australia.

Australia is the next big boom culture.  Housing starts are way up in Australia.  They are desperate for skilled laborers to build their mini-castles.  Good on ya, mate. But eight or ten years from now will The Land Down Unda be the next bust?  If so, where will all of the young Australians go when they graduate from college only to find every job filled by Irishmen?  Are we creating a semi-permanent class of immigrants who don’t really belong anywhere, but follow the economic bubble wherever it drifts?

A while back someone told me that when you are an immigrant you aren’t a perfect fit at home anymore, and you don’t fully belong in your new country either. No matter how long you are there, at some point the chatter at the cocktail party migrates to “I can’t quite place his accent, where is he from?”  As a result, immigrants the world over are citizens of a nether land somewhere between countries.  They belong to a land of immigrants who are rapidly becoming nomads.

Technology, while making it easier to stay in touch, is also driving boom and bust cycles around the world. Technology has made it easy to stay in touch (and work from virtually anywhere) while it has simultaneously made the world economy incredibly fragile.  We’ve spawned a society of Technomads following the high tech gold rush?

To would be emigrants/immigrants I say, before you pack your bags and head off, think seriously about why you’re going and what you’re giving up at home. Remember, the miners rarely get rich in a gold rush.  It’s the guys who sell shovels make all the money.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Taxed in Two Places.

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
This entry was posted in Home & A Sense of Place, Immigration & Emigration, Irish History, Irish Life & Society, Modern Life and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Who, What, and Where Will Be Next

  1. Very insightful post Glenn. Because of my job as Librarian for Latin American & Latino Studies, I read and find articles about immigrations for my students and faculty so this is a topic always in my mind. Not to say that I am also a migrant (from Puerto Rico to the US), with an accent and a colonial history that doesn’t quite disappear not matter how many years I moved to mainland U.S. (almost 18 years now!!) So I feel your pain of adjusting to a new immigrant life. I guess you are noticing what researches have been studying and discussing for many decades now about Globalization and the effect on labor and labor movements across “national” boundaries or what they called nowadays transnational movements. Although US citizens do not emigrate in great numbers like in other countries, I wonder if eventually we will join that great wave of emigration as low skills jobs become more scarce in the U.S. Or the other emigration wave of skilled workers moving to places where their skills are well paid and requested. Who knows. Time will tell.

  2. Thoughtful! I’ll pass it on to Zoe in England for her take. (Of course she left for love, not money — so that may make a difference.)

      • zoe says:

        It is an interesting point. However, the phenomenon is hardly new, just bigger. People have always left home in search of employment – that’s how we got cities. I just find it funny that poor people left the countryside to make a living; now you have to be ridiculously wealthy to get back!

        And personally, yes, my situation is very different from the expats you describe. I moved to a place where the employment prospects could hardly be worse. As lovely as it is, my new home’s economy is almost entirely built on tourism, and not being the Caribbean, limited to 2-3 months in the summer. I was very fortunate to be given a post in local government – which, for all its challenges, is a good wage for the area – after only a couple of years in nearly minimum-wage occupation. And the position is in no way related to any previous experience or education. But despite being one of the most deprived areas of the UK, where even the tiniest house price is 8 times the average wage (and the median house price is 13 times the average wage – we’re a popular location for wealthy Brits to have second homes, including movie stars, rock’n’rollers, sports figures and your run-of-the-mill London millionaire), it’s apparently better here than in many Eastern European countries, because there are large numbers of foreign workers even in this small town.

        Ours is a global economy; travel is not necessarily cheap but it is easy. Market fluctuations in one country will always have an impact elsewhere (I’ll bet there are some good deals on holidays in Greece right about now). And the steady flow of resources (in this case labour) will always seek the area of greatest need. Just as it has always done. And when one market is saturated, there will never be a guarantee of a new one. Perhaps it is one of the great modern myths: When Capitalism closes a door, it opens a window.

        To change tracks a moment, I agree with the statement of not fitting in anywhere. I’ve certainly been in the UK long enough to feel comfortable, know my way around. I have become accustomed to the vernacular and can use phrases like “going pear-shaped” and find the @ on a UK keyboard. But in many ways I have never felt more American. It’s really started to get on my t*ts the way people I’ve been trying to train for 5 years still cannot say “schedule,” “herb,” or “basil” correctly. Or insist on putting extra vowels in “aluminum.” I long to be able to walk into any grocery store (or, even better, drive up to and park in front of) and buy a bag of Baked Cheetos. But since I’ve been gone, the political situation in the US has inexplicably and against all reason gotten worse. Or perhaps that’s just the perception from a distance. We do only get the highlights here. I won’t say that everything hinges on the next election, because honestly I thought we’d sorted things out 4 years ago, but I worry that if I did move back to the US, it would be to a country I didn’t recognise.

  3. Jen says:

    I immigrated to Ireland from the US three and a half years ago (right after marrying an Irish husband), just as the recession was really kicking in here. Although the grass is quite literally greener in Ireland than in America, that certainly hasn’t been the case in terms of my search for permanent employment here. It’s been a constant struggle to try and get my experience and education taken seriously, and I haven’t been having any luck. Although I love my husband and really like many things about living in Ireland, I have gotten to the point where I am facing the prospect of moving back to the States in order to secure my financial future. So I would caution anyone thinking about immigrating to really take a good, hard look before they leap.

    • Rowena says:

      I’m not sure if you’re still in Ireland, but as someone *still* in the US, the job market is quite bleak. Most new openings are low paying/part time affairs with few if any benefits such as health care.
      Austerity meaures are on the rise. Personal bankruptcies from health care costs is also moving upwards.
      The right/left politicians in D.C. blame each other’s party over the new fiscal cuts, with the left/right media corporations taking pot shots at each other when, in fact, both parties couldn’t care less about the average citizens. So currently, social security, medicaid, care for children, cuts in military/educational staff are a reality. The austerity you see in Spain and Italy is becoming more and more of a reality in the US. Drone building has become a monstrous enterprise and we hear US police departments will be using these in awhile against large metropolis’.
      Meanwhile, America has the widest descrepancy between the wealthy vs the middle class/poor in any industrialized country. We rank very poorly in all industrialized nations with regard to child care. Our educational system is struggling severely – part of that involves the competition with entertainment/fun tech focuses. There’s growing ranks of studies showing the extreme lack of nutrients found in our food – principally, processed food, while Monsanto and Dow Chemicals have pretty much taken over the agricultural lands using GMO planting/harvesting.
      Just a few of a not so rosy picture.
      Good Luck

  4. Pingback: Now Is the Next Big Thing | An American in Dublin

  5. Aaron H says:

    Even if we don’t love it here in NL, there are things we do really like and things that make us wary of returning to the US. We very much feel like we’re caught between worlds, never fully fitting in anyplace we go.

  6. Hello Glenn:

    Your wife (my namesake!) Kalpana’s cousin in the SF Bay Area, Sharadha Srinivasan, is a very good friend of mine and she told me about your work. This post on immigration makes me reflect on my own situation as an immigrant to the US.

    As I grow older (I’m past the 25-year mark), I realize I would probably be happier in India; still, there are way too many roots I’ve grown here and it seems to me that my ideal situation will be six months here and six in India. I wonder, though, after my dad and my husband’s folks, what will hold me back there? That’s why, as you mention, emigrants need to think very hard about whether they should take that step. It has complicated our lives in so many different ways.

    Do keep in touch!

    Kalpana Mohan
    http://www.saritorial.com
    http://www.kalpanamohan.typepad.com

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