by Helen Kepelian
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” George Elliot
Migration. You’ve probably heard tons about that by now. People are constantly talking, endlessly arguing about it, employing their loud voices to express all sorts of opinions and emotions.
And they often range from ignorance, bewilderment and fear, to hate, anger and indifference, as if migration was something inescapably bad, a misfortune that forced people to become – in the eyes of the uninitiated – the underdogs of this world.
From the media, to fellow students, to co-workers and neighbours – in my experience too many seem to have already formed a typical narrative in their minds about who you are as a migrant, why you left, and how you ended up here.
So, what can I add when I speak about migration? How can I explain to you – the person looking at me on the street, or waiting alongside me at the bus stop – who I used to be and who I am now after what I’ve been through. How I could ever describe to you my inner battle to find the place that I belong?
Tell me – is there a way I could help you understand what migration is and why it matters?
Listening to an outsider
This is the struggle – I have to find a way to make you listen to me although I am an outsider, a person, who wasn’t born to the place you were born, who had to learn the language you speak, who didn’t have the same experiences as you growing up. I have to find a way to help you slip on my shoes, cover the miles I’ve journeyed, and bridge this gap of misunderstanding between us.
I won’t use statistics. Or facts. I won’t repeat the same old things or even explain the reasons that forced someone to migrate, dividing migrants into different categories. I don’t care for labels.
And I won’t complain about my circumstances, the immigration system’s injustices and inhumane policies that restrict my human rights either. You can go online and read all news and research for yourself, if you like.
So here’s a plot twist, instead. It starts with a question: when was the last time that you felt comfortable in being yourself, while interacting with others? In other words, when was the last time that you felt you belonged? That you were part of something?
And here’s another question: if you never felt like that in the place that you were living, would you consider giving yourself a second chance in life, leaving everything that you know behind in search of that sweet sense of belonging?
Taking a chance
Five years ago, I decided to give myself that chance. I gave it all up, leaving my Greek homeland, my family, my partner and my friends and migrating to Scotland. I arrived alone to study at Stirling University, aspiring to become a part of an academic community that loved learning as much as I.
That community wasn’t there back in my country of origin so I swapped the familiarity of my motherland for the opportunity to take my learning further than would otherwise have been possible.
Yes, I was afraid. I was worried about the difficulties ahead, and of what I would miss. I was terrified of the unknown. But all that was overcome by my craving for that second chance – to learn, to belong, to become what I might have been, if it wasn’t too late.
Fast forward five years and I am still here. I am a new person, with a brand new life, full of opportunities. I have a husband and a bunch of new friends, a new home and a new job. I still miss the sunshine of my country and the food and the loved ones that I left behind. But I am still grateful that I grabbed that second chance.
And so I ask you again – would it ever be too late, to give yourself that chance in life? Would it ever be too late, to find a sense of belonging? Would it ever be too late, to be what you might have been?
Dedicated to all of us, who decided to give ourselves that second chance, and migrated.
This blog is part of series published to celebrate International Migrants Day
Cover image thanks to iStock/fcscafine