Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Expatriate Gene?

There are many reasons why people end up moving away from the country where they were born and raised. Job requirements and family issues are probably the two imperatives that cause more-or-less involuntary or at least reluctant moves abroad.

Others are simply alienated from the place our parents happened to live when we came along. Our home country may be too restrictive, too traditional, too placid for our taste and so the grass may really be greener on the other side of the border.

But for some, and I include myself in this group, we simply have an itch, an urge to move. In part it is our agreement with St. Augustine, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page", and with Robert Louis Stevenson, "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." But of course these guys had something in mind closer to a young person’s gap year extended trip around the hostels of Europe. But the urge is also about something much deeper.

I felt quite at home in Glasgow where I was born and raised. I had enjoyed school, I had my family, close friends; but on many nights as I waited on the platform for the train home I would see the overnight train leave for London and part of me invariably wanted to be on it, and not for a weekend trip. The impetus finally came from a combination of a pact with my two closest friends that we would all three head south and the mutual recognition that it was time I moved out of the family home and go somewhere where my late night comings and goings wouldn’t keep disrupting the peace and quiet of the house.

Somehow I think I knew I would never return to live permanently in Scotland. It didn’t seem immediately obvious that this would be the case. Indeed a fourth friend soon came down to live with us in London, but it was just as obvious that this was one Scot transplant who would soon head home. And so it proved. Over the years this pattern repeated itself. People would arrive in London, either in search of a fresh opportunity or a work transfer; and somehow it was always pretty obvious who would stay and who would be on the train north at the earliest moment. And many who did stay eventually set out for another adventure even further afield. I have two friends executing plans to retire overseas – one in Italy and one in Australia. Both raised their families in London after themselves having been raised in Lancashire and Scotland respectively.

So at the risk of stating the obvious, some of us are just born to wander. It isn’t really a dislike or dissatisfaction with where we happen to be today, just a need to head off over the next hill. I still think Hampstead in London was the best place I ever lived, and that was almost 20 years ago, but circumstance and opportunity took us away and now circumstance and life changes are prompting us to think ‘where next?’ And really, thinking ‘where next?’ is what led to

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