Friday, March 2, 2012

To Be An Immigrant

To be an immigrant is to be alone

because no single person in your divided world

can know every part of you.

To be an immigrant is to work

twice as hard without the benefit

of “native” understanding.

To be an immigrant is to have your heart broken

over and over again as those you love

spread far apart beyond your reach.

To be an immigrant is to misunderstand

often, and yet understand

what no one else does.

To be an immigrant is to know secrets

that cannot be translated

but must be experienced.

To be an immigrant is to suffer,

and struggle,

and grow.

Lately I have been experiencing frequent cultural hiccups that make up the immigrant’s learning curve. I accepted a job, only to find out that I cannot start work until I receive a National Insurance number (similar to a Social Security number in the USA). I waited in line at the post office to mail a letter that was in a prepaid envelope. (How was I supposed to know? It didn’t say, “postage paid?”) I got terribly lost in a familiar street and gave up looking for the destination, only to discover later that I was next door to it when I gave up looking. These are the daily trials of living in a foreign country. I keep remembering a particular nugget of wisdom from “Eat Pray Love” when an Italian tutor said to Elizabeth Gilbert “You should be very polite with yourself when learning something new.” It’s difficult for me to have that patience. I’ve always been an A student who prided myself on getting things right the first time. But as an immigrant I am bound to get some things wrong because there is a wide range of cultural knowledge one can only learn from experience. And so the girl who hates to get things wrong must do just that and do it with patience for herself. Oh, the irony! I’m very grateful for Paul’s love and support. When I make a cultural mistake and do not want to forgive myself, he offers me the patience and understanding I need. I have gained a profound respect for immigrants around the world who cross language, bureaucratic and cultural boundaries to experience a bigger world. My ancestors left Scotland knowing they would never see home again. Luckily, travel and the Internet make it possible for me to visit the people I love, near and far. Nobody appreciates Skype more than an immigrant!

Song of the Day: "With a Wonder and a Wild Desire" by Irish American band Flogging Molly