Dealing with the emotions of migration

The emotions of migration

Sick ParentOne of the most important and well received sections of the migration Seminars we ran in 2007 and 2008 was a presentation on the emotional affects of migration.

A unique aspect of the move2nz Seminars this field covers many things relating to:

  • you the migrant such as fear, home-sickness, and dealing with feelings of dislocation;
  • the effects of your migration on the immediate family travelling with you; and
  • issues with the friends and family left behind such as how/when to announce your plans, dealing with grief, jealously etc.

Being aware of these potential problems, good preparation and handling issues wisely can make a huge difference to your ability to cope with the emotional rollercoaster of migration and perhaps more importantly settle happily afterwards.

Why is this so important?
After our experiences of helping* literally thousands of families before, during and after their migration we found that this emotional side was one of the most important areas of preparation to get right as it had the potential to derail so many people’s plans.

Tammy and I had good success in helping* families coming to our Migrant Centre identify problem areas like home-sickness (which can manifest is a variety of ways) and build the tools to reduce the negative emotional impact of settlement issues. However we soon realised that if we could talk to people before they got on a plane we might reduce the number of people suffering from what were often the main reasons for migration failure.

After identifying the main causes of migration failure and steps that could be taken to reduce or even avoid these difficulties entirely we started our annual series of Seminars for migrants thinking about moving to New Zealand in 2007. Most of the members we now see happily settled in Christchurch attended these events proving their effectiveness.


So what can you do?

Lets start at the beginning and link this to Tammy’s current situation where her mother is suddenly very ill. You are on the other side of the world and don’t know what to do. At times like this guilt can be a very powerful negative emotion, but what can you do to prepare for this kind of situation?

  1. Own your reasons for migration
    International moves are often undertaken for the very best of reasons – expressing these reasons effectively and understanding why people want you to stay is important.

    In my own circumstances my aim was to move my children to a safe place where they would have the best childhood and chance of meeting their potential. Explaining these positive reasons to my parents with a clear idea of what benefits I was looking for and why definitely helped them feel better about their grandchildren travelling to the other side of the world.

    Talking about your plans If you parents understand and agree with your reasoning (although not always possible to achieve) it definitely helps everyone to keep strong positive relationships, reducing the damage cause by migration and heading off a large chunk of negative emotions felt by all concerned when for example a parent dies and you are faced with returning for a funeral or one of your children gets sick and your parents are far away.

  2. Prepare your roles
    Many people feel helpless and frustrated when a loved one falls ill far away. Knowing that this is not a possibility but a certainty to be faced one day you should prepare your role to be able to help in whatever way you can – whether organising a chain of communication or putting aside a fund for an emergency flight.

    Planning, explaining and accepting this role will ensure that everyone is ready and knows what to expect – whether it is your parent or your child that falls ill everyone should have a role and an opportunity to be able to provide a level of support and help. This will help reduce the panic, frustration and grief experienced by everyone affected.

As you can see, a lot of preparation for migration success actually happens in the comfort of your own skull. A range of negative emotions can be avoided if you have clearly thought out your reasons and prepared for the consequences of moving halfway around the world.

This article is not intended to cover everyone’s circumstances – we have seen how wildly they can vary – but to get you thinking. Ensuring to the best of your ability that everyone involved (you, your partner, kids and those you leave behind) is comfortable with your migration and the consequences of it can lift an immense burden from your shoulders now and in the future giving you less reasons to regret making that move.

Like writing a will facing down the worst possible potential situations can also give you peace of mind (further reducing homesickness). Whether it’s contemplating your elderly aunt not being able to fly to attend your daughter’s wedding or you not being able to get back for your Uncle’s funeral you need to think about this and prepare.

Some prospective migrants may think through this and decide that the emotional cost of migration is too high, some may be able to cope with the downsides of migration and decide it is a fair price to pay. Dealing with this before you make that move can help you make the best decisions for you as a family and that’s what our Seminars were all about.

I hope this information is useful. If you are interested in discussing this fully please post on the forum here to access the experiences of the whole move2nz network too.

* ‘Helping’: providing proactive and/or reactive settlement support.
(Sadly I have to provide a definition for ‘helping’ as the Immigration Advisers Authority have shown that they equate ‘helping’ with ‘providing tailored immigration advice’ which shows just how confused they are.)


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