My heart is so heavy, I am not sure how to even start to write how I am feeling. I am sitting here with my laptop. My daughter is curled up next to me playing house on my iPad. I stayed up late watching the Brexit results and it totally broke my heart. I don’t even live in England anymore so maybe I shouldn’t care so much but I do. Being an immigrant was one of the most important things I ever did. It helped me to become more empathetic. It helped me to understand how to assimilate into another culture but it also helped me to understand the difficulty of being an outsider. So why did I have that experience? What lead to nearly 10 years living in a foreign country?
When I was 19 and in my first year of University, the Internet was still a very new thing. I was fascinated with the idea that I could meet someone from anywhere else and I really wanted to figure out how to join a chat room. I knew almost nothing about computers so it took a lot of tinkering around but eventually I found a chat room that I could log in to and I met a lot of people from everywhere. One of the people I met introduced me to a guy my own age in England. Over time, I realized we had a special bond and I became determined to meet him in person. After about three years of chatting online, I graduated from University (and so did he) and I got a 6 month student visa to England. Those first six months were such an incredible experience. It completely changed how I viewed the world. I was so happy in my relationship that I started trying to figure out how to stay in England. It turned out to be much more difficult than I ever thought it would be. Eventually I figured out that the clearest path was further University education and I applied for a Masters Program.
I had to leave for nine months to save up money and then I returned. My program included 14 people- 5 people from England, 3 people from Ireland, 2 people from the US, 1 from Taiwan, 1 from Malaysia, 1 from Germany, 1 from Kenya. It was amazing to work with people from all over the planet. It was a wonderful time but I was feeling the pressure of what would happen next. As the end of my student visa neared, my boyfriend and I discussed the future of our relationship. We both knew that the best way to stay together was to get married. I am sure some people wondered at us both but it was the best decision we ever made.
I remember my first trip to the Home Office in Croydon for my marriage visa. There were so many people lining up outside from everywhere. I had my folder full of documents and after several hours, I left with my visa in hand. I’ve had people tell me that I wasn’t like other immigrants because I was American and spoke English. Let me tell you, having lined up for visas with everyone else, having worked alongside so many immigrants during the next few years in England; I never felt like I was less of an immigrant than someone from Poland or Ecuador or any other fellow immigrant that I met. We all had our reasons for being in England and those reasons were important to us. We all worked hard and tried to make a good impression on our employers and our customers.
As I mentioned before, I ended up living in England for almost ten years. When I started on that journey, I never imagined that I would spend most of my twenties and my early thirties in a foreign country but that is how it worked out. Some people were welcoming to me and the kind things they said made such a difference in my life. I also encountered negativity. I began to understand what anti-American sentiment was. It was hurtful. When people express that kind of view to someone, I am not sure they have any idea of the pain they cause. We all have our general impressions of what people from different countries are like and those are dangerous. People are just people. Human nature is international. Every single person has reasons for being who they are and where they are and those reasons are important to them, even if those reasons seem foolish to someone else. I try to remind myself of that all the time.
I am reminding myself of that today as I try to process the outcome of the EU referendum in the UK. People had their reasons to vote the way they did but here is the thing: Once your choices hurt other people and negatively impact their own choices, you should seriously consider how you would feel in their place. I am heartbroken for all my friends who will be affected by this and I am hurt by the message it sends to me. I made England my home for some of the most important years of my life. I did my best to leave a positive mark. I feel like I achieved that. But I don’t feel like I would be welcomed back.
I am sad for my daughter and the opportunities she might miss out on because of this. I am sad for the divisive world she is growing up in. I realize how important it is going to be to teach her to respect other people’s differences and yet not tolerate people belittling her for the things that will make her different. I want more for her than what is happening in the world right now.
I guess the main thing I am trying to say is I want more empathy from everyone. I want less hurtful words and I want people to think twice before they comment to anyone dismissing their views or feelings. I hope that anyone who reads this little blog post about my journey will understand why I made the decisions that I did. I hope you realize that every single person who lives in a foreign country has a story to tell and if you listened, then maybe you would understand.