• Mitchell Smolkin

The challenges and opportunities of emigration



So many of the clients I see have emigrated and either started a new life in another country, or are temporarily away from home. I am constantly humbled by how this experience can impact a person's life. There is so much opportunity and excitement when making such a big move and yet, it can bring such strong emotions around dislocation and longing for familiar surroundings. I have found some comfort living in Sweden in reading thelocal.se, an online source of news catering to English speaking expats in Sweden. There are versions of it for many countries in Europe.


Having ones identity significantly affected by such a move is a completely normal phenomenon. It can manifest in so many ways or take years to hit home. Often, our work or family life can mask deep sadness of loss that appears later in life when we are experiencing something difficult in another part of our life like losing a loved one. For instance, the current epidemic has made international travel much more difficult and this has brought a degree of helplessness for many who would otherwise be able to visit family regularly and/or take care of loved ones from a distance should something difficult arise.


Being stripped of these means can highlight the distance and bring home some uncomfortable feelings. Helplessness is a tough emotion for human beings, evolution has favoured engendering us with a strong sense of urgency around being able to exert control over our safety and the safety of those that we love. When we cannot do that, it makes us feel small and this can open up doors to feelings of vulnerability that otherwise we might have been able to hide and or manage through a felt sense of security. It does not mean though that feeling this way has to be seen as a problem or that something is wrong with us. The anxiety and sadness may be unwanted, but it may be necessary to feel these sensations deeply and acknowledge our limitations.


Therapy can be akin to turning up the volume on thoughts and sensations that we are struggling with. The four walls of the therapists office can often be a container for strong emotion and this didactic process can perhaps lend some language and space to our deepest selves. It is easy in our age of "enjoyment" to be scared of being disoriented, there is a lot of pressure to be "happy" and to feel well, but sometimes we don't, and emigration can raise the stakes significantly around the kinds of difficult feelings we must face. So ultimately, it is bittersweet, we can savour the adventure and opportunities and yet, we can pay with deeper feelings of distance, uprootedness and longings for familiar landscapes and friends.



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