I am where I’m supposed to be

Emigrating is still popular. Freelance journalist Fréderike Geerdink (36) made the decision too: a few months ago, she moved to Turkey. With the help of some psychological research and an ’emigration-coach’, she reflects on her reasons to go and her future.

On the left the lights of the mainstreet, a bit further to the right a big rock with carved in it the houses of the old part of town. On the left on the rock a viewpoint, a Turkish flag on it. The viewpoint opposite of it (an appartmentcomplex against a hill), that’s where I live. The village: Ürgüp, in the middle of Turkey. This is where I’ve lived and worked for a few months now.
Do I already feel at home here? The question is asked to me often. Some relate ‘feeling at home’ to whether I miss hagelslag or not, others want to know how much I miss friends and family or biking through Utrecht. But what has that got to do with ‘feeling at home’? Recently I went to Holland for a weekend and although it was nice to see some people again, I didn’t feel being at the right place. What am I doing here, I kept asking myself. Only between Amsterdam and Istanbul this unpeaceful feeling left me. Feeling at home might be a big word, but that deciding to move to Turkey was a good decision, is even more clear since then.

Close friends or family relations

It’s not that I am ‘avoidingly attachted’, as I could conclude from the research of psychologist Jelmer Jeuring. At Groningen University, he researched whether people with emigrationplans are in a psychological way differently ‘attachted’ to other people then people who don’t have plans to emigrate. Hunderds of potential emigrants ánd home-stayers filled in a questionaire, and yes: potential emigrants are more often ‘avoidingly attachted’ then non-emigrants.

Not so surprising, says Jeuring: “People who are ‘avoidingly attachted’ feel confident about themselves, but are a bit afraid of getting close relationships with other people. For these people, it’s less difficult to emigrate, because they don’t have close friends or family relations that they would miss. By the way: being ‘avoidingly attachted’ sounds very negative, you could call it ‘independent’ too.”

I am sure I’m not in the category ‘avoidingly attachted’. I’m in category ‘securely attachted’: feeling secure of myself ánd other people. This style of attachment is also very frequent in the groups of potential emigrants, but not more or less then in the homestayers-group. Jeuring did find other interesting differences, measured by five personalityfactors from the Multicultural Personality Questionnaire, which is used to predict how successfully someone can adept himself to another culture. Differences were found between potential emigrants and home-stayers, mainly in ‘open mindedness’ and ‘self efficacy’. Open mindedness is being open tot other ideas and expierences and being open and non-prejudice against members of another group. Self-efficacy is the way you think you can handle problems that come your way in new situations. And yes, I do think I have these characteristics to a certain extend.

Replace your ‘dutch coat’

So, does that mean I wonderfully adept myself to this country’s culture? It’s difficult to answer that  question. Yes, I try very hard to learn the language as soon as possibl, no I don’t go out on the street unproperly dressed; but is that what ‘adepting’ means? I also like to go against the rules sometimes. Drinking raki with my man, observing the waiters who think it’s a bit weird that a woman drinks raki. And then add to their confusion to pay the bill after dinner. My (Turkish) lover and me can have a good laugh over these sort of things.
So yes, I adept myself, but I don’t loose myself. To some things that are rather unusual in Turkey and especially here in the countryside, I cannot change anything. I just ám unmarried and childless at 36. Not unusual in Holland, I sometimes add, but most people just don’t understand. And like this there will always be things that will make me not fit in totally here. And that’s very okay. The ‘highest’ you can reach as an immigrant, I hear from psychologist Saskia Zimmermann, is not totally vanishing in your new environment, but replace your ‘Dutch coat’ for a coat from the country you decided to live in. It takes time, she says: about seven or eight years.

Effort and energy

Psychologist Saskia Zimmermann coaches (potential) emigrants and she herself moved to France seven years ago. She coached many emigrants already. “The first year”, she says, “usually everyting is perfect and wonderful.” But after that, she says with using visual images, a period starts in which you have taken of your Dutch coat but didn’t find your new clothes yet. “You start comparing the country you live in with Holland, you see the negative sides of your emigration more clearly and eerything you do takes effort and energy.”
And right in that period it becomes clear how ‘conscious’ your choice for emigration was. Emigrating consciously, means that before you go, you make clear what the ‘push- and pull-factors’ are behind your emigration. Do you in the first place want to leave Holland (the push-factors, which push you away from your home-country), or do you in the first place want to live in another country (the pull-factors, that ‘pull’ you towards the country). “The one is not potenitally more successful then the other”, Zimmermann says. “As long as you are conscious of the reasons you go. So when things get difficult because things turn out differently then you expected, you can make a better decision about going back to Holland or not.”

Goodbye champagne brunch

Did I ‘consciously emigrate’? Yes, without a doubt. I know very well why I left for Turkey. Nót because I had such a bad life in Holland. On the invitation for my goodbye-champagne brunch was written: A one way ticket to Turkey, that must be celebrated and mourned. De factors that pulled me to Turkey, were strong. It started with a wish to do more foreign-journalism and the fact that journalism-wise there is a lot to get in Turkey. Add to that the man that I met on my first journalism trip to Istanbul, and well, there’s just no way to stop me.

Potential emigrants logically concentrate on the question whether they will actually leave or not. But áfter emigration, sooner or later another question will come: will you stay in your ‘new country’ or not? Saskia Zimmermann: “Usually this question comes when something happens that disturbs your life. If, for example, you wanted to have a bed-an-breakfast in Ireland and it turns bankrupt. Do you go back to Holland because this concrete dream didn’t come true, or do you stay because your deepest wish was to live with more rest and nature around you and can that be accomplished in Ireland in another way?” Zimmermann herself wanted to return to Holland after about one and a half year, but decided to stay after a flight over the Alp Mountains. After her divorce last year, she didn’t think more then ten minutes about the question whether or not to return to Holland. “The answer was ‘no’, very clear. I belong in France now.”
Maybe one day I reach that same stage here in Turkey. But to be honest, it’s not on my mind now, it’s not really important. Maybe because I’m not a ‘real’ emigrant, because I didn’t go to Turkey with the intention to stay here forever. But maybe that’s not unusual: official statistics say that half of all emigrants return to Holland within seven years (even though the statistics are polluted a bit because they also count international students). Who knows, maybe in the end I will stay here many years. Everything is open.

Breakfast in pyjamas

Is that also the reason that I don’t recognise myself in Zimmermanns description of the first year abroad, in which everyting is perfect and wonderful? Or am I just to sober-minded for that? In a certain way, my life didn’t change thát radical. It is absolutely great that I can do my work here and that my man and I see eachother (almost) every day for months and months in a row, but for the rest? I still write pieces of text in my home-office (although the view has dramatically improved), and like in Holland at saturdays I go to the market for fruits, vegetables and a pile of fish, and when I want to talk to one of my girlfriends I set myself behind computer and before you know it an hour is gone (it’s not the same as drinking wine together on a terrace or having breakfast in pyjamas, but still). What also doesn’t change when you emigrate: your identity. Whatever you do in life, you take yourself with you, and that  gives me, also here in Turkey, a feeling of being home.

I plan on going to Holland for two weeks. I will see a lot of friends an collegues and I will mostly do nice things, and I do sort of feel like going, but by writing this story I also thought deeper about what it would be like going back to Holland permanently. I am sure the transit Turkey-Holland would be more difficult then the transit Holland-Turkey is till so far. Maybe, one day, I will want nothing more than booking a one way trip to Utrecht, but for now, I am doing just fine in Turkey. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

(published in ‘Psychologie Magazine’, June 2007)

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