16 Nov 2015

From immigrant to immigrants, a word of advice

I read and see in the news how much anger and frustration is being shared by both immigrant, and host countries, of late.  I have been an immigrant for the most part of my life, first in the UK, and now in the Philippines, and I would like to share some advice, in the hope that it will help people to their new life in what will be their new home country.

I left Italy when I was 20 years old.  I just didn’t fit in, and after falling in with bad company, I was at risk of ending up in jail, or dead.  I hope my Italian friends will forgive me for this post, I love you all, and you were never the reason for me leaving.  It was my situation which was in no way helpful to me.

One day, as I was told by my then girlfriend that she was pregnant, it dawned on me that I needed a fresh start, a new beginning.

So, we left Italy, and set off for the UK in search of a better, more fulfilling life.  We were full of hope, and had high expectations of what our lives should be once we reached these new shores.

Yet, as a hot-bloodied, hot-headed 20-year-old Italian, things soon turned sour.  Forgetting that I was running away from my own country, and that I wanted a new life, I started seeing how things were different in the UK, and quite stubbornly I set out to create my own subculture in my new home country.

I only kept the company of other Italians, criticised my surrounding and the culture that accepted me no matter how different I was, and failed to learn the language and to integrate.  This went on for a few years.

I began building my new life, but continually failed to integrate, and set forth to maintain my own, very personal, and very skewed, cultural identity.

Until one day, while I was walking my dog in the park, I met this lovely woman, with her two boxer dogs.  As we were chatting, I was complaining about the UK, and how bad things were, and how different life was from Italy, and how intolerant people in general were.

She looked at me, in a very motherly and loving way, winked at me and said “well, when in Rome do like the Romans do, huh”.  She didn’t really say much else on the subject, we switched to talking about the dogs, but she did become a very good friend eventually.

That was the beginning of my cultural awakening.  It didn’t happen overnight, it took quite a few years, but I began taking an interest in the Brits.  I started communicating, interacting, and somehow integrating.

My command of the English language improved very quickly, my understanding of the rich and diverse composition of the British society increased exponentially.  I started understanding different accents, different subcultures, backgrounds, and perspectives.  My career prospect improved dramatically.  The number of people I could call friends noticeably increased.

The UK slowly begun to be and feel like my new home.  My perspective changed, and I did finally fit in.

Now, when I complain about the UK, it is not as a foreigner who wants to replicate the life and culture of his old country, but it is as a naturalised Brit, thinking about my fellow Brits, and our collective welfare.  My interest in politics is not to subvert the system, but to improve it.  My love for the country is not because I am running away from another country anymore, but because I just love the country that gave me hope, a future, and a fulfilling life.

I now live in the Philippines.  I didn’t run away from the UK looking for a better life.  The UK is, and always will be my true home country.  I am just following my heart, and chasing the tropical sun.  But one thing I learnt is that now while I am here, I am not going to criticise, or try to make this country adapt to me. 

It is my duty and responsibility to adapt to this country.  It is my honour to soak in and live the local culture, and absorb its richness and diversity.  Until I can fully integrate, I cannot, and must not complain about how things work.  I simply don’t know enough to judge.

So, as a forever immigrant, this is my advice to all immigrants.  Don’t try and change your guest country.  Don’t try and force your perspective.  Learn the culture, appreciate their tolerance, understanding, and patience.  Mix, integrate, and learn about them, and teach them about yourself.

There will come a day when you will be fully entitled to request change.  But until you learn, and accept them, just be grateful for their acceptance and welcoming open arms that they offer you.

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