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The Emotional Importance of Geography

Answering the question "Why are you moving to the United Kingdom?"

sunny 16 °C

So you've read my last entry and a natural question pops into your head, "why are you moving to the United Kingdom, Greg?"

The quick answer is that the timing was right. I'd been thinking about living abroad since I started travelling for work back in 1997. In fact, I almost moved from Toronto to Denver back in 2001, a move that was thwarted at the last minute by the "tech bubble crash" and a subsequent drying up up the telecommunications market in the USA, which was a major industry in Denver at the time.

The dream became a lot more concrete back in 2005, when I ran into a woman on the train from Beijing to Hong Kong who was originally from Canada but had moved to the UK. She was travelling with a UK passport, which I found intriguing. That's when I learned about the UK Ancestry Visa, which allows those who had a grandparent born in the UK to return and work there. After a 5 year stint of working the UK, you can then apply for indefinite leave to remain, and finally citizenship.

As my grandparents were originally from the UK, this seemed like a good idea to me. The UK speaks English, which is good because the state of my French or Spanish would preclude me from working in Paris or Barcelona, save perhaps in the sex industry, but then I'd be thwarted by my looks. The UK is a stable economy, and with my background in consulting and IT, it should be easy to find a job.

The idea of moving floated around in my head for a few years, and then through a stroke of timing, everything kind of came together.

First, I got my hands on all the needed paperwork (which was basically a set of birth certificates so I could trace my lineage back to the UK). Secondly, I had a slow period at work, along with the downturn in the US economy and a few resignations of key people who I had worked for in the past made me think that perhaps looking for another job might not be a bad idea. Third came the news that the UK is considering scrapping the Ancestry Visa. Now, I could apply to be a skilled worker and probably get into the UK, but the Ancestry Visa is much less restrictive in the type of work I am allowed to undertake and it is a good path to citizenship, so I preferred to get in using that Visa.

Then the really kicker came. I came home one day to find my roommate and his girlfriend sitting on the couch with big, giddy smiles on their faces. "We just put an offer in on a house," they said. 24 hours later, with the offer accepted, I was left with a decision about what I now needed to do about a place to live. I could continue to live in the apartment and find a new roommate, or I could give up the place and find a new place to live.

I thought, "well, if I am going to be looking for a place to live, I might as well look for a place to live in London."

And so that's the answer.


Now, you'll be sitting there and saying, "That's a fine answer for the question if you put the emphasis on why you are moving to the United Kingdom, but what I was really asking is why are you moving AT ALL?"

I am moving because it I feel it is something important.

Back in the early years of this decade, I got myself entangled in a relationship that didn't go well. It ended poorly, and I noticed that I had a history of poor relationships with women. "I need help to sort this out," I thought to myself. "What am I doing wrong that I always seem to end up bruised and battered emotionally at the end of every relationship I have with the opposite sex?"

So I did what any reasonable person would do. I consulted the experts – daytime talk show hosts. Those who want emotional reassurance and comfort turn to Oprah. Those who want psychic help from a chain-smoking blond turn to Montell. Those who want to feel better about themselves by comparing themselves to trailer trash turn to Jerry Springer. Those who want to distract themselves by spending time guessing "which of the girls on stage is really a man?" turn to Maury.

But those, like me, who want some kick you in the pants and pull no punches advice turn to Dr. Phil. Whether or not Dr. Phil's brand of down home brutality peppered with southern sayings actual helped me is debatable (as I haven't had any better luck with women since undertaking my "quest" to figure out what I kept doing wrong in relationships), but one show, completely unrelated to my poor relationship skills has stuck with me.

In that show, a woman who lived in the mid-west of the USA, very far from any ocean, was on asking Dr. Phil advice's on if she should move to California. She was divorced with a child. She wanted to move, and her child was excited about the possibility of the move as well (probably imagining skipping school to go surfing with beautiful people). Her family and her ex-husband didn't want her to move, though, because they didn't want to be so far from the kid.

"Why do you want to move to the west coast?" asked Dr. Phil.

"I've always wanted to live in California by the ocean. I like the climate, I like the lifestyle and I think it would make me happy," responded the woman.

"Do you believe geography can play a part in how happy you are?" Dr. Phil asked.

"Yes," she replied.

"So you truly believe that you'd be happier if you moved?"

The guest nodded her head and said, "Yes."

At this point I expected Dr. Phil to come down on her. Tell her how place isn't important, that happiness comes from the inside and that if she wasn't happy in the Mid-west, moving to California was certainly not going to make her happy.

I think the guest expected the same response from Dr. Phil, because she had a sheepish look on her face, like she was ashamed to say something as trivial or banal as I'd be happier living in California.

He didn't tell her she was wrong, though. Instead he agreed with her. He said that place and geography could be an important part of happiness, and that if this woman felt that she and her child would have a happier, fuller, better life in California, than she shouldn't let the opinions of her ex-husband or family sway her.

Ultimately, Dr. Phil said, she was responsible for her and her child, and if she felt that the move was best, she should do it. In fact, to kowtow to the demands of her family would be doing both her and her child a disservice, as she would be sacrificing improvements in their lives for the demands of other people.

That really struck me.

Now, to be clear, I don't know if moving to London will make me happy. In fact, I'm not even going to London to be any happier than I already am (because I am already a smiling, goofy nut). Rather, I am going because I feel it is an important thing to do. I admire those that have pulled up stakes and headed to a new country. It seems brave to me to leave behind what you know for the chance to experience something new. As well, those who have moved elsewhere seem to me to have a deeper chest of experience to draw upon. They've operated in different arenas, and I think it gives them a flexibility to deal with the unfamiliar.

I feel like that I need to try to do that, to leave behind what I know and gain the experience of learning about a new culture by immersing myself in it.

I've partially had that with my work as a consulting, spending anywhere from 3 to 14 months in various cities in North America (and one lucky time in Paris), but it was always a bit of a sham, really, because I never really moved to those places. I always had an apartment back in Toronto and the option to return home at any time. There was always that safety net. Emigrating to the United Kingdom and giving up my life in Toronto takes that safety net away.

So that's really the answer. It's something I feel I need to do. I feel like I need to try it, or else I'll always wonder if I could have done it, and what amazing experiences and lessons that I have given up.

I am moving to London because it's important to try being someplace else. I don't know what emotions I'll be subjected to by emigrating. Maybe I won't end up being happier or more patient or more flexible, but the alternative is not to do it and I do know that would leave me with an emotion I don't want.


Posted by GregW 11:32 Archived in Canada Tagged living_abroad migration_philosophy existential_migration

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I just love it when Dr. Phil comes through like that!

Mind you, the Google ads are pretty funny too. It's pulling in an ad to help me 'save my relationship', most likely based on Dr. Phil being quoted in the post :)

"the state of my French or Spanish would preclude me from working in Paris or Barcelona, save perhaps in the sex industry, but then I'd be thwarted by my looks."

You handsome devil you!

by Sam I Am

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” ~Helen Keller

For a deaf blind girl...she was pretty smart!

by Bwaybaby10

Congrats, Greg! Happy new adventures to you. Look forward to reading about all the wonerful new turns your life will be taking!

by tway

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