A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about existential migration

Jubilee #2: Linen

The second celebration during the first weekend of June.

overcast 13 °C

While this weekend in London is focused on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, another celebration is also being observed, though perhaps by fewer people. In fact, as far as I know, I am the only one marking the occasion.

Four years ago, on the early morning of the June 4th, 2008, I landed at Heathrow airport, and soon thereafter was admitted as a resident of the United Kingdom. Thus, today, June 4th 2012, is my Linen Jubilee. I am thinking of going out to the local Debenham’s and buying myself some new sheets to celebrate.


Recently I was talking to someone at work who is also an emigre from another land. “How long have you been here?” she asked.

“Almost four years,” I replied.

“Oh, so that means you are here for good,” she said.

How had she determined that, I wondered. “Why would you say that?” I queried.

“Most people say if you have stayed in a place for four years, you’re bound to stay and not go back,” she replied.

I will admit that I have no plans to go back to Canada. When I first moved here to the United Kingdom, I always planned on staying for six years. Six years would give me enough time to run through my visa, one year of Indefinite Leave to Remain and then allow me to apply for citizenship.

Beyond that, though, I really had thought I would take advantage of my new status in the EU and probably pull up stakes and resettle somewhere in Europe. Perhaps Paris, which originally called me to move to Europe in the first place, or somewhere in Spain to brush up on my Spanish. Maybe I would move to Eastern Europe, settling into one of the fast growing Eastern European economies in their beautiful capital cities.

At the time I was filled with a wanderlust, and I really saw the move to Europe as a chance to fulfil that lust for travel in a different way.


Over the last four years, though, my thoughts have changed. Certainly the ongoing drama in the Eurozone is partially responsible for questioning if I really want to travel into the EU (if there is even one left in another two years). However, there is more than that. Settling abroad as an immigrant has quenched my thirst for travel. I no longer get the itchy feet I used to if I am at home for an extended period. In fact, now when I travel, though I still enjoy it, I am also looking forward to getting home.

Now I feel that getting a British passport is not just a gateway to further adventure somewhere else, but instead I see it as cementing my position here in the UK. It is about giving me the paperwork to match with my feelings - that London is now my home.

Sometimes I am surprised how settled and comfortable I feel in London, because it certainly hasn’t been an easy four years.

I’ve struggled with work, at first to find any job, and since finding employment, to find the right job. I’ve suffered from a lack of UK experience, both real and imagined on the part of my employers, and am only now getting back to a level I feel is similar to what I left behind in Toronto. I am certainly not financially better off since leaving Canada, with my salary basically staying flat over the past four years in a city which is more expensive than my previous home town of Toronto.


I left behind a set of friends in Canada, and came to the UK with no friends to call on. Trying to make friends in your late-30s and early-40s hasn’t been quick or easy, and there was more than a few times early on when I suffered from loneliness. Luckily now I have a growing group of friends to call on, and have something that could be called a social life now. But I still don’t have the number or diversity of friends here in the UK that I had back in Canada.

Hardest recently has been the fact that you are far away from family and friends. I must admit when I left Canada, I think I subconsciously thought that life would just stay still in Canada. That things wouldn’t change. But they do change. People get married, people get divorced. Children are born, and then grow into adults. People grow old, people get sick, and people die.

Being in London is being far away from it all. I am not there to give the level of support I’d want to give to those who need it, nor can I get that level of support from those back in Canada. Email and international calling provides some value, and my family has been excellent about keeping in touch, but electronic communications can’t replace seeing someone, feeling their touch or having a good hug.

Recently my father had surgery. Luckily I was able to take a week off work and fly back to Canada to be there for the surgery, but in the run up to the decision to have the surgery, and now I am back in London and he is recovering, I feel the distance strongly. Often, I wish I could be there in Canada with him - both to offer support to him and the rest of my family, but also so I was closer to what was happening, and to draw some comfort with being involved and fully informed of what is occurring. I find myself suffering from the stress of feeling impotent - of not being a part of what is happening back home.


Despite these struggles - excluding a few times when I thought that perhaps I would be better off packing up and heading back to Canada - I find myself bonding more and more with London. In the past when I lived in Toronto, when I suffered from hardships, I found myself turning to travel as the escape. Getting on a plane and heading somewhere new, I would find my worries floating away as soon as the cabin crew shut the main cabin door.

Now, though, when something in London is getting me down, I feel myself retreating not to another place, but to something different within London, be it a nice walk along the Thames, or a wander through the historic streets of Westminster, or a night out in the vibrant night life of this city.

Whether it is London itself, or just the experience of living abroad that is providing this comfort, I don’t know. Either way, it makes me feel good to be here.

So tonight I will raise a glass to my Linen Jubilee, and to London. To the last four years, and to many more ahead of me.

Long live the immigrant in me, and long live London.

Posted by GregW 06:46 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged migration_experiences migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (0)

Toronto: A Global City or My Home Town

sunny 16 °C

Writing about London as “a global city” recently got me thinking about Toronto, and why I felt I couldn’t become “an international citizen” while still living in Toronto.

One can’t read much about Toronto before hearing it linked to multiculturalism. The City of Toronto has a webpage celebrating the diversity of the population, and the last census revealed that 49.9% of the population was born in another country. It is a city with a rich diversity, and one can easily hop around town to experience various cultures - from China to Italy to Greece to India all for the price of a TTC day pass.

Monument to Multiculturalism, Union Station

Monument to Multiculturalism, Union Station

As an example of this, I recall the fourth of July, 2004. On that day Greece was playing Portugal in the final of the UEFA Euro 2004 football (soccer) tournament. I decided to go and watch the game with folks who had a vested interest in the outcome. The only question was whether I should head over to The Danforth to watch in Greektown, or head over to Ossington Avenue to watch with the Portuguese in Little Portugal. I ended up choosing the larger Greek population, and celebrated with the local Greek population on a closed Danforth Avenue after Greek won one-nil.

Toronto is very multicultural, but frankly so are many cities. What is it about Toronto that makes people equate it with multiculturalism more than other international cities?

Pico Iyer addresses this in the book The Global Soul: Jet-Lag, Shopping Malls and the Search for Home which I read recently. In a chapter on Toronto entitled “The Multiculture,” he writes:

The first time I ever met the word multiculturalism was while reading an essay of Jan Morris’s, about Toronto, from 1984, in which she described meeting the word herself for the first time in a city that seemed to be built around it. The singular promise of Canada, for her, lay in the fact that it was no Promised Land, hand no torch-bearing statue, no vision of a City on a Hill nor constitution guaranteeing the pursuit of happiness. Canada seemed to her a vast and all-accommodating open space, “all things to all ethnicities,” with “Canadian nationality itself no more than a minor social perquisite, like a driving license or a spare pair of glasses.”

I think Jan Morris, whom Iyer quotes, was definitely on to something. The Canadian identity is a bit of a blank slate, without much of the history of European countries, nor the underlying ideology of self-made individualism that defines the American identity. Canadianism mixes the social collectivism of Europe with the Individualism of America. Being Canadian is about being an individual as part of a collective, but allowing others in that collective to be who they want to be. So one can easily come to Toronto from Delhi, and experience both the comforts of India in local shops, restaurants and clubs, and also the international experience that the rest of the city can offer.

I wrote in my recent blog entry “The Global City vs. This Other Eden,” that “I didn’t move to England looking to take on some new national identity, but rather to take on an international identity. I don’t want to be English and Canadian (or British-Canadian, if such a thing exists). I want to be global.”

If I wanted to be global, why then couldn’t I stay in Toronto and do that. After all, there was much opportunity to get out and experience other cultures. There was opportunity to be part of the global world in my work, and even in my personal life. Why did I have to leave to become a “global citizen?”


The answer, I think, lies in the consciousness with which I was living my life in Toronto. I was born in Toronto, lived there by the accident of birth rather than through a conscious choice to move there. As much as I wanted to see Toronto as the future, as a wide open outward looking place, the fact was Toronto was my history and wasn’t my choice. I was connected to Toronto as a locality, the physical place where I grew up. As global and multicultural as the city was, I was never able to shift my perception of the place as being the place town where I live.

I was unable to see the wider world contained within Toronto from within my own world. 

And so, perhaps unfairly to Toronto, I had to leave Toronto to be able to see the world contained within a city.

Some day I will probably return to Toronto - not just as a visitor but for good. I wonder if I will see the global, multicultural city or if it will still be the town in which I grew up.


Posted by GregW 15:30 Archived in Canada Tagged books migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (0)

The Stranger in a Strangely Comfortable-Feeling Land

Dissecting life in London

rain 14 °C


Stop and think for a moment of “home.”

What did you think of? Did you think of the place you live now? Did you think of the house you grew up in? Did you think of some place you used to live but have moved away from? Did you think of some place you want to live – a house in the country or a cottage on the lake?

Why did I ask you to think of home?

I did this same exercise back in July, and again recently a few days ago, and came up with some interesting results.

Why was I thinking of home?

It has to do with some thinking I’ve been doing recently about my move to London.

I recently posted an article on the website travelblogs.com about existential migration called Feeling at Home as the Foreigner. As I’ve mentioned previously in my entry I am not a Traveller, I am a Migrant, existential migration is a term invented by Dr. Greg Madison to describe the process that some people go through in deciding and executing a voluntary move abroad. It is those who choose migration as a means to find or drive a meaning in their life that they feel they cannot get in their native country.

One of the key themes in Madison’s research on migration deals with the concept of home. Home, Madison says, is not a place, but rather an interaction between a person and their surroundings. The ‘feeling of home’ arises from specific interactions with our surroundings that could potentially occur anywhere, at any time.

When I first read that in statement in July, I sat back and thought of home. The first thing that popped into my head was the Residence Inn San Ramon in California. It is an extended stay hotel in a town just south of Oakland, California, about an hour from San Francisco. I stayed there for 75 days in 2002 and haven’t been back since.


As I mulled it over a little more, I came up with other places that felt homey, at least for a time. My corporate apartment in Denver, the hotel I stayed at for my last two weeks in Paris, my place last November in Phoenix and my parent’s house all came to mind, along with other places.

In each of these places, I experienced a period where I felt comfortable and settled in my work and life. That comfort in my personal life bled over into my physical surroundings. For a time, I felt comfortable enough in a place to call it home, even if it was just a hotel or a temporary corporate apartment.

It was interesting that in all the places I thought of as home, my apartment in Toronto where I lived for 12 years never came to mind.


In the article on travelblogs, I talk about the feelings that drove me to leave Canada in the first place, and my feelings now that I am living in London.

I realise now that I never really felt comfortable in Canada. Despite having a good set of friends and a loving family, I always felt like I was a bit of an outsider. My Toronto apartment never really felt like home to me because I never quite felt at ease in Toronto.

Since moving to London, I feel more at ease with my surroundings. I’ve started to not just reference my London flat as my home, but actually feel it as such. I’ve started to connect with my neighbourhood as well, even going as far as buying a t-shirt with a close up of the King’s Cross St. Pancras tube station just down the street from me.


I am starting to feel like London is home and I feel at ease here. It is not because I necessarily fit better in London, but because I am free to feel like a foreigner here in England because, after all, I am one.

I am a stranger in a strange land. However, at home I felt like a stranger as well. If home is the interaction between a person and a place, then living abroad allows me to match my internal feelings of being foreign with my external environment.

I’ve become a foreigner so that I can feel more at home.

Posted by GregW 12:52 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (2)

Drawing Comfort from the Smoke from the Yakitori Grill

Revisiting Japan while never even leaving London. Wandering around the Matsuri Japan Festival at Old Spitalfields Market, and reflecting on what drew me to live abroad. Plus, some really tasty food.

sunny 20 °C

I've been cocooning recently. Working from home and a spat of cooler weather has meant that staying in has been quite an attractive option. So for the past few weeks, other than the one day a week when I head down to my office, my life has pretty much taken place in a small radius of my flat, the outer limit of the radius being the N1 centre, which has a Sainsbury's, pharmacist and movie theatre. With the N1 centre, I want for nothing.

The other day I was re-reading some of the notes I had made after reading about Existential Migration, which I wrote about in my entry I'm not a Traveller, I'm a Migrant. Reading my notes at the time reminded me that I should be taking advantage of the opportunity I have created for myself by moving to England, and getting out and enjoying life in the city.

To that end, I have (for the past 4 days at least) made an effort to get out and see London. On Wednesday I walked up Caledonian Road and checked out Pentonville Prison, which I will admit isn't very high on the tourist trail, but it is a mile from my house and thought I should check it out, in the event there is ever an escape. On Thursday, after taking the train back from my office in Egham, I walked from Victoria Station to my house (about 4 miles), taking in Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and Soho along the way. Friday I walked around Camden for an hour.

Yesterday, I headed over to Liverpool Street station and the nearby Old Spitalfields Market.



Spitalfields used to be a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, but that was moved in 1991 to the new Spitalfields Market out near the Olympic site in Stratford. Today, the old Spitalfields Market is used as a space for restaurants, shops, bars and the occasional small festival.

Yesterday, there was a Japanese festival called Matsuri.


I quite liked Japan when I was there in 2006. I found it an interesting mix of the familiar and the strange. It is a very modern country (at least the bits I saw of it), and other than a proliferation of neon that you wouldn't see anywhere in the west, the cities seem pretty similar to those of Europe or North America. On the other hand, some of the customs are very strange to Western eyes, and I always had a strong feeling that I was an outsider in Japan. I've read accounts of those who spent more time there, and they all point to this - no matter how long you spend in Japan or how well you speak the language, you are always an outsider.

I was mulling this over while wandering around with my first cold Asahi beer, and realized that may be why I liked it so much. The research on existential migration focused my attention on a potential driver for wanting to live abroad being that I often felt like a bit of an outsider at home. I was popular and had lots of friends and good relationship with my family, but there was a nagging little bit inside me that always seemed to indicate that perhaps I didn't quite belong. In moving abroad, I haven't changed that opinion - I still feel like I don't quite belong. But that doesn't bother me now because I actually don't belong. I am a foreigner, so it is fine to feel foreign. In effect, I have changed my external circumstances to make them match my internal feelings. If you feel like you don't quite belong, move somewhere where you don't actually belong. Then everything is fine.

Anyway, I'll come back to the idea of existential migration in more detail in a future entry. For now, let's just wander around the Matsuri festival and enjoy it...

There was a lot of Japanese goods for sale.









I was mostly there for the food, though. I enjoyed a couple of Asahi beers, had a nice plate of sushi and some yakitori.






There was Japanese entertainment. The drummers were good, and I liked the children's martial-arts-cum-dancing display. There was a Shamisen player from Brazil. The shamisen is a 3-stringed lute. I found it a little too plinky-plunky.



Lots of people got into the spirit of the day and dressed in traditional Japanese dress...



...and taking pleasure from the Japanese activities and art.


It looks like love at first sight!

It looks like love at first sight!

All and all, a good day. I got out and got some exercise walking back and forth from my place and Liverpool Street Station (which I needed after the Japanese food and beer), I got to remind myself of the great time I had in Japan, and I got to ruminate a little more on why I undertook this adventure to live abroad in the first place. To experience a culture other than my own. Which I did at the Matsuri Festival, even if it wasn't quite the culture of the country I am living in.

It was good to get out the house and look at other lands.


Oh, and because I am a great flatmate, I bought my flatmates some presents. I present them to you now in haiku.

White cartoon feline
Hello Kitty Candy box
a gift for flatmates


Dewa mata atode!

Posted by GregW 01:35 Archived in England Tagged events migration_experiences migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (1)

I am not a Traveller, I am a Migrant

Coming to the realisation that I am really the slowest of the slow travellers... so slow, it's not really travel at all. It's actually moving.

overcast 12 °C

I came to a realisation recently that I am not a traveller.

By that I mean that I am not the kind of person that can pack all their stuff in a backpack and head out into the great unknown. I know folks like that, who spend months – even years – on the road without a home base. I admire it, but I’ve recently realized that that type of travel isn’t really for me.

I think I’ve subconsciously known this for a while, but my conscious self has been loath to accept it. In fact, back in 2003 I wrote the following in an email (later reproduced as a blog entry on my final days in South America):

Truthfully, I have been crashing since my last few days in Buenos Aires, and I have little energy left to be the great explorer anymore. One of the most important lessons I learnt on this trip, I am not meant to be the kind of person that spends 6 months backpacking around the world. I still love travel and seeing new places, but the energy required to be constantly planning your next move and the laissez-faire attitude required for the travel is just not in me… Don't get me wrong, I am glad I took this trip. But I don't think I will be taking another like it again. My next trip - shorter, more focused on a single location or task and planned in advance.

Passport stamps from South America

Passport stamps from South America

While I never really took to planning in advance for any trip I take or going to just one place, I have found that I enjoy my travels a lot more if they are focused on a specific topic or event. I don’t do well just drifting without a plan (at least for more than a couple of days).

Despite writing those words back in 2003, I’ve resisted accepting that I am not a long-term traveller until recently. I chalk that reluctance to a simple reason. Since taking that trip in 2003, I have found myself drawn to keep taking trips, both for business and pleasure. Each of those trips has driven a further desire to head further afield. Each trip has increased a feeling that I had that somehow travel was important to my life. Confusingly, though, I wasn’t really sure why or how. I just knew that somehow all this travel was important and was leading someplace.

Eventually where it led, as you are all probably aware, is to a flat in King’s Cross, London, where I now live as an immigrant to the United Kingdom. Despite pretty much nothing going to the plan I had in my head when I first moved over here more than a year ago, somehow it has all felt really comfortable. Even the setbacks have felt like a movement forward.

Immigrant statue, Albert Dock, Liverpool, UK

Immigrant statue, Albert Dock, Liverpool, UK

The reason for this feeling of comfort can be found in something I wrote more than a year ago. Back in early 2008, I was feeling increasingly unsure about my future at the company I was working at. I started to jot down my thoughts on what I wanted to do next. I sometimes do this when I am faced with a big decision, finding that the writing helps me think through the issues I am facing and make a decision I can feel comfortable with. In my musing on my next move back in early 2008, I came up with a number of options, including moving to another division, moving to another company, starting a new career, starting my own business and going back to school. Over the month or so I was musing on my next move, one idea kept coming forward stronger and stronger. About two weeks before I finally made a final decision on what I would do, I wrote the following statement.

“Option: Quit job and move to London.
Analysis: Least sensible option, but for some reason this feels important to do.”

Despite being the least sensible option, I did end up taking it. When people have asked me why I did it, I’ve often dodged the question or responded with a vague reason like “wanted international work experience” or “hoped to miss the recession by moving abroad.” The real reason is that it felt important to me to do it, and there is no rational way to explain it. It was a feeling that I had to follow.

All this recently came into focus when I stumbled across a definition of something called “existential migration.” According to Dr. Greg Madison, the Canadian-born, Brighton, U.K.-based psychotherapist and counselling psychologist who coined the term, existential migration is “conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.” It is different from “economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration” in that it is a chosen move, not driven by economic or political needs. In his research, he found those that many who he has spoken with “adamantly insist that they couldn’t have stayed; they had to go.” Even though politics, war or economic need didn’t make them leave, there was something in them that made them pack up and go.

Immigrant family statue, Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada

Immigrant family statue, Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada

There were many things that struck a chord with me in Madison’s research, but a lot of what had been driving me over the past few years made sense. I realized that a lot of what had been drawing me into my career as a consultant was the opportunity to have a mini-migrant experience. I would move temporarily to a place and get to experience life there. It was a more settled and familiar experience than long-term travel, but still placed me in the foreign and unfamiliar. Consulting was a chance to dip my toe in and try out being an immigrant with the safety net of having a home back in Toronto.

In the past few years though, I would find myself getting “itchy” for a change after four to six months on a consulting project. At the time I thought that it was because I wanted to move on, get some place new. Now though, I am starting to think that the reason I got jumpy was because I wanted to take a further, deeper step into migration and knew that ultimately I wasn’t getting that from a temporary contract experience.

It was on reading Madison’s research that I realized that I wasn’t a traveller. All this time, I hadn’t been travelling. I had been slowly working up to what I am doing now, living in another country.

I am not a traveller. I am a migrant. It has just taken me a while to get around to actually migrating.

Posted by GregW 09:57 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (0)

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