It’s been ten years since I started my big foreign adventure. In this loose series, I talk to the immigrants I met in 2005 and those I’m only meeting now. They all tell me a bit about the changes that the last decade has brought for them.
Sabine first came to the UK on a gap year in 2001. She met her future husband in Wales and had a long-distance relationship with him while finishing her studies in Germany. In 2007, they settled in Liverpool. Asked about her decision, she says that moving to the UK for good was the logical continuation of her relationship, rather than a conscious decision to emigrate. Thinking about it now, she realises that she never even imagined a future in Germany. Moving back there is not an option after such a long time away: “There comes a point when you just don’t fit in anymore.”
Still, she often imagines life in Germany would be easier. She’d be closer to her family, more mobile and connected. The quality of life seems better, even if there are a lot of costs and taxes connected to it. She misses the hot German summers, and the opportunity to go swimming in a lake: “I didn’t just move countries, I also moved to the big town after growing up in the countryside.” It’s the connection with nature that Sabine misses most and wants to instill in her own children. Speaking her native language to them was a natural thing to want to do. It’s not always easy, though, when everyone else speaks English, including her husband. Sticking to German is often a conscious effort when it comes to the children, who more often than not reply in English. Sabine feels more comfortable in her own language, though, and often questions her ability to express herself properly when an English speaker seems confused by what she says. The particular English reserve doesn’t help. “Nobody ever says, ‘What do you mean?’ They just look uncomfortable, and I am left feeling ashamed and in the wrong somehow. Talking to the English is hard.” She admits that she feels more comfortable around fellow immigrants and has more close acquaintances who weren’t born in Britain. The English ability to make small talk helps with establishing contact, but making friends is a different thing altogether. With immigrants, she says, you’ll at least always have your shared experiences to talk about.
She is scared of Ukip and their anti-immigration rhetoric. While she hopes that it won’t come to an EU exit, she worries about her own role in combating xenophobia. There have been instances where others have made racist remarks in her presence; she often feels that she should have challenged them more, and not just quietly and politely disagreed.
After talking to me for a while about roots and the feeling of home, Sabine tells me it’s not always easy to determine what “home” really is. Once you’ve taken the big step of settling in a foreign country, she says, you’ve changed. It’s hard to tell if you would be better off in your own country, because you were a different person before you left. And she admits that she has never felt that her home was in a certain place: “To find somewhere to be happy and content, I’m looking within me.” She feels that she belongs here now, and that’s a comforting thought.