I remember one of my first times coming home after having moved abroad. I ran into an acquaintance on the streets of my hometown, and she asked me how I was doing, what it was like, living somewhere else. I told her what one can say in two minutes on the street, half running. Then she told me: “I often wonder what it would be like for me to move abroad. I could do whatever I wanted. I could even dye my hair platinum blonde if I wanted to!” This was back in 2010, when platinum blonde wasn’t a hit, and I knew that by saying this, she implied that living abroad for her meant the infinity of possibilities, it meant freedom. If you are in a city where no one knows you, dying your hair platinum blonde is not risky.
So What Is Existential Migration?
Freedom, self expression, making a statement, saying something about yourself and fulfilling your potential and the imperative of not missing out on any opportunities are the leitmotivs of what Dr. Greg Madison calls “existential migration”. Unlike all the different sorts of forced migration, or simple wanderlust, existential migration has its roots in a deeper, existential need for the feeling of freedom. In this context freedom means the feeling of “anything is possible” as opposed to “being caged”, which is often linked with the idea of staying home for those who chose to leave.
I remember when I decided to leave home. It was really strange: I heard my mouth saying “I want to leave” but I couldn’t give a strong reason as to why. Of course I said that I wanted to leave in order to get a better education, to have a good job, to open doors and have lots of opportunities. But deep down it all came down to a really strong gut-feeling that I have to leave, because if I don’t, I might miss out on something crucial. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it in my guts, that I must leave. And now as I am reading Dr. Madison’s research, I see how he heard this exact same narrative from the people he’s been working with. All of them seem to talk about this elusive feeling of must, this imperative which cannot be contradicted or ignored. And on the other side of it there is the fear of losing freedom. That was exactly what I felt at the time: if I don’t go, I am irrevocably losing my freedom.
The Unfamiliar, The New…
Dr. Madison’s research shows that there is a common theme in voluntary migrants’ lives: they all have a preference towards the unfamiliar, and they generally tend to be open to the “mystery of life”. For these people, home is not a set place, but rather an interaction with their surroundings. The feeling of being home comes from certain actions and interactions, which don’t necessarily have to occur at one’s home country. But at the same time existential migration often results in the feeling of general homelessness, of not really feeling at home, no matter where one lives. Voluntary migrants often leave their home country precisely because they didn’t have the feeling of settledness at home, so they go searching for it somewhere else, but more often than not they do not find it at the new place(s) either. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed in the world of globalisation. It is what we could call “global homelessness” as more and more generations tend to become existential migrants, and end up not feeling at home anywhere.
And The Bigger Picture
Existential migration is a notion that asks for the rethinking and reshaping of such ideas as belonging, home, and individual freedom. As making a statement about one’s very existence, and freedom itself is now strongly linked to the idea of being able to go anywhere in the world, new directions are needed in the fields of psychology, anthropology, therapy and cross-cultural trainings as well.