A serial migrant is a category of migrant who immigrates once and not having suffered enough the first round, chooses to migrate again to a Third (or Fourth or Fifth) place. Think about that for a moment. The usual narrative is one where the migrant takes that great leap, casts him or herself on a distant shore, integrates insofar as she can in this new homeland, and then gratefully becomes a citizen of this new and wonderful place that she has learned to love as her own.
This idea and many others have been on my mind a lot lately. When I last posted in this blog I was writing at a coffee table in front of my big blue chair on the 14th floor of a high-rise apartment building in Osaka, Japan where I had been living for about a year.
Today I am writing this post at a desk in my room on the 4th floor of an apartment complex in the Schaerbeek neighborhood in Brussels, Belgium.
What happened? Well, like most of my cross-border moves this was a happy accident. I turned 50 this year and spent the entire year in Osaka thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. And the one thing that kept popping up in my mind was the idea of taking what I have been doing with this blog for several years now (thinking and writing about migration) and taking a year or two to do formal studies in that subject.
Once I decided that I wanted to be a scholar of migration I looked around for programs in Asia, Europe and North America and I finally applied to a Masters program at a British university here in Brussels. I chose this program for many reasons but probably the most important for me personally was the opportunity to study under someone whose work I greatly admire, Dr. Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, the author of Migrants or Expatriates? Americans in Europe.
To my delight I was accepted. I attended my first class as a graduate student yesterday morning and it was everything I was hoping to find. I have a great deal of reading to do (no hardship there) and writing. And here I have a lot to learn because writing for a blog is not at all the same as writing formal papers in academia. I will spend a term here in Brussels and then I will return to Osaka for the summer to start on my dissertation. Then it's back to Brussels in the fall for more classes. If all goes well, I will graduate in 2017.
Now that I have a plan which essentially divides my life between three countries, Japan, Belgium and France, I will return to posting regularly here at the Flophouse. I hope to share with you some of the topics that come out of my studies, and I'm sure that my International Migration and Citizenship reading list will be greatly extended as I do my reading and add worthy titles to the list.
And speaking of serial migration, I noted the first day of school that many of my classmates fall into this category. These are young people (about the same age as my Frenchlings) for whom Brussels is their second, third or even fourth country. And my housemate too - a woman about my age who was born in Canada and whose parents returned to Ireland when she was a child. Since that return migration she has lived in France and now Belgium. Needless to say, we have a lot to talk about every night at the dinner table.
And all that is what I think will be the very best part of this experience - talking to other migrants, learning about their lives, how they ended up in country X or Y and why they stayed (or didn't). For all the media attention focused on the cosmopolitan globe-trotting elite, the refugees fleeing conflict or the undocumented immigrant, there are many other categories of migrants who don't make headlines: students, teachers, tech writers, IT workers, nurses, small business owners and so much more.
In the media frenzy over this or that migrant "problem" what is lost is how migration is fundamentally just about People Who Move Around. And those people come from every country, every culture, and just about every socio-economic class. Migration is an incredibly complex phenomenon which has in our time certainly been enhanced by globalization and technology, but has always been part of the human experience.
If there is a larger and loftier goal in my ambition to became a scholar and writer on this topic, it would be simply this: to communicate and convince the homelanders that migrants are people, and that just about every human being on this planet today is potentially a migrant, too - their co-workers, their friends, their children, their grand-children, or even their precious selves. If more people could see in themselves the potential for a life lived upon a distant shore, I would hope that there would be much more empathy, and a lot less fear, about migrants and migration.