A few years ago, I came across two words that gave me pause while voyeuristically reading online profiles: “professional immigrant”. A woman had described herself in this way because she had lived in three different countries for education and work. Foregoing the usual, often creativity inhibiting search in an online dictionary (note: I do not condone “alternative facts”), I pondered the meaning of “professional immigrant”. The term brought to mind a cosmopolitan business person who had graduated from the usual short business trips to longer assignments, perhaps with family in tow, settling down in exotic places for years at a time; probably getting to know many countries more intimately than a tourist, and living a more cushioned existence than most other immigrants or even most citizens of their place of stay. This was probably closer to the official definition of “professional immigrant”. Becoming more aware of its existence, I began noticing the description popping up more often, usually within articles on globalization, or work and study abroad programs.
There was something about “professional immigrant” that struck me beyond its basic or obvious definition — it seemed the best way to describe myself, although I had not moved primarily because of work or education. The way I saw it, a “professional immigrant” could mean a person who had become so accustomed to immigrating that he or she was a professional at it. Did I dare to describe myself as a “professional immigrant”?
It seemed a bit arrogant, like I was a shade better than the usual immigrant. Not only did the term “professional” suggest mastery, it also implied that I was always gainfully employed and never a burden on society. The dreaded negative stereotype of an immigrant as a free-loading, selfish opportunist who can’t even be bothered to speak the language of the host country narrowly avoided by a thin, icy wall of elitism.
I never did feel comfortable using the term to describe myself, although I often felt the urge. I find it difficult to call myself a “professional” at anything, because I believe life is a constant learning process and it seems ridiculous to be an expert at a life situation that many people are thrust into, like school or prison, the duration or frequency of the experience doesn’t necessarily make anyone an expert. But, in all honesty, I can’t pretend that I don’t see intriguing patterns emerging out of the whole. It’s like becoming so familiar with a place that you can see the aerial view in your head or sleepwalk your way through the streets because you’ve come to know them so well. This is because of my cumulative experience with immigration, culture shock, and integration, and/or lack thereof. Officially, I am an immigrant for the second time, but I’m also well-traveled and spent my childhood moving throughout the US. By the time I was seventeen years old, I had lived in ten different places across the country, not counting the places I visited. I’m not trying to win some sort of “most traveled” award, I’m sure there are many people who have been to more places than I have. I am sharing this because I want to describe the territory that I’ve come to know so well, I want to take the fear and stigma out of it, and ultimately, to help those who may find themselves struggling there.
I finally found a term that I can comfortably call myself: the “semi-professional immigrant” (smile and wink). I am still learning, I do not consider myself better than any other immigrant, illegal or legal, refugee or resident — but I do have a bird’s eye view on the experience of immigration and I do consider myself very privileged to be an immigrant by choice, at least on my second time around. I know that there are many people who have made that decision based on life and death, or through great sacrifice. I also have deep respect for the people who help refugees and those who push themselves beyond their comfort zones by befriending outsiders.
Although I wish very much that we could all love and respect each other regardless of race, class, or the borders of a map, my aim is not to convince anyone of anything, but to help those who are struggling to find a sanctuary within. This post begins a new category, “Reflections on immigration and home” which will focus on my personal experiences with immigration and meditations on “home”. I also plan to share techniques for thriving no matter where you are, how to cope with culture shock, hostility and related topics. I look forward to sharing these stories with you.
Text and photos © M.P. Baecker and http://www.alightcircle.com 2017.