Shared Voices: Is Living Abroad Worth It?

— Summer Eldemire

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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The eternal struggle of every Jamaican living abroad is whether it is truly worth it or just a waste of precious time. “Foreign” is perceived in Jamaica as the mecca of dreams fulfilled, a wonderland of economic opportunity. But after five years of living in New York I began to wonder if it was in fact the city of dreams or instead a jungle of nightmares.

Like many Jamaicans, I had gone abroad because I subscribed to the belief that everything was better in foreign. I thought little Jamaica could never be big enough, and staying at home would be settling for less. After I found out what frostbite truly meant, I began to wonder: was it time to move home? Seriously, there are only so many fusion restaurants one can dine at before you begin to pine for a straightforward Jamaican box lunch! The menu of opportunities in foreign is not always worth its downfalls. Yet I had to question whether moving home would be settling for less, or was it simply being strategic.

New York has everything you could ever want, in every colour, and you can get it delivered to you at four in the morning to boot! You want rainbow-coloured bagels for dinner? You got it. Sushi burritos for breakfast? No problem. But even the best reservations don't always lead you to being fulfilled. As Jamaicans, we share this idea that true success can only be achieved in the First World. Everything local is inferior. We see living in the First World as the ultimate goal, and yet oftentimes it is hollow, lonely and friendless.

New York is unashamedly all about money, ambition and success. Fast-forward is the only speed, and enjoying the simple things is simply not on the menu. Community exists primarly between yourself and your coffee barista. Most times it is unclear in social interactions whether it is friendship or plain networking.

On the other hand, community is something Jamaica has in overstock. We are strongly supported by our extended networks of friends and family. But what is comforting can also be oppressive. It is guaranteed that three or four “aunties” are in your business at all times. You cannot go anywhere without running into somebody you know. Everyone knows who you are, who your parents are and who your grandparents are. Add to this the fact that Jamaicans can be small-minded and unexposed, making the island a stifling community filled with social pressures to conform. Is the support worth the sacrifice of some of your individuality?

Yet because of the large size and anonymity that big cities offer, you can express yourself fully without worrying about shaming your family. No-one is going to whisper that you look pop down when you go to the supermarket to stock up on almond milk. It is a creative and intellectual melting pot in which to meet new types of people. But how much can these people truly understand you? It's no coincidence that it's called the loneliest place on earth.

The choice between foreign and yaad is like an episode of The Bachelorette. Do you give the rose to the slick New York international-accented hipster, who exposes you to new cultures and is supposedly helping you develop yourself? Or do you give the rose to the Jamaican next door, who's always been there, is comfortable and will probably always think and act the same for all of time eternal?

Of course having the option to live abroad is a privilege in itself. Most Jamaicans seek to move because of the lack of local job opportunities. It is true that foreign remittances are our number one income earner. But if you have the option, is living outside of your culture worth it? Is the fact that so many of us abandon our country the reason that economic opportunities are so limited?

Perhaps home is so appealing because the wealth disparity allows some of us to live lives we could never afford in foreign. In this sense, is wanting to move home just being spoiled? Perhaps it is exploitative. Maybe because we are incredibly indulged island princes and princess our pride simply can't take being treated like commoners in foreign. Really and truly, how much of the Jamaica that we the privileged know is the real Jamaica and how much of it is because a socio-economic divide has left our families at an advantage? Would the Jamaican people and culture we love be so lovely to us if we weren't in our positions of privilege? Or am I over-analysing and Jamaica is simply and straightforwardly the best place in the entire universe and we're being fools by wasting our time anywhere else?

Is it simply a fact that nowhere nice like yaad?

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