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Existential Migration

No, this is not a class I plan on taking next semester. However it is a new discipline of thought detailed in a book by the same name.

Existentialism is not a very old philosophical discipline itself. It is maybe 150 years old. A lot of euro types, mostly French, wrote about it back then and were either revered or called crackpots.

My only experience with existentialism in my University years was being forced to read Camus. The books I read made for good reading, and sort of reminded me of science fiction. When the class discussed the books, I was taken aback and left behind  by the views other held as to the “meaning” of it all. So, in preparing for this blog I did a little research on existentialism, emphasis on little. What I will pass on to you quickly, so as to not bore you to death follows. If you get interested you can Google the subject for the rest of the night and get as twisted by it as I am now.

Existentialism may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence. Further it can be described as  a gesture of protest against academic philosophy, its anti-system sensibility, its flight from the “iron cage” of reason.

Ok thats enough of that. Like I said, look it up if you need to know more. For now, lets get back to the subject of this post.

The philosopher who coined the phrase and wrote the book  is Greg Madison, PhD. He now gets paid to lecture about it and actually do counseling for some expats who have not figured out why they are where they are.  In his book he sums up his thesis thusly.

Unlike economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration, ‘existential migration’ is conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.

Does that sound like anyone you know? Me perhaps? Perhaps YOU?

He goes on to say;

  • Existential migrants discover more about themselves and feel more alive when confronting unfamiliar cultures. These individuals move cross-culturally, sometimes repeatedly, in search of self-understanding and adventure.
  • The importance of trying to fulfil individual potentials, the importance of freedom and independence, openness to experiences of the mystery of life, and the valuing of difference and foreignness as a stimulus to personal awareness and broadening perspectives are consistent themes amongst existential migrants.
  • Among this population there is a marked preference for the strange and foreign over the familiar or conventional.
  • Most existential migrants leave their home cultures because they never felt ‘at home’ in the first place. For some, the choice to leave can eventually result in not being at home anywhere in the world, leaving these individuals to live within a sort of ‘homelessness’ that includes a complex mix of inconsolable loss as well as perpetual adventure and self-discovery.
  • The ‘feeling of home’ arises from specific interactions with our surroundings that could potentially occur anywhere, at any time. This is in contrast to the usual definition of home as geographical place.
I want to address these on a personal perspective, bullet point by bullet point. To get the most out of this post, I hope all my expat pals do as well. I honestly thing that Madison has analyzed us fairly. I want to hear what you think.
Point 1. Yes, without putting it in so many words, that is exactly why I move to foreign cultures. By comparing and contrasting my values and mores to the native people of my current abode, I discover much more about myself than I ever would if I never left home.

This isn't Kansas is it?

Point 2. Freedom and independence and exploring the mysteries of life are absolutely at the core of any expat’s decision to pull up stakes and move someplace his friends call weird. Admit it.

Not even Johnny Cash had it figured out.

Point 3. A preference for the “strange and foreign” is very deep in my psyche.  Yours?

Even fruit can be strange and foreign. Aint it great!

Point 4. Wow, this one is a whack in the face. “Never felt at home in the first place” is almost a condemnation of your mental state. Not being at home anywhere is also akin to certifiable. But in my case I accept it. Home is where my hat (or my many hats) is. My home is with my wife. wherever we live is home to me. People ask me all the time “where are you from?” My response is “I carry an American passport, but, ahh.”

I've got more hats so I can call more places home.

Point 5. I could not have said it better myself. Home is not a geographical place for people like me. I cannot even imagine my heart pining for anywhere as home if it does not include my wife. If it does, I’m home. Anywhere.

Welcome home dear.

Well I have been told to stop posting stuff without pretty pictures and to stop using big words when I write, so I will stop now. But I REALLY want you to comment on this post, and I REALLY want you to share it with your friends, wherever in the world they are hanging their hat.

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3 Responses so far.

  1. Randy Schultz says:

    Forrest, you have had wanderlust ever since I met you (back in 1973 or ’74, BEFORE you were Forrest). Greg Madison describes you perfectly. If there weren’t people like you way back when, then Europeans never would have “discovered” the Americas. The world needs people like you, just as the world needs people like me (who are content to tend their backyard gardens). I love that you are willing to take an open-eyed look at yourself and learn something new. And I love reading your blog posts about places I will never see. Please keep exploring and please keep sharing your adventures.

  2. Jose says:

    I used to think home was were I wasn’t. If I were in LA, home was NJ and vice versa.

  3. Julie says:

    Lovely Forrest, and yes, I have never felt more at home than I do right here right now and it is nowhere close to where I am “from”. I have never felt like I belonged there, but do here. More than I could have ever imagined. Was nice for you to just throw this out there and was refreshing that there were no barbs thrown in our direction since, even though, this is not a place you love, I do and for the first time in my life, instead of wanting to bolt after 6 years, I am HOME!!!! Happy Anniversary and safe Safaris…can’t wait for you love to grace us with her effervescence once again…I love her face!!!!! X

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