Guest Post: The One Thing They Never Tell You Before You Immigrate


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1) Martin Luther King’s Dream Had One Little Hitch: Tolerance Isn’t All That It’s Cracked Up to Be (This post is quite long so get yourself something to drink before you read it)

You feel like you are lost and isolated even though you are sorrounded by other people

Take It Away Gal

Mwangi put me on the spot and asked me to do a guest post about being an incarnate immigrant Kenyan. Being quite the emotional gal (there goes all the male readers lol), I’ve chosen to write a little about the emotional stuff, because I believe that knowing of the possibility of experiencing these emotions, saves one a lot of energy…

The way I see it, when one expects to experience something, one doesn’t usually expend energy fighting the experience…but deals with the situation coming from a place of apparent preparedness…because one expected it. Makes for smoother sailing, me thinks

I know I didn’t expect to experience the loneliness.

Nothing/ Nobody had prepared me for being in a new place with no friends. NOTHING! And that’s just the easy part. The kind of loneliness I experienced in my first few years abroad was unnerving, terrifying, tiring.

I was not at all prepared for moving away from people who’ve known me since I was in nappies. People who I’d gone to kindergarten with and friends I’d met on the first day of primary school and then was learning how to be a teenage adult with. People I had a “secret” language and personal history with. People I could tell funny stories about, even though everyone’s heard them a trillion times, and they could and would do the same with me. All this vanished with one “little” plane ride that I didn’t even notice, because I slept all the way to Heathrow. Vupti! And it was gone! Just like that. And I had no idea.

I remember the first time I met a long time friend and she laughingly said “OMG gal, that is So you”, to something inane I had done, I almost fell to knees crying, thinking “Oh my God, IT IS ME!, and she should know, she’s known me since I was 6!” Moving to the UK/DK (United Kingdom and Denmark) meant that I was surrounded by lots of lovely friendly people who knew naught/zero/zilch about me, and that somehow made/makes for loneliness.

I never underestimate the power of shared history anymore

We recognize and celebrate ourselves in it…its part of what shapes who we are…and one of the easiest ways to make friends…i.e. creating a shared history.

The move from the comfort of a Kenya whose systems; political, cultural and social, I knew and were a natural part of me, knocked me off my saddle sideways and left me reeling. The funniest part about it, is that I expected to fit right in pronto, first in the UK (not too bad but still) and then quite erroneously, in Denmark. I now know that, that little expectation can make a move to a new place a very horrendous one.

I now know to expect to NOT fit in, in a way that’s different from experiencing new things in Kenya, I expect to work at fitting in, I expect to stick out like a sore thumb and feel like one, if only for a while, but sometimes always, and many years down the road, I have accepted this as part of my life as an immigrant. I know to expect to feel the loneliness, in one form or another.It’s ok, it doesn’t bite…that much

Gal Africana,

from a search for sanity

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No Comments

  • By mwalimu, May 7, 2008 @ 12:37 am

    I think Kenyans make these mistakes (of not counting the cost) because of some hidden erroneous belief that in the land of the white man, it is all blish. How do you move into a foreign land and not expect to be shocked, especially if the inhabitants of those lands were known before to be against your kind of people?

    Even now, I still see many many people fighting for and getting the US green card and quickly relocating their whole families to the US, and get thoroughly shocked when the reality sets in. Surely, isn’t it common sense and prudent to first dig around, listen to advice before making such life changing moves?

    That said, i think this site is doig a good job.

    Another site with useful information is

  • By Mwangi, May 7, 2008 @ 1:05 am

    @mwalimu: Thanks for stopping by the site. I remember stumbling upon your site in the early days of my blogging life. I hope that we can somewhere collaborate towards the end goal of educating immigrants and would be immigrants. Please check your email or feel free to send any suggestions my way as to how we can achieve this.

  • By nancy, July 9, 2008 @ 7:19 am

    shared history….i think you hit upon smthg important girl. nothing can replace a lifetime of conversations, ever deeper, even when you think you want to create yourself anew.

  • By Mwangi, July 9, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

    @nancy: Ditto, couldn’t agree more. Shared history, culture, language and customs and the ability to understand each other almost automatically on the basis of shared experience: I think it takes immigrating to really appreciate these things and how beautiful they are.

  • By ezz, September 1, 2008 @ 7:19 am

    Most people in Kenya don’t believe you when you tell them how tough life is out there. They kind of seem to think that you somehow don’t want them to experience the good life you’ve had there. So I guess people will continue getting these shocks, and learning through their own experiences.

  • By Mwangi, September 1, 2008 @ 9:03 am

    @ezz: Though I don’t think we should neccesarily promote Western immigration as the magic pill and should encourage as many bright minds as possible to remain in Africa and continue to work on making it great, if someone wants to come overseas I support them.
    However, I think as they come over they should be very aware of challenges such as the one expressed in this article and the most recent article I wrote:
    so they can create strategies to deal with the problem, deal with the problem quicker and move ahead much further than we previous immigrants did.

  • By ezz, September 1, 2008 @ 9:18 pm

    I actually didn’t mean that people should not emigrate overseas, (half my relatives are overseas). Life became quite unbearable and many were not allowed to (or could not) make a decent living in Kenya during the ‘Moi era’. Therefore, emigrating became no longer a choice for many. The country has been on a recovery path over the last few years, but we’re still not quite there yet.
    What I wanted to point out is that it’s difficult to convince people that life out there is not as they see it on TV and in the movies. And please don’t underestimate the power of this media.
    Similarly, many foreigners from overseas get disappointed when they get to Africa and find that we’re not living on trees, walking about naked, starving, etc…!

  • By Mwangi - the Displaced African, September 2, 2008 @ 7:00 am

    @ezz: Indeed, I think its quite hard for people at home to empathize or understand what its like living abroad at all. And so that’s why we should really double up our efforts and use all we learn abroad to ensure they heed our messages me thinks. But, yep, waaayyy too many of us, my former self included, think that arrival in a Western country is the same as arriving at the perfect destination where milk and honey flows automatically into your mouth.

Other Links to this Post

  1. What Everybody Ought to Know About Immigration and Njeri’s Guest Post » The Displaced African — July 21, 2008 @ 5:46 am

  2. Something That Happens to A Lot of Newbie Immigrants That’s Almost Never Discussed - The Displaced African — August 31, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  3. Bookmarks about Usefulinformation — December 22, 2008 @ 2:30 am

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