Saturday, October 26, 2013

Europeans who came back

Every time I meet with people who used to live in North America, I love to hear their stories as re-pats. I guess I can't help myself but I really have to find out if the reasons they decided to come back are the same as mine. Here are some stories people shared with me throughout Europe. 
All these stories have a common link: these people I met are highly qualified/skilled workers who were offered an opportunity that allowed also the rest of their family to experience life abroad. However, after so many years (in some cases a significant amount time, that you'd think by that time you either make it or break it), they decided to go back to their roots. 
A Dutch couple, who were well in their sixties when I met them, spent 8 years in Canada and they offered a very simple explanation to my question: they decided to go back to the Netherlands because they felt their home country could provide a better education for their three children. Likewise a German couple, who spent 5 years in the USA, had a similar story: education was a main factor that brought them back. This is a common issue that many Europeans face when tackling their children's education. We trust our school system, especially Northern European countries that regularly stand out in international student assessments' rankings. However, since the experiences of these families, the situation, as far as education goes, seems to have improved especially for Canada. In fact, in the latest PISA study of 2009 conducted by OECD, Canada placed sixth worldwide improving its education system by leaps and bounds. Education is the foundation that defines our identity, beliefs and ultimately leads us to our professional career; therefore, providing top quality education becomes the prime concern especially for highly educated parents, whose expectations for their children are quite high.
Social and cultural aspects might also contribute in the decision process of leaving. Despite the common belief that wants Americans easy-going and friendly, there are objective difficulties in establishing durable friendships. I don't want to oversimplify or sound harsh but Europeans perceive Americans as shallow when it comes to relationships. Now, this aspect deserves a bit of delving into its cultural causes. I have observed it many times: Americans don't mean any harm, it is only a cultural aspect that has to be understood in order to avoid puzzlement and disappointment. Because of the frequency of their moves from one state to the next, from one job to another, they need to make friends easily, they invite them over, give them their car key, overall being very helpful and generous. They are simply terrific! However, when one moves away, everything it is as good as forgotten. They are very practical, if you have a material problem, they can help you out. Europeans, on the other hand, tend to build more meaningful lasting relationships nurturing quality over quantity, and allowing time to get to know people. Europeans mainly rely on their friends for moral support and confide in them, something Americans don't do because they pay their psychotherapist for the sphere of emotions and feelings. These are very generic considerations made throughout the years and that's just what they are. For the record, I do have American friends and we have been in touch for over twenty years.
Another interesting factor that popped up talking with mixed-couples was the overall quality of life and location. Italian-Americans, British-Italians, French-Americans, all these couple left the USA because, in their case, they couldn't deal anymore with the sense of loneliness and abandonment typical of the great provincial America. The vastness and solitude of rural America is a scenario quite different from the skyline of NY or LA and this comes as short as a shock, especially when you come from the hustle and bustle of European towns. Buying the fresh French baguette from the bakery just around the corner is not the same as driving your car for miles to the closest grocery store and running down an aisle to buy plain industrial bread.
Talking to people about their experiences abroad is quite an eye-opener. In my last months of stay in the USA, I was torn between propagandist ads running through mind "fulfill your American dream" and the realistic vision stating "look around yourself, there is no dream here". I realized I was not the only one who went through this process of revelation; confronting each other's experiences has been enlightening and extremely helpful to see how re-pats are immunized by the charms of the American dream and how they appreciate and re-evaluate things they have back home. 

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