Journey of finding a home. How hard can it be?
I used to care less. But over the last few years, I feel the value of having a home more and more. My issue is, to establish this base somewhere, commit to it, and be actually allowed to do so turned out to be rather a difficult task.
I didn't feel at home in the country where I grew up, so I set off to experience different ones, and I am on the road since 2012. Through these years, I have been on my own, working, studying, and paying my bills. During my travels, I found that the feeling of home is affected by three main categories:
- Environment (you need to enjoy the local food, weather, and landscapes)
- People (culture and community that you are happy to be around)
- Government (economy, education and health care systems, foreign policies and such)
As long as you have two sorted - with the people being one of them, you can be a happy person. But at the same time, if you are moving already, why not nail all three, or at least, reach two and a half?
I found that some beautiful environment is pretty much everywhere - that was easy. The second area, people, can be more tricky - in different places, people look, and more importantly, behave differently. One has to figure out what works best for him/her, but in the end, good people can be found everywhere too. Then there's the government, and that is where the real challenge is.
A piece of cake, one would think. You find a country that you like, move there, settle down, become productive for the local community, and everyone's happy. In a fairy tale, maybe. Our world; however, is not working this way.
First, after you find a country with an administration which has rules and regulations that you like, you need to research how can you enter the country legally, as that itself can be an issue. Then, when you are in and adapt to the government's values, you often face the problem: many gov's say something, and then act differently.
Let's begin with the United States, a country with some stunning landscapes, and a country that gave me the best sense of community I had. Unfortunately, their administration didn't reflect the welcoming atmosphere I experienced with the local people. While some politicians said, "We want productive people to come," their policies contradicted such approach, and due to their tangled double-standard immigration laws, sadly, I was left with no choice but to leave. See my article covering the details, if you'd like.
It is not just me. Earlier this year, Yemen's first journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize, Maad al-Zekri, was denied his entry to the US to receive the prize in person, just because he's from a "wrong country." Recently, I read about multiple bands being turned away the US due to that visa mess. It is not only work-related, the number of international students coming to the US is declining over the last few years, and the recent 75% increase of the fees attached to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program ain't gonna improve it.
Looking at some single transactions circling around other sectors, like the recent US-Saudi trades with oil and guns, the situation becomes clear: Education, journalism, or music simply cannot compete in short-term profit margin - which is what politicians with short election cycles aim for. Hard to blame them, since whoever is going to take the office after them is going to cancel everything they did. That's not just the US, the most countries I visited have the same problem. Building something in a long run is not fashionable.
One country that isn't like that is China. Once they get a project running, they are likely to get something out of it - even if it's going to be 10 or 15 years. That is one of the reasons why is China taking the lead in many fields recently; some good stuff just take time.
China is another fascinating country. They have some outstanding natural areas, and plenty of good people. When the Chinese government talk, it sounds nice too, as they promote values in many areas that I appreciate too, like education, internalization, communication, ecology, social relations, hard work... However, there's a big kicker, as the Chinese government is a champion of that "say something, then act differently" attitude:
Starting with education - China is, indeed, putting loads of funds into universities, and it shows. But at the same time, they are blocking access to Wikipedia, the world's largest encyclopedia, and plenty of other sources of online education. You cannot say "I support education," when you suspend access to it from your people.
And the same goes with communication - Say, you want to send a message to your friend by a service of your choice - too bad. Gmail, Messenger, WhatsApp, and many others are unavailable in China, unless you connect through a loophole into a different country. The flow of information is so restricted, it is mind-boggling. Even this website is blocked (and was a long time before I wrote any article about China). Interestingly, while all of the western social networks are blocked for ordinary Internet users, they are used by the government-owned media corporations to promote their stories. So then you see paid advertising on Twitter, saying how's China's good, and how outlets such as the BBC and the NY Times are "Fake News."
Speaking of news, every time I saw national TV talking about the western people, they screened footage of fat people in fast food. And if they spoke of western governments, oh, it was a rather sad picture too. See, another value China promotes as their own is to be "be humble and accepting." But excuse me, you cannot show a news broadcast packed with negative stereotypes about other countries and finish it with "but look, our country is safe, everything works and looks beautiful..." and then claim that you are open-minded to other cultures and beliefs.
It is a shame - China has tremendous potential. But as a place to live, it is just not there.
Years passed, and after an unsuccessful attempt to live in the Netherlands, I kept going, and eventually, I ended in Scotland - where I am based at the moment. Here, since I am an EEA citizen, the local government don't require me to have visas. They don't judge me because of my race or accent, and they don't discriminate by gender or faith. If you contribute with some skills and knowledge, you are treated well. They have great laws regarding using land, so one can hike or cycle across its mountains without worries. Their education is class, and local museums are accessible free of charge... For once, it is fantastic.
This situation, unfortunately, can change rather quickly. As it happened, plenty of people in the United Kingdom, which Scotland is a part of, think that immigration is the source of misery to their country. Similarly to what I experienced in the USA, many find it easier to blame immigration instead of sorting their own wealth redistribution problems, violence issues, or unemployment figures.
It seems like a common scheme. People will look at the passport color rather than the fact of someone being stupid or clever. Not just passport, it can be seen everywhere. Plenty vote for politicians based on their party rather than what is their agenda. Anyway, back to my issue, I don't like when I am put into a box, only because of what my passport says.
As of now, I am having my fingers crossed that the UK won't screw up. However, with the current uncertainty, nobody knows what's happening in the long run in terms of immigration laws, and some of the outlooks aren't bright. So I've been looking at other potential places to move, once again, beyond the EEA. And actually, that's when the idea for this article originated, as the real problem is, for an average human being, going beyond the boundary of the zone you have your citizenship is often a massive headache. Similar issues with visas as I experienced in the US are present in many countries.
The piles of paperwork for visas are for "safety reasons," governments say. But lately, I can't get rid of a feeling that they figured out that it can be one heck of a business - Here we go again. It is no secret, citizenship is a valuable commodity to the market. It comes with a set of privileges, but unless you are born in "your ideal country," it also comes with a hefty price tag. That said, if a person's rich, things go like a dream. Money can buy the easiest and the fastest way to obtain visas into any country. And some of them are even bold about it, not trying to hide it. The other day I browsed a magazine, and there was good-sized advertising "Hey, buy our citizenship!"
Let's talk numbers.
Say, you weren't born in the EEA, but are rich and want to live in the United Kingdom - there's the Investor Visa for you. To get Tier 1, you currently need £2 million to invest, and then some £2K in gov and insurance fees. Then, after five years, you can apply to settle, and job done. Or, you invest £10 million, and you can apply just after two years. You should get a decision within three weeks, but don't worry, you can pay an extra £500 and get it in five days. Job done. Digits like this make a normal person's head spin. Yet, the number of applications is on the rise - the Office of National Statistics reported that this year had the largest number of applications since 2014.
The USA is "more affordable." You need between $500,000 to $1 million, depending on the area where you want to invest, and some $4K in fees. That, however, will change by the end of this year, as the US Department of Homeland Security announced that the price will hike to $900,000 - $1.8m this November. Still, As long as that will create 10+ jobs, you can apply for a green card, and after ~two years, you can have legal residency. Any other visas take many more years, and effort.
It makes me think, is living in your desired place luxury, like owning a Rolls Royce? Or is the freedom to move a fundamental right that one should strive for, like when people rightfully demand to be treated equally, regardless of their skin color?
I see challenges in life as an opportunity for people to improve themselves. If everything would be too easy for us, we wouldn't become any better - and what would be the point of such life..? Therefore, I feel like figuring out some way how to navigate in this world is just one of the challenges that I need to get through. Perhaps, one day I will find my close-to-perfect place. Or maybe, it's me who needs to change, to find a home. What do I know? And so, the roller coaster goes on. Due to the strange ways life sometimes goes, I wrote most of this text in Italy. Who knows. The world can be a bit of a riddle, but it is an amazing place to be. I am continuing my search, trying to keep my smile on. And I will keep on.
The featured picture atop this article is a colored screenshot of my artwork "Duality," which is about the many sides of challenges we face. See details here.
If you have a thought on this topic, please feel free to get in touch. I love to hear others' standpoints. Otherwise, since you made it all the way here, you might also like these posts:
"EU versus USA" - Breaking down some stereotypes about each other.
"Airport Stories" - Experiences from the facilities that connected my journeys across the countries.
Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories