Migration – the act of moving from one spatial unit to another.

From The Evolutionary Ecology of Animal Migration by R R Baker, 1978

It’s a question I like to ask myself: why am I here? This question has many nuances. There’s the broader, more profound version of why do I exist? Then there’s the more concrete version of why do I live in the city I am living? I gave this question the proper attention if deserves after I graduated from University. Like many other people I went straight to university after high school. I worked hard for good grades. It was a joyfully proud moment when I walked across the stage under the spotlight to receive my degree, a representation of the last four years of my life. Once the celebrations were over, the dark realization hits. Now what?

I started searching for the next step although I wasn’t sure what it looked like. I had the uneasy feeling of being in limbo. It’s like searching for a triangle when you were only taught circles and squares. I meditated a lot during this time, which always ended with a strong desire to live abroad. I chose to do this through furthering my education and thus being able to stay in another country on a student visa.

“How can you know what you’re capable of if you don’t embrace the unknown?”

–Esmeralda Santiago

Move One

I flew 8,907mi (14334.43km) to New Zealand in a Boeing 747-400, the largest plane I’ve ever been on. During the journey, the screen in front of me revealed our flight path across the Pacific Ocean. The line on the map reminded me of animal migration paths I learned at university. From dragonflies to whales, all major animal groups migrate. The motives, directions and distances are varied. Some migrate to better feeding areas, some for warmer climates during winter, and others for breeding. Memories of migrating Canadian geese V-lining across the Michigan summer sky invaded my thoughts. But why were the 400 plus passengers traveling to New Zealand? Why was I moving to New Zealand?

An ambiguous yearning for the unknown lead me to pick a city at the opposite side of the world that I did not know much about. I enrolled in a two-year course, which gave me plenty of time to get to know this new country. Two years turned into six. After many road trips, getting to know the people, the coasts and the wildlife, I found myself in the same place as before. I landed in limbo trying to figure out what my next step would be. I knew I was not yet ready to settle down. So I jumped ship again.

Move Two

The Australian gannet (Morus serrator) is a seabird notorious for epic ocean dives while feeding on fish. Most of their breeding colonies are dotted along New Zealand’s prime real estate. Fledglings, who have only known the New Zealand coast, leave their nest to journey across the Tasman Sea to Australia, where they stay for several years before returning to the colony.

I flew a shorter distance this time: 2,284km (1419mi) to Australia. While the distance is short, the countries are vastly different with new scenery and new wildlife to explore. As I walk around, getting to know my new home, unfamiliar bird calls sing out above me. The magpie and myna birds now replace the tui and kereru. The botanical garden displays a preview of what the Australian landscape holds. It is both exciting and daunting to move to another place. Heights of optimism are followed by troughs of self-doubt. Nevertheless, I’m here now. And whatever happens will happen.

What did I learn?

  • I am privileged. I felt the stress of visa applications and the possibility I would have to return home. But my home is a nice place, in a developed country, and with a wonderfully supportive family. If I had to return home, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.
  • Moving is exciting. Then it’s nerve-wracking, and then exciting again. It is stressful, but in a good way. The stress is forcing growth.
  • What I needed and didn’t need in my life. Both moves I took two checked in suitcases and my carry on. Everything else that I couldn’t fit, I gave away. It was like pulling off a band-aid. I had to be ruthless and let go of clothes, trinkets, and nail polishes. I minimized my life into what fits in a few pieces of luggage. Once it was done I had a sense of relief.
  • I am strong. Being in a new place away from close friends and family can be lonely. Waves of homesickness have crashed over me, but I’ve learned to search for a lighthouse. Whenever I felt sad or overwhelmed I headed out to nature. How can you be sad when you see the horizon embrace the ocean or mountains greet the sky? There are bigger things out there than myself.
  • I have an accent. Obvious as it may be, an accent is not as noticeable as when you are surrounded by others with a different one to yours. No matter how long I’ve spent in another place, my accent will always expose me as a foreigner.
  • Life goes on. The oddest response to being away from home came when I returned for the first time. I had to readjust to my hometown sorting through what has changed and what remained the same.
  • Airports are not fun. Airports are only a necessary means to an end.

Was it worth it?

Venturing into the unknown for me is as worth it as when the monarch butterfly travels to Mexico for warmer weather. It is essential for my being. If I stayed home I would have always asked myself, “what if?” As opposed to short term travel, I feel I’ve challenged myself in different ways. I pushed my boundaries by moving my life to the other side of the world. Then once I got too comfortable, I challenged myself further by moving again.

I am intrigue by the reasons other people move. There is an estimated nine million people who emigrated from the United States, and copious amounts more going to and from other countries. I am not doing anything unique. I am only joining other immigrants.  If you have left your home country, share your reason why in the poll below.