Migrant Emotions - Official Book & Website

This book deals with the many unanticipated feelings and challenges that come with immigration. It can be a bedside companion to remind you that, although you may be far away, you are not alone. In its pages you will discover how to:

  • recognise and overcome the frequent emotional challenges of being an immigrant
  • prepare for visits ‘here’ and ‘there’
  • cope with the sense of loss
  • acknowledge the effects of immigration on your career and marriage
  • realise how settled you are in your adopted country

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10 Apr 2019

Migration surprises keep coming.

Anthony Baker
I went to my Uncle Ant's funeral a few weeks ago. This meant a trip across the ditch (the Australian and New Zealand term for crossing the Tasman Sea to each other's country). I was unsure about going; I had visited my Sydney uncles eighteen months earlier, when they’d bantered like Morecambe and Wise. People close to me said I wouldn't regret it. They were right.

When the coffin left the chapel, my throat closed and my tear ducts opened. The tears weren't only for the person in the coffin, they were for all the people I have loved who I’m no longer am able to touch – my father, Ant’s eldest brother, being one of them.

When Dad was dying I received the call that said, if you want to see Dad alive you had better come now. Ant must have had the same call or email, because he arrived in Dad's hospital room a few hours after me.

Ant and his brother and sister had migrated to Australia in the sixties as ‘Ten pound Poms.’ As Ant's career was in shipping, London was a business destination, which meant we saw him more than our other Australian relatives. Ant would tell us about shark-infested beaches protected by nets, Christmas Day on the beach, and having so much sun you didn't want to go out in it. We were captivated. He became known as Uncle Australia.

Perhaps it was hearing his tales that made me open to living in another country. Like others who leave their homelands, I had assumed that migration was a mostly positive experience. Uncle Ant seemed happy. He was able to visit his parents and us, and his mother and father often went to see him and his family.

When Dad was dying, I had been living in New Zealand for ten years. I had three children under five.   I already had many doubts about bringing my children up in an environment very different to the one I was brought up in. Since Dad's diagnosis two years earlier, we had made two trips to see him while he was well. Saying goodbye each time was a punch on my heart.

I assumed it was only me who was struggling with living with a heart in two homes. I decided it was my habit of over-analysing, together with hormonal panics and self-doubt, making me feel so torn between the place I live and love, and the place I once lived and still love.

In the hospital, Ant and I talked about the journey over. He winced when he realised I’d left my young children behind. He listened when I told him how torn I felt. Then he said, almost casually, ‘It doesn't get any better, you just get more used to it.’

I had an ally. Here was someone who knew the feeling of being away from family, my sofa, my daily environment.  My father's brother knew what I was going through because he’d been through it himself and was going through it now with his brother.

It meant so much to me to have someone there who understood.

From that time on I realised that many migrants struggle with having a heart in two homes. I may have been irrational or over-sensitive, but even if I was, I now knew that I was not alone.

Twenty-two years later I was present for Ant's funeral. This time I didn't have to go around the world, only 'across the ditch.' I travelled with my sister Jaine, who has lived in New Zealand for the past eleven years.  During the sun-filled day we met up with ten of our cousins, their spouses and children, aunts, uncles and distant cousins. To be amongst such familiar and familial faces, mannerisms, stories and senses of humour was a joy. When my cousin Aiden scratched the right side of his neck with a pointed index finger, just as my twenty-two-year-old travelling nephew had when he’d stayed with us during the Christmas holidays, my sense of belonging swelled.  I don't think these two had met; I don't remember my grandparents having this mannerism and so perhaps it really was genes that dictated that hand gesture. Throughout the day family stories came out in a variety of themes, depending how the storyteller remembered them, or who had passed on the story to the storyteller. The new and retold stories were received equally keenly. Did I regret going to the funeral ? No way. I loved it. My belonging tank had been topped up.

Uncle Ant was my ally who helped me see how living far away can be managed. His funeral reminded me that our family may be scattered, but we are all part of a warm and caring family network. We are allies. We may be disconnected geographically but we are connected by history, by genes, and by caring and family love.

My paternal Grandparents Phil and Grace Baker. 3/5 of their children went to Australia in the sixties.
Farewell to Grace and Phil as they leave UK to visit the Australian relatives

21 Mar 2019

Careless talk costs lives. NZ mourns.

On Friday 15th March 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand a man filled with hate shot and killed fifty people in two mosques.  Saturday morning my husband David and I spent three hours absorbing the TV coverage. Many of those killed and injured were migrants. There was a lot of talk about hate. We wept at the acts of compassion and love.
I came away wanting to know why someone would be so driven to carry out such a heinous act. Why would someone have so much hate? 

Like the world I am shaken that this has happened in gentle New Zealand. In our sadness we have to remind ourselves that the act on Friday was race motivated. Hate for a group that was different to the man who called the shots that day.

What do we know about hate?

  1. We hate what is different. The Psychology of Hate by Get Psyched stated we form an in-group and an out-group. We turn to our in-group for survival.
  2. Hate is driven by love and aggression. Love for the group you belong to and aggression for the group you don’t. You will probably feel that your in-group is right in all facets, and the out-group is wrong.
  3. Hate is driven by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that those in the out-group will affect those in the in-group. The killer's manifesto apparently said that he feared that Muslims would take over the world, and  "He wrote about becoming “increasingly disgusted” at immigrant communities."  
  4. Get Psyched suggested that we often hate other people who are achieving something we cannot or fear we cannot achieve for ourselves. Why would this man hate Muslims so much?  I wondered what the killer saw in the Muslim way of life that he felt he could not achieve in his? Like all religions Islam has obligations. Muslims attend the mosque for collective prayer, just as other faiths gather for collective prayer. Arranging your life so that you can pray at a mosque on a Friday, a western work day would take conviction. You would need a strong sense of identity. Maybe this man was missing that. Perhaps he hated the sense of purpose, faith and belonging he saw in Muslims. He envied it. I suggest he feared he would never have such conviction. Unfortunately for us, his hate gave him a strong enough sense of conviction to massacre fifty people.
  5. We are not born with hate. Hate is learnt from our environment. When 9/11 happened in 2001, the Christchurch killer was five years old. In the following ten or so years anyone with a beard and brown eyes seemed to be suspected to be a terrorist. If our social conscience develops at seven, then he had enough racism in his environment to form an opinion. This man’s hate may have been fueled by extremists on line, but the racism was also reinforced by his encounters with people he engaged with face to face.

There was racism before the internet. Many of us if not all of us would have heard a racist comment in social gatherings, a workplace, a party, a bar, a barbecue, a family dinner. What did we do when we heard those comments?

Over the last few days we have been moved by compassion and grief. As a nation we have laid flowers and donated money. We have attended vigils. We have wept. We have felt helpless what more can we do?

We can show some practical aroha (compassion.)
Love and compassion is the antidote to hate. We can show compassion by being more informed about the group that is different to us. We already have learnt more about the process for a Muslim funeral.  The more you know about the out-group, the less you will feel they are the out-group.

What else can we do?

Halt the hate. Stop racist comments gaining traction. When you hear a racist joke or comment, you could respond with, "Those comments are a bit out of date," or, “I'm going to disagree with you on that," or, "I don't see it that way."
With racist jokes, you could say, “I'm feeling uncomfortable about the victim of the joke," or, “I can’t laugh about that." Another suggestion I was given recently was to ask the joke teller to explain the joke which would produce an accountable if awkward silence.

Racist comments are often flippant or careless. Said by people who care less. Let us give new meaning to, “Careless talk costs lives.”
New Zealand is showing unity and love at the moment. Racism in New Zealand has been highlighted. Soon the flowers will be cleared away. There will still be racism. We need to continue to show aroha by learning more about people who are different to us. We need to halt the hate. We need to stop the careless talk by speaking out.

"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me."
Martin Niemöller

24 Dec 2018

Homesickness? Last minute top tips for those away from home at Christmas Season

Tomorrow is Christmas day  in New Zealand. I am looking forward to it.

Until my mid-twenties Christmas was feasting on turkey and Christmas pudding with a large family, walking off the feast at dusk, (rarely in snow), and then snacking on Quality Street, cold turkey, satsumas and nuts as we slouched around the fire.

Then I did the traveling thing.

Christmas was full of differences. Long summer days, (not necessarily sunny), ham, salads and trifle and no family around. There was phone calls, but the longer the phone call was, the more you missed the people you talked to. We were apart.

Having spent over three decades, with a different Christmas, I have learnt to accept it for what it is. This year Christmas is different again, not because my two oldest are absent again, but because this time we have two lovely travelers with us, my nephew and his girlfriend. So migrants and travelers out there here are some tips for Christmas away from loved ones. I hope some of them help.

  • Every Christmas is different in some way. Christmas changes throughout your life. Acknowledge and delight in the differences of your unique Christmas this year.
  • If the Christmas you are spending is very different, look at it through, 'this is bizarre' eyes, and smile.
  • When connecting with distant loved ones on the day through phone/social media note:
    • The festivity is disjointed. You are in different time zones. For example, if you are in the same time zone as NZ, you do Christmas before anyone else. You are 'over Christmas' by 10pm whereas UK is just getting started at 9am. The atmosphere from either ends of the phone will be different which can add to the feelings of distance.
    • Keep the conversations short. The reception is likely to be weak and the phone call/Skype etc. is likely to be intermittent. Don't spend too long on the phone, just enough time to say I love you,  I miss you, (if you do), I hope you have a great day. Plan to have a chat soon to let them know how it went.
  • It is likely that you will feel sad at some stage in the day. That is okay. If you are much more sad than glad, make a list of what would make it better for you for next year.
  • For a variety of reasons you are not with some of your loved ones.  Remember you still can have a good day. Be positive about your presence.
  • If the people around you do not ask, offer as a conversation piece, the highlights of your Christmas day, and how it is different, but avoid whose Christmas is better. Christmas is not a competition. Every Christmas is different in some way.

I would like to wish you a meaningful unique Christmas, and a season where the peace, hope and love lasts much longer than the leftovers.

2 Nov 2018

Goodbyes. Can they be fun?

My pattern of goodbyes has been described in my book; there is even a chapter on goodbyes. I expected a similar pattern for the departure of my adult children after their two-and-a-half week stay, but it was not the same. There was actually a sense of fun about the goodbye. What made it different? Why was it more fun than sad? Maybe these points helped:
  • My children, M and C, were leaving together. 
  • They were off on another flight adventure.
  • I decided take the day off and watch them get ready, and be useful when I could.
  • A, another daughter who also had a day off advised them, "Torn top - no. Home-made chilli sauce, yes. Six jackets are excessive, take four at the most."
  • The packing and preparation felt like a finale following the great times of the last two weeks.
  • There was the sense of an event in the air. 
  • M sitting on her suitcase
  • Nervous energy released our children's child-like characteristics and behaviour. C, nicknamed Bugle, bounced from room to room looking for last possessions, discarding and repossessing jackets and clothes as the suitcases were weighed and reweighed. Bugle called out a few times, "I'm ready now" as he scanned M's takeover of the lounge. Eventually the piles of clothes that had covered the carpet were magically reduced in volume to almost fit into her suitcase. Nothing extra pressure couldn't fix.

Driving to the airport, singalong music played, but we didn't sing along much. They checked-in, then it was coffee time, conversation lulled, twitching started, and the travellers patted their carry on. It was time. With long hugs, and brave smiles, we held back tears and had a last wave.

Home from the airport I drifted into their bedrooms. The beds had been stripped, but their aura was still around.  There was no good reason to make up the beds yet. 

What made this goodbye different? Was it the fact that we had a blast as a family together? Was it that our adult children wanted to continue the fun theme we had had for the last two weeks? It could be that the C and M are in a great stage of life where they only have to be responsible for themselves. At the moment they seem to be enjoying their lives, which is always a bonus and a relief as a parent. It may have been that the pain of departing was felt just as equally by my husband and our two other children. When other UK visitors had left, I felt it was me who experienced the loss the most because it was my mother, my sibling, or my friend who left. Maybe with the two travelling together I thought they wouldn't feel so isolated.  

There is the minor factor that we had such an active time with each other the routine of normality had an attraction to it.  Did I really admit to that?  Maybe after thirty years of goodbyes I have become more accepting of goodbyes, and so more relaxed. 

I think what eased the goodbye mostly was that we are due to see them again in May 2019 for my sister's wedding, so it was more of a - 'see you later' than a goodbye. 
The combination of the above reasons made this goodbye more fun. Admittedly, two days later, about the same time my children had landed on the other side of the world, I was grumpy. That was probably the time the goodbye became a reality for me. Their beds remain unmade.

Goodbyes are hard. The departing will hit you at different times. There are ways to make the leaving easier. I am glad that having spent thirty years saying goodbyes I have discovered another variation - a fun one.

I have written more blogs on goodbyes. Search for 'goodbyes' on my blog or click on Ten Ways to make Goodbyes easier.

Let us know of your experiences and thoughts on goodbyes in the comments below.

5 Oct 2018

Furtive Fun and a Family United

My husband became sixty in August.  A year before our son, C living twelve thousand miles away in London had announced that he would be with us in New Zealand for the signicicant birthday. Our daughter M, also in London was noncommittal. A few months before the event I realised that it had been nearly five years since our family unit had been together for a happy occasion. Like a mother hen checking on her chicks I had a need to have our family unit united.

I was reluctant to influence M's decision to be here with us. I have been in a similar situation to M where events the other side of the world beckon, but you are not sure whether you should or can be there. When in contact with M I held back from asking, "Have you thought anymore about coming for a trip?" The effort to hold back grew from a gentle mental simmer to near boiling as my desire to have us all together increased. Do I stay silent or let M know how much it would mean to me to have all the family together?

M and I had an arranged private phone call one evening "to talk about Dad's birthday present." When she rang I was tucked up in bed, but when I heard her announcement that she was coming after all I was the woman dancing in the street, well dancing around the bed anyway.  M's sister was in another bedroom so my air punching and jigging to my mirror had to continued silently as I absorbed the arrangements of M's arrival. The next two months felt like I was the only one who knew Christmas was coming.

Cut out M with her buddy, Panda
Amongst the birthday party arrangements there were suggestions from all family members for activities for C's stay. Going to an All Black game (one  extra ticket furtively included,) a trip away to Queenstown (one extra plane ticket, accommodation and a car for six, not five secretly booked), all four bedrooms tidied and made up 'ready for extra guests at the party.' The furtiveness was fun. When family members and friends asked what about M? "Oh well, it seems she can't take the time off work." When asked,  "Do you think she is going to come and surprise us?" I replied, "With M  you never know. Perhaps not."  How delighted I was to be in the know. When other siblings were concerned that M would feel left out as the rest of us were holidaying I suggested having a cardboard cut out of her. We would take it with us to the Rugby and to Queenstown so that she would be in all the photos.

What I noticed most about knowing the family was to be together was how my motivation changed. I was happy to prepare for the party, and our son arriving, but I was like an non-stop train when preparing for the getting together of our family.  Family is what I am good at. I have been managing this family is for 26 years. This is my skill set. This was a chance for us to make great memories. Nothing is going to stop me.

As migrants know, any visitor inspires a tidy up. The closer the visitor the more is done. The arrival date becomes the deadline. The challenge is to pack in as many necessary and unnecessary tasks before hand to ensure you can have the best time possible: a house spring clean, digitising all the VHS films, gardening, car washing, meal precooking, getting ahead with work. D and A were shocked with my tasking ticking off including cleaning fly poo off ceilings till my neck was put out for a week; maybe an overkill, but I had a smile on my face as I cleaned.

When we picked up our son from the airport, I ran out to greet him. D and A waited to see if C was alone. Of course I knew he was. We had three lovely days to relish our son on his own. Then the day came where he and I were going out for an 'early lunch.' D asked where we were going, "It's a surprise" I said. The next two days I delighted in witnessing the surprise reaction of people when they first saw M.  M walked into A's pharmacy. A squealed and laughed and hugged and smiled. I watched as the whole pharmacy craned their necks and smiled at each other with teary eyes. When D caught sight of M in the garden he started laughing and didn't stop until his daughter was in his arms, their cheeks blending tears of joy. The youngest, I, who had been expecting boring old Mum to pick her up from the airport went from head down to wide eyed to tears and an embrace. For those in my age group the surprise was like a double banger firework. Delight in seeing M, and then second delight in realising that our family was complete.

The next two weeks I fell in love with my family unit again. We had a holiday together that we all wanted to be at. The teenage sullenness had passed. I treasured this holiday and made the most of it. There is something lovely about knowing all your children are in one place, and accessible. For those of you who have this as normality, feel lucky and love it. For those whose family is scattered, the internet is a great way to keep in touch, and when you do get together, make the most of it. Enjoy touching them, being with them and making enough memories with them that will sustain you until the next time.

For the record, what do I feel about surprise visits? I think I like knowing about the surprise. What about you?

13 Jun 2018

Changing Perceptions of Migrants

“Jenny had it the hardest,” said Jenny's father Glen. “She was having a baby in the UK and we weren't there. They kick you out after a day over there.”

My feet shuffled. My lips pursed. Three times I had had babies without my parents around. I disagreed with Glen’s negative description of having babies in UK.  During a deep breath I noted that what rattled me most was the change in Glen's perception of his daughter's time in UK.

While Glen's daughter was in UK Glen described everything to be okay over there; having babies, working, childcare, even the delights of a winter Christmas. It was all okay because it needed to be for Glen. Now Jenny is back in her homeland, her time in UK in hindsight is open to criticism. Glen's perception of Jenny's time in UK has changed.

Lady or Granny?
Musician or Face?
Our perception changes to suit us. We may be aware of the change.
Looking at the pictures, you can either see the two images easily or you have to work at it. Our perception can change subconsciously or consciously. Sometimes the perception adjustment can take a great deal of effort.

Both migrants and their loved ones have changes in perception of the migrant’s host country and homeland.

 Changing perceptions of a migrant. 

 🥛 Glass half full or half empty
Perception Homeland
Perception Host Country

On leaving
Half empty
Half full
Excited about leaving. An adventure ahead
Culture  shock
Half empty
Half empty
Adjustment needed
Enjoying host country
Half empty
Half full

Half full
Half empty

Acceptance of differences
Half empty
Half full
Half empty
Half full
As long as there is enough

Migrants’ loved ones changing perception. Mila leaves her homeland.

 🥛 Glass half full or half empty
Perception Homeland
Perception Host Country

On leaving
Half full
Half empty
Can’t understand why she has to go.
Our place is good enough for us, why not for Mila?
Getting used to Mila being away
Half full
Half empty

Hearing Mila enjoying the host country
Half full
Half full
Mental adjustment. Being open-minded to Mila’s host country.
Visiting and having a good time in Mila’s new country

Half full
Half full
Making good memories in host country
If Mila returns to homeland permanently
Half full
Half empty

No need to adjust anymore

Migrant's perception changes for both the migrant's survival and for the migrant to get the most out of the country they have chosen to live in.

For the migrants' loved ones. 

When migrant's loved ones adjust their perception to embrace the host country the conversations can flow more easily which helps the to maintain a connection between the migrant and those they love.
The 'us' and 'them' feeling and language lessens.

If  migrant Mila returns to her homeland for good, the open and positive perception from her loved ones is less necessary. A conscious and or an unconscious bias against Mila's previous host country returns. Glen's language of using 'they' and 'them' and 'over there' revealed his  unconscious bias against UK.

Good to know:

  1. People's perception changes. Be aware of your changing perception or the people around you.
  2. The perception is often influenced by the fact that many people like to feel they are living in the 'best place.'
  3. The unconscious bias against a country or people can be changed. Reflective listening and gentle education helps to show people another perspective.  


"We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are." Anais Nin

Do you have expereinces of changed perception? Let me know in the comments.