Adaptation: what I’ve learned from being a migrant

Posted: January 4, 2013 by jennroig in Articles, Chronicles, English, Miscellaneous, Travels
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

To Ale:



I’ve just finished talking with a friend. A Facebook chat conversation, like almost every conversation I’m able to have with friends lately. The thing is I’m part of a diaspora, and the definition of diaspora is precisely that people from the same homeland must leave and end up scattered around the world. Ergo, Facebook and Skype come in handy when it comes to keep in touch with old friends.

So, my friend also left Cuba. He’s been living in Canada for 7 months now. He’s dealing with Adaptation. As he was describing his progress, his feelings, his projects and also his fears, obstacles and longings, I found myself trying to comfort him while passing somehow the message that everything will be better and easier with time. He is quite a lucky migrant actually, considering how much he has been able to achieve in such short period. And then I realized that I’ve learnt a great deal about coping with Adaptation. So, here are some of the stuffs I’ve found and learnt along the way.


Corey Templeton

Corey Templeton

At the beginning, it feels weird. Somehow, you feel days running so fast, it suddenly gets dark and it’s already night so soon! But later, in the long run, only a couple of months have gone and you may feel it like half a year… I’m no psychologist, or sociologist, but I believe it has something to do with learning. You are living in a new location -city, town or country-, you have a new job or school, new bedroom, new neighborhood, maybe a different language, different people around, and most shaking: no routine. It will be a lot of information to process, on a daily basis. Your brain will be under stress when you’ll have to drive new roads, or taking new routes on a public transportation. You’ll need to look for sources of news, and suddenly you’ll realize that you care, you need to keep yourself posted, about the news from homeland, but local media doesn’t cover it, or it does it in a sloppy and misinformed way. So you’ll have to turn to foreign media, or to your homeland media. And that’s how you’ll find yourself hooked up with Internet. And Internet will become such a priority that you will put it first than having a TV, a couch, or the bookcase that you loved when you visited IKEA to buy the most elementary stuffs you needed to survive.


Time also relates to weather. Unless you’ll resettle on the same geographic parallel, chances are you’ll need to adjust to seasons. If you are a creature from the Tropics like myself, then you’ll have to learn how to function on the shorter and colder winter days of temperate zones. On the contrary, if you were born there and move to the Tropics, then you’ll need to cope with humidity and warmer temperatures. For sure you will have to learn how to deal with a very different flora and fauna. Some allergies will probably go, but some new affection will replace them.

Cuban food

Cuban food

Food: Oh! Be prepare to change your diet. This can be a very funny part of the experience of a migrant, or an absolute nightmare. There will be food you’ll miss from home that you won’t be able to find now, but if you keep yourself open to the possibility of new tastes, textures and colors, a whole new interesting and delicious universe can unfold for your amusement and satisfaction.

Mastering the city:

I’ve been living mostly on cities since I left. But for those of you who are planning to settle in Alaska, Puerto Montt or Nakhodka, then let’s refer to mastering the local geography.  It takes time to draw your own map of your new spot. I mean, it is upsetting to feel lost in an unfamiliar place. As a beginner, you’ll move slower. It would seem you can’t arrive on time to important meetings because of a stupid turn at a wrong corner. Well, it’s temporary. You’ll learn. First, you’ll master the art of understanding maps, later you won’t need it anymore and addresses will be so easy to find and very logic to you.

But that’s not the most important, or the most challenging. The hardest it’s to locate the useful places, such as where to buy cheap, or where to find some foreign food you are missing, where is the best shopping boulevard, the best laundromat, who’s the tailor you can trust, the perfect hairdresser for you, where are the best cafes, or the cool art galleries, cinemas, parks, sport fields… As time goes by, you’ll notice Internet becomes less necessary because you don’t need to google all these places whenever you find yourself with a new need.


This is the most complicated part, from my perspective. I believe relationships can change us, not for the better or the worse, just change us. Loneliness will be a risk, and at times a painful reality. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be the norm. Adapting to a new culture is the most challenging, different values, habits, ways to open communication with strangers…

However, I’ve found people from all over are very similar at the core. I’ve made great friends, and they certainly come from very different places around the world. We are indeed very different when it comes to the details, but so alike in what it matters the most. So, take the best from them, appreciate their virtues, especially if they don’t even like to see them. Appraise their good food, music, dances, sports, forests, mountains, beaches, lakes, women or men, education system, freedom of the press, technological development, history, literature, drugs… every place have something to brag about.

Hold your criticism, at the beginning, because you’ll find so many stuffs to be critical about. But at a point, you will feel confident enough to let them know your opinions, but make sure they understand that you are not intending to hurt, and that no bad intention leads you… At the end of the way, people tend to appreciate honesty, because someone honest is someone you can trust.

Finally, I’m not advising anyone to be patient if you don’t like the city or country where you are. The world is huge, keep looking for the right spot for you, don’t give up! If you had the guts to leave your hometown, your family and maybe childhood friends to go to some strange land, not as result of a promotion or because you were hired for a great job, but because you felt that freedom is important and you hadn’t any at home, and you believe it is necessary to have projects for the future, goals, at least a different kind of problems or challenges, you deserve to feel ok about that new destination. Don’t force yourself to be misserable for a while, hoping things get better. I do believe in love at first sight when it comes to countries or cities. Believe me, it’s first hand experience. You will need a lot of goodwill and optimism when you are settling on a new spot. Bureaucracy will be challenging, to say the least. And as much as you may have felt that you really like to stay there, you’ll find so many obstacles on your way, and you’ll have plenty of time to dissapoint yourself and reasons to complain. So, if it’s not love at first sight, don’t settle for less. If you have no means to run away to the next location, then feed some hope, come up with a project and work for it. You’ll find it will actually make your days easier and meaningful.

So you won’t find yourself as this guy… (it’s in Cuban Spanish)

  1. Sunny says:

    You captured a lot in a small space. I’m a migrant, too, in a sense. And yes, some of your analysis was spot-on. Bien hecho.

    • jennroig says:

      Thanks, Sunny, I appreciate your words. I wrote this in rush, without giving it a lot of thought, hoping that my take away could be similar to others and not one of a kind. Nice to hear that you found it accurate.

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