“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”- Kahlil Gibran
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Home is where the
heart income is
My son’s nanny, Tita R and I were bonding over tea when she told me she’s been here in France for 28 years now. She came, as many Filipinos do, to search for a better life for her and her family. “Those were tough times”, she said. “Especially during winters when depression would set in and there’s nothing you can do but stay indoors and wait for better weather” I told her it must have really been better than staying under the warm, sunny skies of the Philippines if she endured those long years in this foreign land. To this she replied, “I’m ambitious and that drove me to stand firm on my decision to stay. I accepted all kinds of jobs just to earn money because life was really hard back home. Now I’m more relaxed. I already purchased properties in ‘Pinas and I have a steady income. All my children are here with me, they are French citizens and are living comfortable lives. I believe I’ve reached my dreams.”
Many people like Tita R share the same background story that led them to make a home in countries far, far away from their birthplaces. But migration is not a new phenomenon- the very first people of my country were immigrants: some were “boat people” from the neighboring islands, while others crossed the land bridges before the melting of ice thousands of years ago. Even when we analyze the reasons for migration, my ancestors wanted the same thing as we do: an improvement of their situation. It doesn’t matter whether they were running from tribal wars or looking for more fertile land to cultivate. What motivated them was their search for the means to progress in this world.
Still, it was to Tita R’s surprise when I told her why me and my husband decided to come to France: to live an adventure.
Migration is a family-based decision
I’ve always appreciated the fact that my husband and I are lucky when it comes to our families’ financial stability. We’re no Trumps nor Slims, but we are assured of some amount of security.
Immigrants don’t necessarily come from poor families, but one thing they have in common is their search for “something better” than what they have back home. It doesn’t matter whether one ends up as a domestic helper or an executive officer in the host country- if that person is enduring being away from his loved ones, it’s because it’s worth it. It means he wouldn’t go back home beause his whole family would experience a lower standard of living. By keeping his job abroad, he could help his family and assure them of a more stable life, even if he has to sacrifice his own comfort and happiness.
For an immigrant, a loss of job translates to zero remittance for his family; which in turn could mean unpaid debts, siblings skipping school, additional debts… And any type of additional expense is a dent on the future projects for oneself, but mostly for the family.
My husband and I didn’t have to consider any of those factors when we decided to leave Spain. We most certainly thought about how we would miss our families and friends and how they would also regret having us far away. But it was not a main element. What was important for us during that time was where we could go to make room for professional and personal growth. For us, the “final say” was still family-based, but limited only to him and me. This made the decision of migration so much easier because we were driven by other types of needs.
A. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
During my senior high school’s Introduction to Economics class, one of the topics that fascinated me the most was the hierarchy of human needs developed by Abraham Maslow.
Image courtesy of: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org
Basically, Maslow has arranged a list of human needs which when fulfilled, will assure good psychological health. Given that Economics uses behavioral approaches, it is only fitting for us to consider the factors that motivate our actions in the short and long term.
The principle of this hierarchy or pyramid of needs is that the base of the pyramid has to be fulfilled up to a certain degree before the human psyche can be aware of the higher-level needs. The physiological needs come first, as they are essential for survival; then come the safety needs followed by love and belongingness needs, then the esteem needs and finally the self-actualization needs. Simply put: a beggar would risk being hit by a car in a highway if it means increasing the probability of getting money from people across the road.
I have been tossing and turning this idea in my head ever since we arrived in Paris. More so, when we realized how difficult it is to fit in this beautiful but competitive city. Many times, I had to remind myself why we decided to come here again; why we decided to leave our permanent jobs back home and embark into this new adventure; why we took off from a very comfortable zone where we apparently had everything.
If we use Maslow’s pyramid to analyze our former situation, here’s what I came up with:
- Physiological needs: we were literally well-fed not only because we could afford to sustain ourselves but because my mother in law would cook for us and bring us containers of frozen home-made meals
- Safety: my husband and I had permanent jobs, as I mentioned; we had a wonderful apartment at the heart of the city with good transportation services, yet with a residential feel to the area
- Love/belonging: we most certainly had each other but both sets of our families were also in Madrid and we had a stable social network we could count on anytime of the day
- Esteem: we were both confident as a couple and in our own selves; we had enough self-esteem to practice assertiveness; we are also well-appreciated by our friends, our respective employers and colleagues; the circle of good and intelligent people that surrounded us gave us a sense of achievement
- Self-actualization: we felt that there was little room for creativity since the routine we have created was a relaxed, stable one. I suppose one could say we were itching for a change because we felt we were starting to get sucked into monotony… We were even a little burnt out from our jobs and wanted a chance to explore other possibilities
Seeing this list made me understand people’s reactions when I tell them my case (widened eyes and a mouth shaped as semi-perfect “O”). While it was very obvious for me that a young couple from this generation would long for a challenge, it seemed out of this world for them that would we turn our backs on something so solid, so safe.
Of course, I had to experience starting life over again before realizing that self-actualization is not the only challenge we would have to overcome.
Starting from scratch
If nobody prepared us for the difficulty in finding a job in Paris, nobody prepared us for the difficulty of EVERYTHING in starting a life here, basically. We expected difficulties, of course. Even Alice with her magic mushrooms bumped into a lot of hardships in Wonderland. But we weren’t ready for the extremely arduous tasks of finding an apartment, setting up your social security, finding a job, keeping a job (because there are a lot of temporary ones offered), setting up a bank account (will tell you more about the Compte Nickel which helped us a lot!), finding a general practitioner (or other types of doctors, for that matter), etc… Name it, and Paris makes it 5 times more difficult! (Mainly because somehow, you always, ALWAYS manage to forget a piece of document when taking care of any paperwork).
In retrospect: I realized that by wanting to be self-actualized, my husband and I risked losing everything we’ve established! I went from top to bottom of the hierarchy and here’s what I found:
- Esteem: in my case, I couldn’t seem to find a job which made me feel utterly useless and very, very confused. In my husband’s case, he felt a bit intimidated with the demands in his work and it shook his confidence
- Love/belonging: we lost the sensation warmth and coziness our friends gave us back in Madrid. We had to rebuild relationships and it’s tough! One might think that as Spain and France are neighbors, there might be some similarities among its people- but that thought couldn’t be any more wrong…
- Safety: while painstakingly looking for an apartment, we lost the sense of security we had before coming here. We didn’t expect to face the very real possibility of drowning our resources on Airbnb rentals!
- Physiological: perhaps this was the only one that was non-negotiable for us. This was the basic pre-requisite for us to stay and keep on struggling
Is the grass really greener on the other side?
A greener meadow doesn’t just automatically show itself. Most of the times, finding it could take a little longer than expected and it could be hidden behind a gigantic, rocky and steep cliff. But mostly, the answer depends on how one chooses to see what life has to offer.
In my case, I could say that after a year and a half in Paris WE FINALLY FOUND THAT GREENER PASTURE. Once again, our basic needs are currently being met while both my husband and I are doing our best to attain self-actualization: him, through his PhD and me, through motherhood.
This does not mean that life is easier. It is, however, giving us the chance to exercise our potentialities. The socio-economic structure of France lets me and my husband live on lesser earnings than what we had in Spain. Most of all, we are able to live pleasantly without me being employed and caring for my infant son- all the while receiving different kinds of support (for instance, the government provides money for infant daycare, access to free healthcare, benefits for the unemployed and the French is a society that is very considerate to both mothers and children).
Ben, oui! la vie me sourit… (Why, yes! life smiles at me…)
- Abraham Maslow, availabe at: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/abraham-maslow/