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Insights: Emigrate now?
March 04, 2008

Emigrate now?

I suspect that some may find this week’s newsletter controversial as this is a sensitive subject to some – but it’s something that I’ve wanted to write about for some time.

It's fairly lengthy so please bear with me. Here goes!

Right now, South Africa seems to be experiencing another spate of what I can only call ‘emigrationitis’ as many educated people clamour to depart our shores for a new life elsewhere.

The decision to emigrate is, of course, a highly personal one and it would be foolish of me to pretend that I know what’s best for this person or that family. I don’t! Let me make it clear right up front that I fully respect the rights of others to do what they feel is right for them.

Ok, that said, I do have some views that I hope will be helpful to those of you who are currently having early thoughts about emigration and may be feeling confused and perhaps a little anxious.

You may well ask what my credentials are when it comes to imparting such advice?

Well, my family emigrated to South Africa from England, where I was born, in the late sixties. During my working career, I spent a total of seven years working abroad and I have been fortunate enough to have travelled extensively, from the UK, Europe and the US to the Caribbean, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. So I know what it feels like to emigrate as a pre-teen with parents in their late 40s/early 50s and I know something about what it’s like to live in other countries.

Be honest with yourself about your motivation

The first and most important piece of advice that I would give to anyone considering emigrating is this:

Think long and hard about your rationale. Are you driven primarily by a desire to build on who and what you are by experiencing a different environment and different culture or by a desire to escape from something or some situation which you perceive or feel to be uncomfortable?

You see, what worries me about all the coffee table and pub talk about emigration that I am increasingly hearing in our more well-to-do suburbs, is the fact that it is invariably focused on the need to get away from something that people perceive as uniquely bad or dislikable about South Africa. Very seldom, sadly, is it focused on something that is uniquely good or desirable about the prospect of a life in another country (other than the perceived absence of the dislikable elements of life in SA).

The problem with allowing a major life action step like emigration to be dictated by one’s need to get away from something is that one will actually never truly get away from it. Whatever you are running from will appear again, albeit in a somewhat different form, as long as you continue to focus on it.

If you emigrate with a sense of adventure; if you emigrate because of a deep-rooted desire to experience a very different life, a different culture, different traditions and possibly different languages or, at the least, different accents, then you won’t be disappointed.

On the other hand, if you emigrate with the primary reason of trying to escape something, while at the same time hoping that most other aspects of your life will remain much the same, then I fear you may be in for a rather unpleasant awakening.

I know of many South Africans who have left these shores only to try to establish a ‘little South Africa’ in their host country. They surround themselves with other South Africans and try hard to continue the customs and traditions with which they are familiar, using social outings to ridicule the traditions, customs and habits of their hosts.

Very often, after a few years, these people will return to South Africa after finally realising that they were never truly prepared - or desirous of - giving up the life that they led here. They learnt the hard way that the problems that they tried to escape were just as plentiful (albeit perhaps in a different form or guise) elsewhere.

Think about this:

Every day, in this country, we are bombarded with all sorts of bad news on a variety of different subjects from the economy to our health and education systems, the state of our politics, corruption and crime. With all this bad news, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that we live in a dreadful place and that we should get the heck out of here! It’s also easy to conclude that life in country X must be so much better because we never hear about such problems there… right?


Let me assure you that no matter where you decide to go and live in the world, you will still experience that daily bombardment of bad news on the same range of subjects, perhaps just with a somewhat different twist. And you’ll be surprised to find that South Africa and its problems hardly ever hit the radar screen in your adopted home!

This phenomenon explains why emigrants are often the biggest detractors of both the country they’ve settled in and the country they’ve left. While secretly hankering after life back home they desperately need to justify their life changing decisions. So while they’ll happily join forces with fellow emigrants to ridicule the locals in their new land, they’ll waste no time telling friends and family back home how crazy they are not to join them!

I’m not a great one for devouring newspapers or listening to every news bulletin. I prefer not to let the media – and their never-ending barrage of depressing news – get to me. I like to make up my own mind about this country from my own experiences (that are, I’m pleased to say, predominantly positive). But from time to time I get sent all manner of downbeat news about my country. And guess where from? From fiercely patriotic South Africans living abroad who scour the internet looking for bad news about SA that will help justify their prior decision to move and make them feel just that little bit more OK!

Avoid ‘groupthink’ and take responsibility

My second piece of advice to those considering emigration relates to what I call ‘groupthink’. I risk being criticized here for being too generic, but as I see it South Africans (at least those who fall into the category of would-be emigrants) are all too easily manipulated by ‘groupthink’.

What do I mean by this?

Groupthink is a concept I was introduced to when I studied for the MBA degree in the mid 80s. It refers to the tendency of people to want to ‘go with the group’ rather than stick their necks out and risk the embarrassment of holding a contrary view to what appears to them to be the group consensus.

And so it is, in my humble opinion, that supposedly well educated South Africans get too easily caught up in groupthink and the resultant ‘herd mentality’ that manifests itself in all manner of irresponsible behaviours, from participation in get-rich-quick Pyramid selling schemes to, well, yes… emigration!

I’m not saying that emigration is necessarily irresponsible behaviour; far from it. I’m saying that any decision to emigrate is irresponsible if it’s too heavily influenced by ‘the herd’ and not sufficiently by one’s own inner voice.

I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. It goes like this:

“Well if Thandi and Ryan are thinking of leaving then perhaps we’d better think about it too. I mean, they are a pretty level headed couple and they must know what they’re doing?”

Or like this:

“Well, everyone at the dinner party last night agreed that the country is losing skills at an alarming rate and our economy will collapse in five years. So I can’t imagine we have any other option than to get out while our money is still worth something.”

If enough people are saying something is true, then we will be inclined to believe it – even if we have very limited, or no personal experience of that something ourselves. This is precisely how the mass media get to have such an influence over what we do and how we feel.

To reap the just rewards from taking a big decision in one’s life, one needs to take full responsibility for that decision. By acting in accordance with what you believe to be right for you and then being prepared to accept full responsibility for the action, you will gain in confidence, you will feel in control of your life and you will be far more likely to succeed or prosper in what you take on.

Try a different outlook before you try a different country

Emigration is a surprisingly costly exercise. I’m not just talking about the money involved, which is normally substantial, but also the emotional costs of leaving a community, social network and job market with which you are familiar, for one with which you are not.

Before you dig deeply into your bank account to fund the move, consider whether a simple change of outlook might not bring about the same change that you believe you will achieve by moving across the world.

For many people, the perception that they own a larger than average nose might prompt them to opt for expensive corrective plastic surgery, when the problem is not really their nose but their perception of it. Surgery may lessen the nose but there’s no guarantee it will cure their perception problem.

If negative feelings about the prospects of South Africa are causing you to feel it’s time to get on the emigration bandwagon, do yourself and your family a favour and try these simple steps – that will cost you nothing other than a little time – first:

• Stop reading the newspapers and listening to the news for a month.
• Walk away when you hear someone talking negatively about the country or its problems
• Write out a list of all the things you love about SA and about being South African
• Be part of the solution, not the problem (in other words if there’s an aspect of our country that you dislike, think about what it is you can do to change it, even if that is just to consider taking a more positive view about it).
• Talk positively to your friends and family about the country. You’ll be amazed by how quickly this attitude rubs off on others (even if you get some surprised looks at first).
• Ask yourself how much you really know about the country to which you’re thinking of emigrating (Have you visited it? Have you lived there? Have you worked there? Do you know people from that country? Can you relate to them the way you do to your current friends?)

Get support and set goals!

My fourth and final piece of advice unashamedly aims to promote the wonderful industry of which I have chosen to be part.

If you are confronted with a big decision to make or a major change to navigate in your life, I would strongly recommend that you hire a life coach. A coach won’t make any key decisions for you and won’t take any of the responsibility for your decision or action away from you. But a coach will help you to see the decision or change from a new perspective – and, if it serves you - in a new, more positive and more exciting light.

It may be that you see emigration as the only solution to some problem you are facing right now. Or it may be that you wish to embark on a great life adventure.

Either way, a life coach will help you to understand what it is you really want to achieve and to structure inspiring goals and a manageable plan of action to achieve them. A coach will help you to understand the great freedom of choice available to you, discover the true wealth of resources you have at your disposal and harness the power of a belief system that serves you and your higher life purpose.

Perhaps you’ve read this newsletter with interest feeling that you are the kind of person who has a passion for assisting others when it comes to big decisions like whether or not to emigrate? If so, why not study, in your own time and at your own pace to become a respected New Insights life coach?

If this prospect interests you, please visit our website or contact me for more details. One thing’s for sure and certain – our country needs more great life coaches!

Till next week…

Warm regards


New Insights Africa Life Coaching Skills Training - Putting an Extraordinary Business within reach of Passionate People.

If you think you are Life Coach material why not study, at your own pace and in your own time, with New Insights Africa? If you have the passion, we have the skills, knowledge and support to offer you. Please visit our website.

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