Post Tagged with "immigration"

Neha: from Mumbai to Zagreb

Neha is an Indian expat living in Croatia with her husband. I interviewed her a while ago via email. You can visit her blog at Flying Suitcase

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Neha, and I am a freelance writer.

I was born in India, and spent my first few years in Mumbai. When I was four, I moved, with my parents, to Lusaka, Zambia. I still remember bits of that first journey in vivid details. My mother was nervous. I was upset – at having to leave our home and family behind. I remember the food in the plane – it was terrible, but I loved the packaging – I’ve always enjoyed airplane meals. I don’t remember arriving in Lusaka, but I don’t remember the day we left either.

For a long time Lusaka was home. There was a big Indian community and it made things very easy, especially for my parents. We celebrated all national and religious festivals with great pomp. In fact our whole year revolved around preparing of festivities; the desire to assert one’s cultural identity is so strong when you are away from home, it becomes the centre of your existence. It was only when we moved back to India that I realized the frenzy with which we celebrated all things cultural was not always the norm. (more…)

November 1, 2011 1 comment

Retracing the Journey of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

“Deprived of their wallets, phones and passports, they board a leaky refugee boat, are rescued mid-ocean, experience immigration raids in Malaysia, live in a Kenyan refugee camp and visit slums in Jordan before ultimately making it to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, protected by UN Peacekeepers and the US military. For some of them it’s their first time abroad. For all of them, it’s an epic journey and the most challenging experience of their lives…”

This is the story of six Australians who volunteered to retrace in reverse the journey that refugees have taken to reach Australia. The 3-part SBS series, Go Back To Where You Came From, aims to challenge the participants’ preconceived notions about refugees and asylum seekers.


July 1, 2011 Comments disabled

Nine books about moving abroad

Ever wondered what life would be like in another country? What is it like to pack up and leave forever to start again in a new place? A good story is still the best way to experience life through someone else’s eyes. These ten books tell about life from the perspective of migrants – of all kinds: first generation, second generation, and people living abroad for shorter periods of time.


May 5, 2011 1 comment

What does your name say about you?

I’ve always taken pride in my last name. That distinctive “-ski” ending, asserting a clear and concise Polish root.

I must have first become aware of the Polish-ness of “Makowski” sometime during early grade school. There always seemed to be a few of us in every class. Those rogue Makowski’s, Jablonski’s and Kotarski’s, deviously appearing on the role call next to the Smith’s and the Johnson’s. Those poor teachers would trip over the pronunciation for at least a week.

Then, there was that one time, out on the playground at recess. It must have been around third grade. One of my kiddy classmates made up a chant to help her remember my last name. “MA has a COW that SKIS. Ma-kow-ski!” She thought it was totally cool. So did I.

Over the years, I got used to the pronunciation blunders and spelling errors. I can’t even begin to count the times when I’ve had to dictate my last name to someone. In one breath, the unfortunate receiver’s response is always something like, “How in the hell is that spelled?”, immediately followed by, “That’s Polish, isn’t it?” Polish names do that. Confuse and clarify, both at the same time.


December 16, 2010 5 comments

Navigating Chicago's Cultural Stew

I have the luck of living and working in two of the most diverse neighborhoods not just in the city of Chicago, but also the whole USA: Rogers Park and Uptown. 

I was reminded of this fact by several people I met on a recent Monday night as I stopped into my favorite Rogers Park watering hole. It’s just a little neighborhood dive; cheap beer, pool table, dart boards, cracked tile, and the standard wood-paneling of any old-style American bar.

The bartender that night was Cuban-American, and I ended up in conversation with 3 Sudanese refugees. One of the Sudanese fellows wound up talking to an ethnically-mixed gentleman who grew up in Hyde Park (15+ miles away) about politics, while I spoke with his two friends about Sorghum and Millet (two types of grain very common in Africa) and the resulting beverages one can make from them… among other topics.

We were suddenly interrupted by a Mexican-American gentleman… he was either perturbed by the fact that I was speaking Spanish to the Sudanese immigrants (I was doing my best Cuban accent for them and the bartender), or that I wouldn’t speak Spanish with him.

In any case, he had some choice Spanish words for me, and I decided to head home for the evening. I could have been upset, but the ludicrousness of the situation just made me laugh. There wasn’t a potential for cross-cultural misunderstanding… there was going to be cross-cultural misunderstanding. It was as if five drivers obeying five different sets of driving laws all ended up on the same road.

I returned the next day to watch a hockey game with some friends, and found six Montenegrin immigrants (former Yugoslavia) quite jovially singing traditional songs together.

I talked to the bartender, and neither of us could figure out what had made the one gentleman so upset the night before. The best part was after I left, he apparently was trying to ask the Sudanese refugees if they would “step outside… I got my people outside,” in other words, he wanted to fight. The Sudanese gentleman had been confused: “What’s outside? Why would we want to go outside?” The bartender and I had a good laugh over that one.

In the Uptown neighborhood where I work, the maintenance staff of our building is mostly Bosnian. There’s a refugee/immigrants’ services organization that operates out of our building, and it’s not uncommon to see people in full Hijabs, Burkas, traditional Afghan dress, etc. entering and leaving the building. This is juxtaposed with a slew of “native” Chicagoans, with backgrounds typically from Poland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and other European countries, as well as a sizeable population of African Americans, and newer Mexican immigrants (and native-born Mexican-Americans). There is “Little Vietnam” just north of my office on Argyle, where you’ll find a wide plethora of Asian immigrants, and the buildings East of Sheridan road along the lake where you’ll find large numbers of retired people and dog-walking professionals living in condos.

It gets confusing sometimes; elevator etiquette, for example. Many Americans would prefer to completely ignore people they see in an elevator, even if they may have ridden together dozens, or even hundreds of times. This is generally my preference too. However, there are certain US subcultures, who generally believe it is rude not to speak to people. So every so often, I’ll adopt my usual glazed-eyed stare at the wall while the elevator goes up, and I’ll hear a *cough*, and a “Well, how do you do today too sir?”, indicating displeasure with my failure to greet them or make eye contact. I’ll smile sheepishly, and say “Oh, excuse me, I’m fine, how are you?” and do my best to strike up polite conversation, usually about the weather, sports, or lately, the economy.

It’s inevitable. You can make your actions as contextually specific as you want, but there are simply too many cultures present at any given time to always be able to effectively communicate. You just try your best, and are prepared to laugh at the results.

Chicago’s claim to fame has always been immigration. In horribly over-simplified order: Irish, Germans, British, Scandinavians, and Swedes; later African-Americans, Czechs, Lithuanians, Serbs, Croats, Greeks, Russian and Polish Jews, Italians, Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese; and more recently Mexicans, Caribbeans, Central Americans, Indians, a new smaller wave of Eastern Europeans, Africans and Middle Easterners. 

Neighborhoods have changed drastically in terms of main ethnic group since the early waves of immigration as well: Mexicans have replaced once-Czech Pilsen, though the East Side of Pilsen has lately become gentrified with artists and other non-Latinos. The major Puerto Rican neighborhood in the city, Humboldt Park, was previously a Jewish and Polish neighborhood, and before that, was mostly populated with Germans. Rogers Park formerly had large Jewish and Cuban populations, but is now a mix of most everybody.

Both neighborhoods have historically been points of entry for various immigrant groups, and as a result, in the stretch of Broadway and Sheridan road between them, I can buy pretty much any food product in the world. Sometimes on a Saturday, I’ll pick a recipe from a country I’ve never been to (and never cooked), and just try to find all the ingredients on my way home.

In the summertime, everyone in Rogers Park comes out to the beach, and you can listen to music from every corner of the globe, and smell all the different foods cooking on the park’s grills. Kids play soccer, football, or softball; adults sit and talk, and a few local neighborhood characters who like to sleep on the beach drink beers out in the sunshine on park benches. We don’t always all get along, but we try.

All photos courtesy of Rogers Park in 1000 words

This is Sean Oliver’s first post for PocketCultures. Why not say hello in the comments?

Sean is a project manager for Language & Culture Worldwide, a cross-cultural training and consulting firm. Sean grew up in Ohio, ending up in Chicago after extended periods in Costa Rica, Chile and California. He now has no intentions of living anywhere else; Chicago is one of his favorite places on the planet. Sean will be writing on PocketCultures mostly about American culture, and drawing attention to the vast differences between Americans across ethnicity, class, gender, generations, etc.

Read more:
The year of America: do Europeans stereotype the USA?
A photo tale of 50 states: around the USA in photos
Global migration and Europe’s population collapse

February 17, 2010 10 comments

Global migration and Europe's population collapse

Around 16% of the world’s adults would like to move to another country. Most of them would like to move to the USA or Canada. Europe and Saudi Arabia are also popular would-be destinations.

This is good news for Europe, whose population is shrinking:

“Europe’s population is, right now, peaking, after more than six centuries of continuous growth. With each generation reproducing only half its number, this looks like the start of a ­continent-wide collapse in numbers. Some predict wipeout by 2100.”

If you already live abroad, you’re one of the lucky ones. Many cannot move to another country because they cannot get a visa, or they cannot get permission to work.

Immigration is nothing new. In fact one hundred years ago global migration was much higher than it is today.


Countries and cities who welcome immigrants can become hubs of creativity and innovation. This makes sense, because recent studies show that living abroad makes you more creative. Mobile people are well equipped to deal with the challenges of globalisation in other ways, too.

But apart from these advantages, Europe’s looming population decline means there is room for more.

What do you think?

Read more:
Milleuristi: Europe’s losing generation
America’s changing work landscape
French bank embraces diversity

February 8, 2010 Comments disabled