BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
Saturday, March 8, 2008
ALL expatriates go though phases of wondering whether they should stay here in this beautiful country or go home to the land of their birth. They are sure to ask this question at the time of contract renewal; then things settle down again when all is signed and sealed. Those with children involve all family members in the final decision.Of course there are many conflicting arguments and it can be difficult to arrive at a consensus.
Wider family considerations have a bearing. Grandparents may be elderly and ailing and need the support of their children and grandchildren. Adolescents can be unsettled and missing the companionship of their peers. Parents worry that children are not being exposed to the influences of their ownculture, although Westerners may be relieved that the drugs scene, which ruins many young lives, is so far away. Here young people will be learning much about other cultures, about tolerance and respect and communicating across ethnic boundaries, but there is always a danger that they become rootless with no real concept at all of home.
One cannot go home without a job, although some braveindividuals simply decide to leave and look for employment later. Teachers may be well placed to cast caution to the wind, especially the mathematicians and the scientists who are in demand in schools everywhere. In the arts and humanities those with itchy feet are well advised to secure a position first to avoid ending up on the dole queue.
There is no avoiding the sordid matter of coin. Here inBrunei most of us earn higher salaries and have a better standard of living than we would back home. We live in nice houses and enjoy the benefits of domestic help that we could not possibly afford in Bristol, Brisbane or Bangalore — this is such a godsend when there are children. We can afford to eat out regularly: excellent restaurants like Zaika, Rizqun and the Empire offer delicious fare at afraction of the price we would pay in London.
Then there's the weather. We love the tropical downpours and the glorious days on the beach. Europeans love not having to wrap up warmly or suffer the gloom of the winter months. We are never cold here and we can spend our lives in shorts and a T shirt. Our woolly jumpers stay in the cupboard and are gradually consumed by grateful moths.
There isnothing new about any of this. In the modern world for more than two hundred years migrant workers have debated how best to serve the interests of their families. They have chosen to adapt to changing economic circumstances and seek prosperity wherever they can. The economists tell us that adaptability usually means prosperity both for the individual and for nations and that inflexibility leads todecline.
Global mobility of the workforce is an established phenomenon. Economies with falling populations and skills shortages rely on immigrants to sustain the competitiveness of their economies. We are witnessing a movement of workers on a scale unprecedented in history. In Europe before the 19th century most people were born and died in the same village. By the 1830s, when the IndustrialRevolution was in full swing, many were already on the move. By the 1850s the great migrations of the modern world had begun, particularly to the Americas. Wars, persecution and financial collapse in the first half of the 20th century drove many to leave their native soil and seek a new life elsewhere. Nowadays, with the ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the peoples ofEastern Europe are uprooting themselves. In my home town in the West of England, the foreign language heard most frequently in the main square is Polish.
When we think of going home, we do well to remember that the country which we left may not be the one to which we will return. In buoyant, forward looking economies like the UK, the demographic profile is changing quickly as immigrants arrive from...