Torn between the two countries.
Questions to myself
Zuzanna Muszynska, Aberdeen University
When I moved to Scotland, the only question my friends kept asking me was whether I could understand the Scots and their famous accent. Although at first, I was not worried about maintaining contact and connection with my friends and family, mostly because I visited Poland frequently, I have never been asked the ‘hard’ questions. So I started wondering myself.
To quote John Green, ‘It’s a paper town, with paper houses and paper people, everything's uglier up close.’ With one exception – everything is prettier up close, or at least at the beginning. And moving abroad may feel like a ‘paper.’ Such feeling essentially means that, at least at first, living abroad feels like being on vacation. To follow Igor Tomic, the author at Possibility Change, one feels like a different person. And, so did I once I moved abroad and my initial ties to the UK were made of such material. The questioning process started when lockdown came and I stopped visiting Poland as often. For the first time, I found myself mentally adapting to living in a new country. What’s more, for the first time, I thought I had to choose where I am from.
How not to lose touch with my friends? How can I emotionally support my family while being far away? Will my Scottish partner get along with my Polish family, or will he even be willing to travel to my homeland with me? How will my children learn not to mix up Polish with English or will they ever choose to say ‘dziękuję’ over the easier option - ‘thank you’? I found myself wondering how I will ever decide which country is my country. Let me unpack everything step-by-step.
After completing my Bachelor’s in Warsaw, I came to Scotland for a research degree, where I was not blessed with the luxury of finding a group of university friends to hang out with during freshers week, or any other week of the freshly starting year. I was not worried about being alone as I had friends back home or those I know from back home but now living in London. I had friends, although not present physically. So why would I look for new ones? Nevertheless, after a few months of being away and talking to them on the phone, I noticed that our relations started to loosen, and my friendship with London cost about three hours of my time, let alone money, every other day.
Do not get me wrong, I appreciated - and still do - the chance to spend time with my friends anytime digitally, but I do not love being on the phone 24/7. At first, I was upset and started messaging my friends more, asking everybody how they are, and encouraging them to send me audio messages to keep me up with their life. But when I got all those responses, I felt so overwhelmed with the amount of information I had to give feedback to, it took me a week just to answer. And now I have to do this all over again? And again and again, every week, till I die, or move back to Poland?
It did not come quickly, nor easily, but the cure to this distress was to accept the fact that my physical reality is in Scotland; and that, by no means, may make me lose my friends back home. I understood that friendship knows no distance. I let myself accept that my friends will stay my friends whether their WhatsApp message is answered within 5 minutes, or 5 days. I made peace with the thought that I am allowed to miss phone calls, that calling back the next day is not going to ruin our relationship. I accepted that I have to put trust in friendship, that if both sides want it to last, distance is not an issue. Did I lose friends? No, but I lost contact with some people who relied on me to maintain our friendship, and that too required acceptance.
With an English speaking (with a God-forbid-Scottish-accent!) partner in a Polish family that does not speak English so eagerly, I found myself worried. Uneasy with the thought of travelling as my mum is afraid of flying, family meetings and children meeting their grandparents in the future, or simply about being the only translator. And, whether there are any more potential disasters that I could put on this list. After weeks of internal battles, I realised that one has to be ready to be in a relationship that requires both sides coming to peace with all of the above-mentioned issues. It is not difficult. It is just different. Simple as that. Once I accepted this reality, it was easier to be mindful of the present.
Yes, this sounds like a nice tale of everything coming together, but how to actually make it work? Why was I never told that this could even be an issue? Why was I never asked, ‘How will you cope with living in two countries at once?’ Maybe because it is not something that we think of when it comes to moving abroad. Or maybe nobody considers this to be an issue until they move away until it is their turn to live in two countries at once.
Przepraszam or sorry?
Chances are nobody told you this either. In her article ‘Living one life in two countries,’ Zarina Nahar Kabir openly says that you will have problems with it [living in two countries at once]. You will be split between different aspects and values of your life, family, friends, as well as loyalty to oneself. However, from my experience your friends will stay with you, your relationship will not be destroyed if you are gone for two weeks. Even if it may sound futuristic worries about children are justified. One only has to read one chapter on bilingual children from Oxford Handbook of Child Language to know how complex the notion of bilingualism is, and how much there is to confuse. Hence, although your children will be hesitant to say ‘przepraszam’ instead of ‘sorry,’ chances are that your parents will only speak to them in Polish anyway, and the children will have no choice but to learn. You do not have to choose whether to be from Poland or the United Kingdom or any other country in the world, you only need to be truly present where you are at the given moment.
Before I started questioning myself, the case of my heritage was relatively simple to me. I was from Poland, I was Polish, and my life was centred around Poland, with just one exception being my geographical and physical being in Scotland. During and after the lockdown, everything changed. My heritage is Polish, and I intend to carry it with me, keep it in my life and bring it to my future family, but I am no longer exclusively Polish. I am much more emotionally and spiritually tied to Scotland now, and I intend to be present and active there, while the road ahead appears much more British than I had previously imagined it would be.