You Can Never Go Home Again: Reverse Immigration


The Washington Post recently had a great article on reverse immigration, where immigrants to the United States go back to their home countries because of the hectic pace of life.  I wouldn’t call Africa the promise land, mostly because I am kind of scared of the HIV.  Also, I just like saying the HIV.  Even though, obviously, not everywhere in Africa has the HIV.  Only the populated parts have (the HIV).

The article states,

He wanted a healthier lifestyle for his family, less anxiety, fewer 14-hour days. So he recently traded his deluxe apartment, the pickup truck, the dishwasher and $4.99 McDonald’s combos for life in a place he considers relatively better: sub-Saharan Africa.

“Right now I’m no stress, no anxiety,” said Odhiambo, 34, relaxing in his family home in this western Kenyan city along the shores of Lake Victoria. “Think of it this way: When I was in the U.S., I was close to 300 pounds. Now, I’m like 200. The biggest thing for me was quality of life.”

It’s not certain whether Odhiambo weighs less because the quality of food in Africa is better than in the United States (a topic I lightly grazed in my recent post on Nutella,) or  because there is no food in Africa.   Either way, it seems like reverse immigration was a positive experience for this family.

Keeping up with experts in reverse immigration (and by experts, I just mean, Neo Indian, who writes about living again in India and eating mangoes at the rate of 5 per day,) I surmise that this process is close to impossible for most.

Reverse immigration is hard, mostly because of the reverse culture shock you experience that validates the saying, “You can never go home again.”  My main citations for this experience is A) My parents’ recollections of their visits to Russia versus the nostalgia they always describe about the country and B) My own experiences going back to Russia, where, in an effort to nostalgically return to the apartment building we used to live in,  I was almost bitten by wild/stray dogs.

In the spirit of thinking about going back to mother countries, here is a list of things my parents regularly announce that they would not be able to live with if they had to go back to Russia.  They play this hypothetical game quite often, as if NKVD agents are already at their door and telling them to pack their suitcases.  They are usually very gleeful and smug when they play this game.

and, for my mom, the bonus round:

Returning is always different, but unfortunately for this economist, it’s not something that can be quantified.  It’s the different feel of a courtyard, the way the walls look smaller, and the way the food doesn’t taste as sharp.  I’ve been thinking about reverse immigration in the context of this article, and the best  way to describe, at least in terms of returning to Russia,  it is via Est/Ouest, one of my favorite movies, where a Russian emigre from Paris heeds Stalin’s call for Russians to repatriate and rebuild the mother country.  As can be expected, everyone is screwed over, and there is death.  Death is a favorite theme for Russians.   Unfortunately, this Russian death/screwing over takes place only in French in the Youtube because I couldn’t find one with English subtitles.  Apologies in advance.

One of the comments on the You Tube video is also accurate,

welcome to the motherland….Biaaach! *bang!*