Shades of Shame while being an Expat/Immigrant

There are many reasons people may choose to live in other countries than their own. I like to believe that our feelings drive us away, and at the same time, they also keep us in touch with our roots. There are positive feelings that determine us to move away. I link here the article, where you can see which ones. 

Yet, there are many less positive feelings we can struggle with while living abroad. One of them is the feeling of Shame, and its layers. 

Shame is something we live with since we are born. We meet it the first time with our parents.  

Shame is used as an educational tool. We are raised according to society’s rules, and each community has some ways of keeping order, which involves shame or the well-known phrase «What will people say». Some people live with the impression that what would people say is something we only meet in traditional societies, yet I do not believe it is entirely accurate. 

We are on social media these days, and we have influencers, which measure their popularity accordingly with several followers and views. It is usual for everyone to have a social media profile and post whatever they see fit. Each person has become a «brand.» What people say about us is part of us; we live in societies, both natural and virtual ones. Therefore, «What would people say» is just as present in modern societies as in traditional ones.  

Among many reasons people would decide to move to another country, we also meet the feeling of Shame. It is a feeling we rarely like to talk about, yet we feel it a lot due to various reasons. 

Some people decide to travel and work in another country because they do not manage to make a living in their own country. They travel and work somewhere else with the faith they will manage better. Whatever they think it stops them in their own country, it is shameful. It is the shame of not succeeding, of not being enough, of not managing to provide for their family, or perhaps because the democracy they thought they had in their country is not democracy at all. 

Many of them do manage better in the new country, yet when they return to visit their families in their country of origin can be accused of betrayal for leaving one’s country and wanting something better. As if the courage to want a better life and make the steps to achieve it in another country should be shameful. The shame is here as well, inflicted by the society that stayed behind. 

Another layer of shame is the shame of having a degree and not using it. An internal conflict arises which says: «Why did you spent so much time and energy studying if now you’re cleaning toilets/tables/cars/drive a bus or taxi, etc». 

If people manage to get jobs accordingly to their degrees, they may meet stigma and the reputation of their country of origin, which precedes them. Especially if they come from a country, which is not «Class A» as one of my friends, calls it. People they meet sees them first through the glasses of that reputation—a reputation, which each individual does not necessarily have. One person cannot be responsible for an entire country and history. It takes a lot of work for that individual to prove him/herself for what they stand for and who they are. Even so, some may still be denied promotions or increases in salaries just because they come where they come from, and local leaders see it fair not to treat them equally. These sorts’ of things are individual as well. The politics of the new country of residence may be tolerant in speech and law, yet how each individual applies that law in their yard can be different from the image their politicians are promoting. 

If the immigrants are smart, they meet another layer of shame: the shame of the locals when they see that an immigrant from a country they did not think much of, has a brain actually, and has good ideas. The locals feel ashamed by these people in their own country. It also has to do with speaking a foreign language. The immigrant often speaks the local’s language, even though with an accent. The shame the local feels in front of an immigrant who both speaks their language and has a good idea often comes out by shaming the immigrant for speaking with an accent or poorly pronunciation.

This layer of shame expands to the immigrant who can feel ashamed for being different, for having a better idea, for being who they are, for not fitting in, for not speaking the language perfectly which is common among many. 

Some mixed nationalities’ marriages or relationships can also have the veil of shame upon them. We can see a smart girl/woman or a man with an education from a country with not so good reputation who marries a nice person that perhaps treats her/him well (hopefully) from a country with a good reputation. Yet, if that person does not have an education, she/he can experience shame when she tells family at home, and not only that her husband does not have the education. That can be sweetened if a lot of money is involved because in the world we live in today, a fancy house and car still tell people who you are in a more significant measure than your personality does. At the same time, some people can experience the shame of not meeting the same level of education as their partner. Sometimes can even be a burden for the relationship. 

Diplomat shame is linked to the facilities own government provides and the material support around them: housing, furniture, payment, work environment law, etc. And, of course, the reputation of the country they represent. Again, the country’s reputation precedes, and the representatives need to deal with whatever their government does. 

Some people may also experience the shame of age. This we meet among students since in Western Europe we meet young people in the universities. At the same time, for people from many other countries, it can be a struggle to raise the necessary amounts to afford to take an extra degree abroad. This leads to the fact that some students may be older than their peers in the country they decide to study for a master’s. Then they would not have the same age as their colleagues, which may seem odd. Because of their age and background, these people may be excluded from the student life or exclude themselves since they may find it challenging to find common subjects and interests. Of course, it also has to do with traditions and prejudices, yet it does not feel less uncomfortable. 

Refugee shame is also one layer we should be taking into account. As refugees, many people run for their lives from countries where there is war. They get to the new countries only with their clothes on their back. They suffer the shame of being at the mercy of people they don’t know. People who many times judged them for various reasons: not staying and fighting for their country, leaving behind family and friends, not speaking the language, taking away their tax money or their jobs, not having a support network, and so on. How one deals with all this is only in each person’s heart, and many times it is not spoken out loud, again, because of Shame.

These are only a few examples to name, yet there are far more, and they can be very individual. If you have any examples of being ashamed while living abroad, let me know. I would love to discover new shades of it. You can either comment below or register here and let me know in confidence. 

I wish you build resilience!

3 thoughts on “Shades of Shame while being an Expat/Immigrant

  1. Sometimes you’re ashamed of being your country citizen just because of how other expats from your country behave. I’m a IT specialist from Poland and f.ex. in Germany there was lot of Polish physical workers who were drinking a lot, started fights in bars, swearing in my national language all the time on the streets and while drunk – accusing German people for II World War. There are really few intellectual expats from my country compared to physics workers and we all have to carry the wait of opinion about our country citizens made on the basis how do those angry men behave. Most times when somebody is asking me where I am from I’m telling that I am citizen of the world and was living in many countries just not to be ashamed about telling my origin.

  2. You’re wrong if you’re ashamed. I’m Romanian and I’m not ashamed of that. I come from a country with a rich history, with beautiful people..The fact that there are negative examples between them does not make us guilty.. Live your life in harmony with everything around you and you will be fine. That is all.

    1. Thank you for your feedback! You are right when you say that you come from a country with rich history and beautiful people. Many other people come from countries with rich history and beautiful people. At the same time, it’s not a question of right or wrong. We’re 7 billions people in the world. Each of us feel they way we do and this is why psychologists exists: to name them and to help people deal with them. Feelings are quite hard to control for many people. Not everybody has learned resilience.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.