Recently a relative posted on FB one of those question and answer lists containing information that you didn’t necessarily already know about that person. I was struck by the fact that they had never lived outside their town of birth and indeed still lived on the same street they grew up on. My mind was blown.
I have lived in over 20 places and three countries. I am a product of the Thatcher generation when Norman Tebbitt told us all to get on our bikes and look for work. I did exactly that (although using a train / car rather than bike). All my moves have been for work apart from the first one which was to leave home for University – although it was called a Polytechnic back then. Yet “3 in 5 Britons still live within 20 miles of where they lived when aged 14” (David Goodhart – The road to somewhere).
My relatively successful career has come at a price. Moving across the country to new towns and cities means a lot of initial loneliness until you meet and get to know your new colleagues and eventually make friends. Only for it all to change again within a few years. Feeling part of a community simply doesn’t happen. Trying to get to know your immediate neighbours within a few years is difficult enough even with a concerted effort.
It started me thinking – was I unusual? I simply thought it was ‘normal’ for people to move around for work. My brother has moved around the north west, my twin has moved down south and my youngest sister has moved around our home town, but not left it. (I’m talking about the U.K. here). I hadn’t even realised that my sister hadn’t left our home town and my brother has hardly ventured out of it too. I know living abroad as an expat (immigrant in another country) is unusual but I hadn’t realised that being mobile for work was.
According to http://www.gov.uk there were 5.5 million UK citizens living overseas in 2015. (The U.K. had 3.6m immigrants (expats) living in the U.K. in 2013 according to populationpyramid.net). Even Google couldn’t give me current numbers of even percentages – the figures don’t seem to exist. In 2015 the U.K. population was just under 66 million people. That makes roughly 8.3% of the U.K. population living abroad in 2015. It’s a small percentage but still a big number.
In their book ‘Together for the City’ Neil Powell and John James refer to David Goodhart’s book ‘The road to somewhere’ on the divides in the U.K. Goodhart argues that the U.K. comprises of ‘anywhere’ and ‘somewhere’ people.
“ His argument is that we are made up of two types of people: “anywhere” and “somewhere” people. “Anywheres” are highly educated and mobile, value autonomy, and comfortably surf social change. “Somewheres” are more rooted, valuing security and familiarity, and are more connected to a group identity” p28 Together for the City – Powell / James
They go on to say that about quarter of the population has the ability to thrive and prosper anywhere and about half of the population is geographically rooted somewhere, with the rest sitting between the two poles. It’s quite a staggering number of people who do not move at all, or only within a 20 mile radius. That brings consequences of its own – one can only assume that their world view comes from the media and not by experience (or even research). That’s a very narrow and negative worldview pumped out by the media. That may explain some of the recent political decisions made in the U.K. too. It does have huge advantages though – being part of a community and having an instant support group in the difficult times and when unexpected life events happen cannot be underestimated. We’re social beings and want to be part of a community or group. Dealing with difficult life issues abroad is challenging and brings its own problems and highlights the fact that you are on your own without the support of a community or life long friends around you.
Clearly I am an ‘anywhere’ person as I have moved so frequently (more than once every two years) after I left home at 18. One of my siblings is a somewhere / anywhere person (having moved and settled in the UK) and the other two are somewhere people. So we fit the statistics completely 50% somewhere, 25% anywhere and 25% in between the two poles.
Are you a ‘somewhere’ person or an ‘anywhere’ person? which do you prefer? Both have advantages as well as challenges. Something to ponder on perhaps.