The Loneliness Of Migration And The Struggle To Integrate

Loneliness provides no warning to an immigrant,” says Jonathan Dreannan in his article on the Irish Times. All foreigners know this feeling all too well; it does not matter if you migrated with your friends, family, or by yourself – the feeling is the same across all migrant demographics. When we calculate these challenges of migration, we usually consider things such as plane ticket costs, housing, a job, documentation, language barrier, etc. But, with all that planning, our greatest blind spot is the loneliness of migration.

What is loneliness?

An article in Acta Biomedica by Javier, Sacramento and Francisco described loneliness as the lack of emotional and social attachment. From time to time, we all get lonely because it is a normal human pattern, but loneliness tends to be an issue when these social and emotional attachments are absent for long periods, and they start to take a toll on you.

It is very important to note that being alone is not the same as being lonely. So, when you move to a new place you practically “cut out” your sense of belonging because all the relationships and sense of community that you have built over the years do not come with you. If a teenager is used to hanging out at the mall with friends every Saturday, that social interaction (and habit) gets left behind. If you have drinking buddies, work buddies, church buddies, all that gets left behind, so socially and emotionally, you are starting from scratch.

Am I a lonely migrant?

Due to the lack of such interactions, you will start feeling an intense need to make friends and go out and just DO STUFF, and those feelings are just the manifestation of loneliness. Migrants know this feeling too well.

Admitting loneliness is really hard because the concept of loneliness in itself is very complex, so complex that you may think of a whole lot of other problems that are giving you depressive symptoms, but not loneliness, especially the loneliness of migration. There are symptoms of loneliness that we all experience and then there are those that are strictly associated with migrants. The organization Loneliness in NZ has published the following signs on their website:

  • The strong desire to stay indoors because it becomes stressful to go to places that you are still trying to get to know and shop for products you do not recognise, and be around people that you feel may stigmatise you.
  • You become tearful constantly because you miss out on all events that are happening back home, birthdays, funerals, baby showers, etc.
  • Your contact list from back home becomes smaller because of negative things that are associated with your current status. You just hate that everyone wants to know “what’s new” when all you ever do is lay in bed because you have nothing to do and not a lot of people to talk to.
  • You drift apart from close friends because it becomes hard to keep in touch with friends, the distance eats the relationship away.
  • You keep to yourself a lot because everyone knows each other and you are the only one that is new and that on its own makes you feel boxed out.

The symptoms change as you stay without social interactions; they may change into depression, drug, and alcohol abuse and other maladaptive ways.

The struggle to integrate

Navigating new spaces is hard; the situation is made even worse by the current pandemic, because right now, you can not look up a rugby club and go play with strangers that may become friends. At this point and time of world events, your best investment in making new friendships is yourself.

Before you go out to meet people, first have a meeting with yourself and just figure out what you are looking for in friendships. You need to understand that adult friendships are a struggle as they take a lot of “talking through things” and setting boundaries. There is a lot of investment in time and open mindedness, expect to teach and learn something new (you are in a new place after all). Once you have figured this part out, you move on to the next, making the first move.

Do a little research online and find people that are from your home country, book clubs around you, activists that share the sentiments as you and then build on from that. What you have to establish first is the sense of belonging; you have to find a way of reestablishing some type of belonging. At times, being in large groups or communities does not work out; you can take a different approach by actually trying to find friends online through social media and other apps. This approach is also great because you are able to access personalities and thinking styles before you reach out to a person. 

Whichever approach you go for, it is important to note that it all begins with you. Research on channels you can take to integrate, some countries invest in migrant integration, look out for initiatives that have programmes that resonate with you. Here are a few suggestions on how you could break out of your cocoon in the next coming few week:

  • Facebook is always a great place to start, just go to search, type in keywords of what you are looking for, like Nigerians in Ireland. Everything about Nigeria and Ireland will come up, Facebook groups and all.
  • MeetUp is a free app to meet people that have similar interests to yours. With this app, you are able to select the people you want to have in your life. These people can be nearby or further from you; it all depends on your preference. 
  • Do you feel like you just want to make friends with people that live in the same place as you? Wee, that’s good news because NextDoor is a great app to actually know what is happening in your area. You will be up to date with all events that are happening in your community. 
  • Okay, are you a new mom and never have time for anything? Your new favorite app, Peanut, is the app for you; it was created with moms in mind. This app is set up to make friendshipping easier for mom and moms-to-be. You have so many options on whether or not you want to interact with moms around your age groups; you can choose to be part of mom-versations and also share and pick up advice. 

Put yourself out there and see how you can fight bouts of loneliness!


Welile Gina
Welile Gina

All about mental health and lifestyle health...but will throw in some personal opinions every now and again.

One comment

  1. Brilliant and well thought-out article. Really made me stop and think (and feel) what it must be like in that situation for a sustained time. Sometimes we forget the wide ranging implications of lonliness over and above the feeling itself, thank you for making me consider. Also, really practical tips on the apps, which I’ll share…

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