Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Am I Leaving For? Thoughts On Migrating From Britain To Barbados

One of my readers, who had contacted me last year with a query about moving to Barbados from the UK, informed that she has had to put that decision on hold. In part, that deferral reflects the effect of the current worldwide economic recession, which has affected her employment, but it also reflects concerns about what the move from London, England to Barbados may entail. Those of us who have been migrants know that the decision to shift your family and your life to another country is usually a very difficult one. Many of us in the Caribbean have parents or other relatives who did this nearly half a decade ago, moving from the idyll of tropical semi-rural life to a complicated, urbanized world in the UK or North America. From a country where our peoples were the majority, to lands where we were the minority, and often despised for what we were doing by intruding into the lives of the majority.

By way of background, her parents were both from Guyana, but she was born in London, and has lived in the western part of that city all her life. She visited Barbados for the first time in her early 20s. She had travelled to Europe and the USA but Barbados was her first experience in a Caribbean country other than Guyana. It was one of her first experiences in a country where black people were leaders in the society, and held many professional posts. Her first reaction at arriving at the QEH was to stare at the doctors in disbelief. Nevertheless, she felt instantly at home in Barbados. She decided to make moves to leave the UK and live in Barbados: she built her contacts with this country by marrying in Barbados, travelling there and now owning a home on the island, but has not yet made the final move to Barbados, of which she is now a citizen.

Her father had worked for London Transport and her mother had worked as a seamstress in a local hospital in London after they arrived in England in the 1950s. She went to a local non-religious primary school and a religious secondary school in west London. Now in her mid-30s, she works in a lawyer's office as a paralegal. She has a degree in law, a postgraduate degree and is continuing her legal studies.

Ironically, for someone not born in Barbados or having Bajan roots, she prefers to keep her Guyanese origins hidden: “I don't advertise it as I don't like the response of the Bajan locals and the rejection they give.” Coming to Barbados initially from the UK in an era where many of Caribbean descent did not grow up feeling a part of that country, and going to the Caribbean but also not being accepted there, was very confusing to her.

She has shelved plans to move permanently to Barbados for now because she is not sure if life there will really be any different to life in the UK. Although the island seems to offer a healthier, and better quality of life, several issues concerning living there are giving her some food for thought.

Here are some of her concerns.

"From my experience, most people in Britain have either left or want to leave where they live for a better quality of life, be it abroad or just leaving central London to live on the outskirts so they can enjoy more open space and a slower pace, while they commute into the central area. Job-seeking abroad is very popular among Britons and agencies are making it very easy for people to apply to move to the Caribbean and tax haven countries." She reports that, in the UK, television programmes are shown that offer advice and assistance to families who wish to emigrate to Australia and they are helped to buy houses within their budget, get jobs and also given counselling to see how they would cope without the support of extended family. Her views suggest that Barbados remains an attractive place for potential migrants from the UK, who may wish to make Barbados a new home, whether they are of Caribbean or European origin. We know that Barbados still attracts many Britons as a place to vacation and even own property as second homes to facilitate that. Their presence is very evident at the main south and west coast vacation spots, but they are also very noticeable as owners of properties in exclusive west coast developments.

However, the high cost of living in Barbados and the current quality of education there—which is one of the major determining factors where her migration is concerned—are making her reconsider whether Barbados is the place to be. For her, the concerns about education have caused her a major disappointment: “Since having children, I have always wanted them to be educated in the Caribbean and to grow up there so that they would hopefully not go through the lack of identity that many children of migrants do in the UK.” However, her children are doing very well at school in England, and so far have avoided, with some difficulty, falling into some of the worse elements of UK youth culture and materialism. She is very communicative and has helped her children understand from an early age their history, culture, and identity. This contrasts with her parents, who went to the UK and had their main focus on settlement and work and to provide for their families. Some children were left in the Caribbean and later sent for; some of the children who were with their parents in the UK were left to get on with life without much parental involvement.

She was happy initially to consider state schools in Barbados for her children. However, in discussions with acquaintances who have children in private schools in Barbados, their advice was that her children would settle easier in such schools, and have to deal with less fear of rejection from local children. She also heard that attending a private school would help her children communicate better in standard English than in Bajan dialect. She was aware that the private schools had a large contingent of children from white and black expatriate families, and she was concerned that this showed a desire to not mix with local children and parents.

She noted the good changes that have been taking place in the UK education system, which had had a major overhaul to deal with falling standards: "Schools are promoted, with head teachers who are now more business-like and it shows in the way they now run schools in Britain. So, to that extent the schools are trying to make an effort. News reports in the UK suggest that immigrants are also raising the standards of some schools in the UK, as they apply themselves and make better use of their opportunities in this country than do the children who are born here and are now falling behind." She wondered if similar trends existed in Barbados’ education system, which she now understands does not have as high a reputation as before. If it is not the case, then she wondered if the problem was the children or the system. She was under the impression that the current crop of Bajan children are not as motivated to learn as were their predecessors, maybe because life is now much easier for them than for earlier generations.

She has given some thoughts to how society seems to be developing in Britain. She feels that Britain is moving into a selfish phase and abandoning some basic social values, which were brought out clearly during the recent bad winter weather: "With regard to the recent bouts of bad weather, the days of gritting roads in a country that should be accustomed to seeing snow is a distant memory. You just get sent home early from work, and this applies to the public and private sector. Do you remember the days they used to have the big containers at the bottom of the road with grit that you could help yourself? No more: you get around at your own risk. Municipal councils are in debt and work places are now not about whether you can actually do the work but if you can talk your way to the top." So, in some ways, the UK has become a less welcoming society. This sense was reinforced by her remark that "All these things that have happened have made individuals adopt a 'each man for himself’ attitude. People are no longer happy with just living and raising children and being happy with what they have or who they are around. There is a lot of pressure in this country to have the best whether you can afford it or not." So, beggar my neighbour seems to be brewing with living beyond one's means. Some of the widening divide between haves and have nots in Britain are vividly shown in a recent study (see Times report), which shows that the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society.

So, the prospect of leaving the UK for Barbados is fraught with complex notions of acceptance and rejection. Feedback she received from those who have emigrated to Barbados, even those who left Barbados to educate themselves in the UK and then return home, indicate that they face rejection in the work place. This includes dealing with comments from locals who ‘feel threatened’ by those persons who have what seem to be superior UK qualifications. This may push returning migrants or new immigrants to Barbados to avoid working in established organizations but look to work for themselves given the chance. I know of several such instances, though, I have not discussed in detail all the reasons behind decisions to create their own businesses.

In terms of considering again whether a permanent move to Barbados made sense, she has looked at Barbados and wondered to what developing countries like it are aspiring. She had concerns that "countries who so want to become developed are really chasing their tails with this ideology that the First World countries have something to aspire to. So far, Barbados has aspired to having a lot of debt to be something that it may never be." It seemed ironic to her that when Britons, working or retired, leave the UK to go to countries that offer what they perceive as a ‘back to basics’ way of life may find increasingly that such places are becoming more like where they are leaving. "It seems that islands like Barbados are doing a good enough job without trying to be like First World countries who may have to back track to that same back to basic structure that they once had. It may take a long time to undo all that damage just to get there....Barbados seems to have all the important factors in place as well as a population that is proud, motivated, loyal and willing to participate in its country’s policies for the better of the people.”

She wondered whether the many gated communities now prominent on the island and cliquishness within of various communities suggested that the community spirit of Barbados is disappearing. Such developments also marked the clear presence of class divisions, and a desire to make those stronger. Social divisions in the UK are an issue too. "The class system has also become 'self appointed', in my eyes," she remarked. "People here have nominated themselves as middle/upper class but are not necessarily so just because they may have a big house and a 'decent' job." This suggests that as people's earning power increases so that they can command a higher loan to buy a house or a car, these people rise in 'class' in their own eyes and in the eyes of those around them; it's built upon by actions that seek to segregate. She believes that something similar has been happening in Barbados, including amongst people who may come as migrants from countries like the UK, and may be a cause of friction that she would have to deal with: “People come from abroad and are somehow automatically elevated on this status ladder because they have a house in a nice area or have sold their house in England, gaining enough profit to buy a house in Barbados as well as afford to send their children to a private school. A rub in the nose for those in Barbados who have actually worked their guts out to get to an acceptable status level. Who gives them this status? Is it the locals or do they also appoint themselves ‘middle class’?”

She has looked at how the UK and Barbados have dealt variously with its particular immigration issues. She sensed greater hostility in Barbados toward migrants from within Caricom—especially, the infamous hostility towards Guyanese shown by Bajans—than if those migrants were from the UK. This seemed bizarre. But she perceived that lack of tolerance is also evident more generally in how the society seems to be developing.

She had noted the arguments about immigrants in both the UK and Barbados, including how they were pressurizing health and education systems. But, she noted that in the UK there was an awareness that many immigrants have made valuable contributions to the country, but even those who clearly benefited from the presence of immigrants were still capable of being critical of their presence.

That said, she was concerned at the animosity that different immigrant groups in the UK were beginning to show toward each other, e.g. older immigrants groups such as from the Caribbean being at odds with newer entrants such as those from Somalia.

Would Barbados be more appealing if it did not appear to be heading in the same direction as the UK and maintained its own identity? "Barbados and other islands are places where people like me who have grown up in the UK and never felt accepted want to return to 'go back to their roots', as well as contribute towards the economy and teach their children the same culture and values that our fore parents had. But I still feel as though I would not fit in there also because of the same issues."


Anonymous said...

Very interesting article, with some of the issues we're facing having emigrated from the UK to Barbados (with Bajan citizenship). We definitely feel like outsiders, and have almost given up trying to integrate anymore than we have done already.

However, I have heard from a Bajan colleague who lived in London for a few years, that they felt the same way in London - quite isolated from Londoners. So who knows?

We're hanging in here for a little while longer but do not see it as our permanent home.

Anonymous said...

AS a Barbadian i am compelled to say something onnthis article.I do understand some of her concerns but she might be over analysing some of her concerns.Sometimes when we getuse to way of life just like anything else it is very hard to give up.I hope she would throw caution to the wind and go for it.
Hi friend welcome to Barbados