Feeling Homeless

Life as an immigrant is hard.

It’s harder than life as an expat. Okay, that’s assumption. I’ve never been an expat. I went from Peace Corps Volunteer to study abroad to immigrant—none of which is how I imagine life as an expat. I suppose all of this is just privilege semantics, but when you can’t afford to live your life with one foot in your homeland and the other in your new country, when you can only look forward and hope for some semblance of understanding and integration—then you’re an immigrant.

I’ve often mused on the privilege of permanent place before.  Growing up in a military family, I missed out on a lot of benefits. Strong support beyond my immediate family, growing up alongside other kids who would turn into lifelong friends and associates, and scholarships/opportunities that were based on a teen’s community roots. I was a drifter. But at least every place I settled into, I could imagine myself making a life and belonging.

Bulgaria… it seems the longer I stay here, the less at home I feel. Some days I’m gripped with fear: this is permanent. Other days it’s sadness: this is all. 

Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot to be grateful for here. My husband and children are amazing. Our life is comfortable.

But the longer I stay here, the more I realize how much of an outsider I am, and that I will always and forever remain an outsider. 

In another year or so, I’ll apply for Bulgarian citizenship. Nikola says that when I first said I would apply for citizenship, he was shocked. Why bother? Besides the right to vote and free movement in the EU, it doesn’t bestow a lot of privileges on me. But it was important to me because I am tired of feeling like an outsider.

Unfortunately, gaining citizenship to a country does not change one’s nationality. I will never be considered a Bulgarian. I will always be the outsider.

Usually, these thoughts only come up when I’m engaging in online “discussions.” We have a group of mothers from my city and sometimes topics in the Facebook group get heated. I feel like an outsider for so many reasons: I’m bi, I think ethnic Bulgarians cheat the social system as much as ethnic Roma, I’m poly, I don’t believe in traditional gender roles. All of this makes me an outsider. But when I really feel like an outsider is when I try to express myself and people are told to leave me alone because my thoughts are lost in translation. In other words, “She’s just strange and foreign and doesn’t know what she’s saying.” It’s like I’m not allowed to have any dissenting opinion about the city I live in, and definitely no say in shaping its future. I’m just a visitor, after all. 

Some months it’s worse. The months I have paperwork. Paperwork as an immigrant is hell. Do you know what an apostille is? If you don’t, you don’t want to. The entire world revolves around that stupid stamp of legality. Right now I’m trying to get my driver’s license. I have to take the course, pay the fees, take the tests… all of that is offensive enough. But I can’t even get to that part of the process because I’m still stuck on proving I completed the tenth grade. Gaining citizenship won’t change the fact that all of my documentation is American. It all needs to be legalized and translated. So any time part of my past needs to be proved, I will have to engage in this process. Notaries, documents being sent back and forth. Rejections. Unclear processes. It’s pretty much to be expected for my whole life.

Then there’s me wanting to advance my career or switch career paths. First, I have to find a job in English, because even though my Bulgarian is decent, it’s not perfect. So most of the jobs I would want, my Bulgarian is not to the level that will allow me to thrive in them. After eight years here, I doubt it will ever get to that level. I will always be a step behind with Bulgarian. But let’s say I want to become a teacher, in English. I’d have to go back to school. But even if I gain citizenship, I would still have to pay half of the foreign school fees instead of the domestic fees. Thousands of euros instead of hundreds of lev.

Then, let’s say I want to publish a book in Bulgaria. Well, first of all the issue is it is written in English. That’s okay, some Bulgarian authors write in English, too. But Bulgarian publishers (the ones I’ve found) only accept manuscripts from Bulgarian authors. Makes sense. They want to support Bulgarian voices. An American can get published in the U.S. Except when the American starts writing about Bulgaria, because it’s all she knows at this point. Then, there’s no place for her on the American market and none on the Bulgarian market. 

And I guess that sums everything up nicely: I feel like there’s no place for me. I’m accepted here. Tolerated. Some people are even amused with me for awhile. But I don’t belong here. But at this point, I’ve been here for so long (nearly half of my adult life) that I don’t feel like I have any place in the states either. 

So I’m floating out here. Country-less. The loneliness that creates in me is heart shattering. Nikola tries to fix it. My friends try to cheer me up. They tell me I’m valued and belong. But I can’t make myself feel it. 

I guess at these times, all there is to do is move forward. Make the best of it. 

It makes me wish Americans were nicer to immigrants though. It’s hard enough even when you’re not hated. I can’t imagine immigrating to a more hostile place. 

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