Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Work to live? Or live to work?

Written by on . Published in What's Texas without the twang

Migration to Israel

I want to forestall any idea that the view expressed in this blog might possibly trigger controversy. I am talking for the most part on behalf of a more privileged third generation of immigrants to Germany. This however is not supposed to belie my awareness of the variety of other, maybe more problematic, third generation young people living in Germany. This should be kept in mind while reading my ideas on work migration.

In the late 1970s my maternal grandfather moved from Adana in Turkey to Darmstadt in Germany. This wasn’t any kind of vacation because he needed to come to Germany to find a job and provide for his family. Only a couple of months later my grandmother followed suit. Initially they hadn’t intended to settle in Darmstadt for good; what they wanted to do was to stay for a couple of years at most and earn a good deal of money and then return to my mother and her siblings like thousands of other Turkish families had done since 1961 when Bonn and Ankara concluded a recruitment agreement to attract Turks to work in Germany. Yet not only did my grandparents settle in Germany, they also brought along their family after a while.

Migration to Israel

We are all familiar with pictures like this – they capture the original sense of work migration. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So theirs is a typical example of work migration as it used to be – at least in my understanding: people from underdeveloped countries migrating to industrialized regions where extra labor is needed in certain sectors.

And today? Today people still migrate for reasons of work, but the start-out situation is different  – at least from my point of view, which for the most part is a German one.

I want to go to Turkey this summer to work as an intern. So in a way I’m doing what my grandparents did about thirty years ago, only the other way around. I do not have any existential need to go work in another country even for just a short period. I have the luxury to go there by choice and not because I have to provide for my family or myself – which I could do by working in Germany. My motivation for wanting to work in Turkey is of a different nature: I’m eager to learn more about one part of my heritage, my identity in a way. Compared to my ancestors I am not compelled to leave my home country to earn my living. I can choose to do so.

Nowadays we get information about the many different opportunities where and when to go abroad already at university. We can choose. Photo by Jirka Matousek on flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Nowadays we get information about the many different opportunities where and when to go abroad at university. We can choose. Photo by Jirka Matousek on flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Of course there are still people who have to migrate to find a job. Currently the many young and educated Spanish people who are without employment are a sad example of this situation. But for the most part, my contemporaries have the choice to leave their country of origin to gain work experience in other nations all over the world. I belong to a generation which views studying and working abroad not as a dire necessity but as an advantage. This is because we now have a choice. We can pick between a variety of alternatives, at least those of us with an academic background. For most people of my generation migration is not a must forced by the imperatives of economic pressure. Work migration as I see it today is more a deliberately chosen alternative that gives you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with different (work-) cultures. Gone are the days when people had no other option but to leave home to stay afloat – at least for the majority of my generation. We can only hope that these circumstances will not change in the future and that opportunities to work abroad will still be matters of free choice and not a matter of sheer survival.

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