‘Returning is much more complicated than leaving’: Narratives of high-skilled Brazilians working in Germany and (not) visiting ‘home’ on holidays
What are the emotions involved in visiting your home country? What are the feelings towards returning and meeting relatives, getting to know the situation on politics, the economy? This article explores the narrative of sixteen high-skilled Brazilians living and working in Germany. The study was conducted between March and April 2020 in eleven cities and six different states of Germany. This article focuses on the testimonies of the informants about ‘visiting home’ and ‘returning’. From politics to COVID-19 to longing and family, their narratives show the different impacts of planning a visit or going home.
Previous studies have mentioned that ‘if we want to unravel and understand the social, economic, political and experiential complexities of human mobility and belonging, it is necessary to include a focus on emotions’. Emotions, thus, have a very important – and deserved – position in human mobility. Researchers have already found that ‘far from being a secondary or unimportant dimension of mobility […] affect and emotion are central aspects of international migration’.
Usually we go home to visit relatives, friends and family. It is a moment to learn what happened while we were away, to see what changed in our hometown and to reflect on what was left behind after migrating to another country. When I asked my informants about Brazil, some made a clear division between saudade of their families and saudade of Brazil as a country. All of them referenced missing their family, but some mentioned that they do not miss Brazil. One respondent recounted:
‘When I came to Brazil to visit, the more the years passed, the more I was disappointed in Brazil. I usually visited once a year. Generally, I had a positive idea, but as soon as I was at the airport and I saw all the problems we have in São Paulo – taking the bus and the traffic jams, being stuck for an hour in a traffic jam – then, disappointment came up.’ (Ney).
Political issues were highlighted during the interviews as a reason for not returning to visit:
‘[…] the problem is not only the president. The society is divided. […] Knowing the history of the far-right and the history of what happened in Germany, I see people making jokes with things that are not acceptable. Therefore, the far-right is something of extreme importance, and they do not understand it there. The feeling I have is that there, it is not taken so seriously.’ (Ney).
Being a woman and a migrant also raised concerns about visiting home and the ties future children will have to Brazil. Nara said:
‘We think about returning when we have children while they are young because I want them to be Brazilians too. I think about this warm human style that we can’t explain but just experience. It is hard to explain to someone who is not from Brazil. This is something I want to transmit to my children when I have them’. (Nara).
For Leny, when you stay too long without visiting your home country, returning involves issues of belonging:
‘I stayed [for] too much time out of Brazil at that time, something I don’t do anymore. I felt like I didn’t belong there anymore. Everything there makes noise. People touch you. You don’t get used to anything. You feel like a fish outside water. How can I feel like a fish out of water if I’m in my hometown? So, you take some time to get used to it again. Now that I go more often, I had the shock for the first time. It’s difficult. Returning is much more complicated than leaving.’ (Leny).
Feeling guilt was also connected to family and related to being abroad and distant. Nara said that she felt guilty sometimes about being far from her parents:
‘Especially now that my parents are getting older. Of course, the question always comes up: Is it fair to leave now? Shouldn’t I be close to them? We don’t know until when they will be there, and this feeling worries me. I also talk to them a lot: should I return? Are you OK?’ (Nara).
The idea of visiting ‘home’ also brought up considerations about what was ‘home’ for the respondents. Vinicius considered home to be Germany: ‘I feel home where I live. The first time I came to Germany, I missed Brazil. But now, when I’m in Brazil, I miss it here.’ Frank said,
‘My home is here [Germany]. It is where I am living right now. I think that the fact I chose to be here makes it home. It was not something imposed; it was a choice. I came here not because I needed it but because I wanted it. Brazil is our second home. It is a place I can probably return to at some point; it is where our roots are.’ (Frank).
One of the respondents reflected on visiting his son in Brazil and the role of technology:
‘From the moment I had my contract signed [in Germany], every half an hour I remember him, and I think of him, I speak with him every day by video, and we spend the day talking on WhatsApp, but even with this, every three months my wife says: “you have to go there” (Brazil). Although I say it is manageable, it is a constant saudade.’ (Caetano).
Elis met her husband in Germany when she came to study. Now they have a child, and their plan is to stay in Germany, although her husband – who already visited her hometown in Brazil – said he could live there. She explained that she said to him,
‘[…] you are seeing it with tourist’s eyes. You are saying this because I am showing you because I know we could not go that way or the other way because it is dangerous. After all, there, we are likely to be robbed or something like that. He even had a job offer here in [the city]. And I said no. Because I think it is not about money. It is a matter of security. It is living well, but you live inside a jail, in a closed condominium, in a private school, with good private health insurance. You know, that’s it. The most significant difference is that there in Brazil you can get rich. Here you cannot. This discrepancy is clear. But here you have something you don’t have there, which is security and liberty.’ (Elis).
In Elis’s case, it is interesting to see that a visit to the home country gave her partner the idea to live there, and to reflect about the differences between seeing the country as a native or as a tourist when visiting.
Lastly, the pandemic affected one of my respondents, who mentioned that he could not return to Brazil at the beginning of the pandemic because his scholarship would be blocked if he returns and cannot go back. COVID-19 and the closing of borders and instability of regulations made many migrants plan their visits to home differently, cancel flights and postpone meeting again. Visiting home depends now on when the pandemic is over or which privileges or restrictions you have stemming from your employment abroad or your passport.
Visiting home is always a heavy emotional process. Many questions came up when the respondents visited ‘home’: is it possible to live here again? Do I belong here? Is it fair to be far from my parents? Is it even worth it to be so far? This short portrait does not represent the majority of high-skilled Brazilians in Germany, but it reflects on important issues of what a visit home can evoke within this sample. Belonging, home, guilt, saudade, and other emotions were part of the questions that came up during their visits. As one of the respondents said: returning home is more complicated than leaving.
Daniel Braga Nascimento
Daniel Braga Nascimento is a research assistant and PhD student at the Chair of Human Rights and Migration Law at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Daniel has graduated in law and completed two Master’s degrees. The first is an LL.M. from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS, Brazil) and the second the Erasmus Mundus European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations (emmir.org).