Studies have shown that moving around a lot as a child can cause problems in adulthood

“So we’re moving to Canada,” my dad said.

I remember the day four years ago like it happened today. My mom, my brother and I stared at him as he handed us the papers showing our Visas had come through.

“It will be good for us guys,” he said seeing the anguish on our faces.
“You can start over all over again. Be a whole new person.”

Anxiety swirled around in my stomach. I didn’t want to move again. All the moving had left me feeling like a seed that had never been planted. Couldn’t I just for once settle down?

I knew already that we would be leaving South Africa. After all, we had sold the house we had lived in for seven years, we’d had our cats vaccinated for the trip, and my dad had spent the late hours of the night on Skype for job interviews. Yet, I still felt like a wrecking ball had smashed through my life.

Longtime nomads

Ever since I can remember my family has been a bunch of nomads. The inability to stay in one Andrea Roberts, as a baby back in Springs, South Africa.

Photo courtesy of Debby Roberts

I had been born in a little town called Springs near Johannesburg in South Africa. I remember playing on a small slide in my grandparent’s back yard while my large family happily waited for Sunday lunch. My mom had been a stay-at-home mom since I had been born, but my dad had been working at Impala Platinum when he got a job offer and the first move happened.

The first move

At about the age of six we moved to Durban off the coast of South Africa. It was a six-hour drive from Springs. It was prime real estate close to the beach, amazing tropical weather and people seemed happier in that place. I remember singing with a choir of my fellow Grade 1 students, bonding in a way that would have led to life-long friendships. I remember learning to swim there and my coach saying I had potential.

The least difficult move

Within two years we moved to England. It had been the biggest move yet for we had left everything I knew behind. We gave my dogs to my aunt and uncle. We sold most of the furniture and I had to leave behind my Barbie princess-themed bedroom that I had worked on so hard.

England was nice and was probably one of my favourite places in which I lived. It was probably because I was there for the developmental years of nine to 11. The place we moved to was called Eyam in the north of England. It had been known as the plague village for it was where the black plague had first occurred in Britain. (hyperlink would be nice) I learnt to draw there and even won a ribbon for my drawing in the village carnival. I started to dance there and even though I wasn’t the best I could still do the furthest splits in the class, something I was rather proud about. I found out who I was in that country, but just before I could get settled, at the age of 11 my dad had brought back some news.

A stranger at home

My father’s company back in South Africa was offering him a job and it was a better opportunity than the one he had in England. He was torn between moving back and staying in England. My mom, while she loved living in the small town, missed her family back in South Africa, and she missed the heat. My brother and I were too young to understand that following my mom’s decision would lead to us moving back to Springs.

South Africa had changed, or maybe it was just me. It no longer held the title of home anymore, and I felt like an outsider in the place I was born. I no longer had friends anymore, I got teased for my accent and the way that I didn’t know the same things that they did. I withdrew into myself and found myself no longer wanting to dance, draw, or swim.

Leaving South Africa, again

Now we were moving again, and I was terrified because it meant I would have to start again. I would have to make friends, find some hobbies and attempt to set down some roots. I knew that this time my dad wanted to move for other reasons than work. South Africa was becoming increasingly dangerous and we were unsure of whether we would be safe there anymore. He wanted a better life for my brother and me, he also had always loved Canada.

I decided to take my dad’s advice when we moved to Canada, and I decided to be a whole new person.

I immediately applied to attend Mount Royal University. It was too late to get into a program, but I was able to sign up for Open Studies, which was in fact very helpful as I was able to immerse myself into the Canadian education system. I applied for the journalism degree the year after and got in. While I have made a lot of friends and experienced things I would never have done in South Africa, there are times when I am still left feeling shy or unable to maintain simple relationships, and I blame the fact that I moved so much.

After living in Canada for almost three years, I am still struggling to fit in. I feel like an outsider even amongst my friends. I find myself correcting the way I speak so that others won’t laugh at me, and often I find myself wishing I had been born in Canada. I would have high school friends to hang out with, clubs and hobbies that I had been doing for years, and all the other things that come along with growing up in one place.

I am not alone in these feelings of insecurity.

Studies examine problems for children on the move

A study published in 2010 by the American Psychology Association surveyed adults who had moved around a lot as children. According to the study, people who moved around a lot and who had an introverted personality to begin with were likely to suffer from poor mental and behavioral developments. Most of the participants reported having a low life satisfaction and are more likely to become introverted or neurotic in adulthood. Although it was found that people that showed extroverted personalities at a young age didn’t report the same kind of dissatisfaction that the introverts did. The researchers wanted to see the correlation between residential mobility and well-being. For 10 years they followed 7,108 American adults who moved around a lot as children.

People always seem so excited when I list the places that I lived. They expect me to be some well-travelled and well-rounded individual. While I want to laugh at them for suggesting such a thing, I have come to realize that the constant moving didn’t only have a malign effect on me. For it had its good side effects too. I have met a lot of different kinds of people all who have helped to shape the way I see the world. I am also open-minded, and am able to deal better with situations when they change quickly.

A similar study done in 2005 called “Childhood Residential Mobility and Multiple Health Risks During Adolescence and Adulthood The Hidden Role of Adverse Childhood Experiences” backs up the idea that constantly moving around as a child can have adverse medical problems such as depression and addiction.

Annually, Canada admits 250,000 immigrants and some of them will be children. There are programs to help immigrants assimilate into Canadian culture and a few programs to help these children to cope with the issues that may arise from moving. Sadly many of these programs are unknown or are only for a certain age group or culture. There are articles telling parents how to make residential mobility easier on their children, which is wonderful for the future generation — but what about my generation and the ones that came before me, and before the Internet?

Our parents didn’t have access to a computer in their search for dealing with moving stress. In fact parents of that time didn’t think about things like that, they were worrying about other things. The main worry was whether their children would be okay on the long journey to their new home.

So where do I go from here?

However that does not address the main issue that there are thousands of adults who feel the same way that I did. People who have no idea why they are the way they are.

There is the option of talking to a psychologist — a typical appointment costs $180 in Alberta. But this option only helps fix individuals who understand the need to seek out help and have the money to afford therapy.

So what can I do to help myself so I don’t become another statistic?

As I wrote this story I have realized that I have to stop blaming my past. So I started to try to make sure that I don’t have that low life satisfaction. I want my nomadic past to help boost me rather than bring me down, but it is up to me.2015 My boyfriend Brady Grove (also a Mount Royal University Journalism student), and I at a Calgary Flames game. I have come to love Canada and the culture.

Photo courtesy of Andrea Roberts

I have started training myself to look at the good that my past brought me rather than the bad effects. I am reaffirming everyday that my destiny is in my hands now, I am a Canadian now, and I am not going anywhere.

I understand that there will be bad days and good days but psychologist Michael J. Formica who writes in Psychology Today says that we must recognize we are responsible for ourselves and we must take that responsibility.

aroberts@cjournal.com