Studies show moving around a lot as a child may cause problems in adulthood

TRAVELTHUMB“So we’re moving to Canada.”

I remember the day four years ago that my dad said that like it happened today. Those words shocked my mom, my brother and I into silence. We stared as he handed us the papers to show 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 that we would be leaving South Africa. After all, we had sold the house we had lived in for seven years and I hadn’t applied for a university having graduated from high school the year before at the age of 18. 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, but I still felt like a wrecking ball had smashed through my life.

Ever since I can remember my family has been a bunch of nomads. The inability to stay in one place for long was no fault of our own, nor was it a genetic desire to see the world. My dad was an electrical contractor- where the work was, we would go. As a kid, it was normal to pack up house, say goodbye forever to the small number of friends I had made, and put my life on hold while I saw others kids living theirs.


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

At about the age of six we moved to Durban on the coast of South Africa .It was a six-hour drive from Springs, almost 472.12 kilometers away. It was prime real estate, close to the beach, amazing tropical weather, and people seemed happier. I remember singing with a choir of my fellow Grade 1 students bonding in a way that would have lead to life-long friendships. I remember learning to swim there, and my coach saying I had potential.

online Roberts Nomadiced copyI pose after a school event with my then
best friend at Veritas College High School
in South Africa.

Photo courtesy of Ashleigh SchaapWithin two years we moved to England. It had been the biggest move yet; we had to leave 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 so hard on.
England was nice and was probably one of my favourite places that I lived in, probably because I was there for the developmental ages of nine to 11. The place we moved to was a tiny village called Eyam in the north of England, better known as the plague village, the site where the black plague had first occurred in Britain.

I learned to draw there and even won a ribbon for my work at the village carnival. I started to dance, 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. His company division back in South Africa was offering him a job, and it was a better opportunity than the one he currently had in England. He was torn. While my mom loved England and the people she missed South Africa, she missed her family. My brother and I were young and we didn’t understand that by agreeing with my mom’s decision to go back to Springs, would change our lives again.

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


Next, we were moving again, to Canada this time, and I was terrified. I was 19 and my dad wanted us to start over 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, rather than work. South Africa was becoming increasingly dangerous and we were uncertain of whether we would be safe there anymore. He wanted a better life for my brother and I as well as he had always loved Canada as a place.

I decided to take my dad’s advice when we moved to Canada, and become a whole new person.
I immediately applied to attend Mount Royal University, and although I was too late to get into a program, I was able to sign up for Open Studies. This turned out to be 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 accepted. 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.

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 like they have before. I often find myself wishing I had been born in Canada so 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.


However, I am not alone in these feeling of insecurity. A study published in 2010 by the American Psychology Association and reported by The New York Times that surveyed adults who had moved around as children.

online Roberts Nomadic3ed copyAs a baby back in Springs,
South Africa.

Photo courtesy of Debby RobertsThe researchers wanted to see the correlation between residential mobility and well-being. For 10 years they followed 7,108 America adults who moved around as children. It was found that many 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 were more likely to become introverted or neurotic in adulthood. However, it was also found that people who showed extroverted personalities at a young age didn’t report the same kind of dissatisfaction that the introverts did.

People always seem so excited when I list the places that I have 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 malignant effect on me, it had good side effects too. I have met a lot of different kinds of people, all whom have helped to shape the way I see the world. I am also open-minded and am able to deal better with stressful situations; like the time my cousin feel in the pool and almost drowned, I was able to keep calm and dive in to save him.

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 in adulthood.

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 the transition, however some of these programs are only for a certain age group or culture.

There are many articles, from all over the Internet such as this one, 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, before the Internet?

Parents of the pre-Internet age didn’t think of things like that. For me I remember my parents biggest concern being with how much it would cost to go there and where my brother and I would go to school. I may have been young but I don’t remember having any sit down chat with how I felt with uprooting myself to move half way across the world.


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

online Roberts Nomadic 2ed copyEarlier this year my boyfriend, Brady Grove &
I attended a Calgary Flames game. I have come
to love Canada and the culture.

Photo by Andrea RobertsWhat can I do to help myself so I don’t become another statistic? In writing this story I have realized that I have to stop blaming my past. So I started on the long road I have ahead of me to try and 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.

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 live in Canada now, in a few years I will be a citizen and I am not going anywhere.

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

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Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flikr Licensed to Creative Commons

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