Those who felt young began to feel quite mature. For most, this is a positive outcome of emigration. Thus, one 22-year-old proudly stated: “My grandmother told me the other day — and it was a ‘wow’ moment for me — “Well, you’ve become quite the mature young man!”
Respondents said that they are now able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable: “I can say for sure that I’ve grown more mature, bolder, more experienced and more self-confident somehow, I’ve become a more interesting person because I have a lot of stories to tell about what I’ve had to overcome, and that I did it.”
But growing up quickly is not always perceived as a positive. There were also quite a few stories of how the new, much more difficult situation made someone not only stronger, but also more cynical, harsher, less empathic; they had to learn to think only about themselves, because they did not have the strength to think about anyone else: “While before I used to wonder how my parents and friends are doing, and so on, now I only concentrate on myself, on getting by. I’ve stopped thinking about others entirely.” And some, like one 28-year-old woman, said about themselves: “I’ve somehow aged in this time.”
On the other hand, some less youthful respondents who were already in their 40s and 50s, started to feel younger. Some are pleased: “my neural connections have become more active, I’m learning foreign languages,” “[Emigration] has made me younger, everyone is saying so. When the youngest ones leave, it makes them older. But in adults there is a kind of return to youth, to when you could easily handle everyday difficulties, for example. There’s not enough money, so what now? You take it easy. There’s a kind of youth and lightness there.”
Others have a more dramatic perception of this return to youth, seeing it as a loss of control over their own life: “I underwent a strange metamorphosis. All my life I have been a little adult, since childhood I have always been more mature than my peers, I always knew where I was going, I always knew what I needed, I made plans. Now I am 48 years old, I have given up the adult part of myself. I live like a child — I’ll make it through today, but I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”
But the most dramatic transformation happened to some elderly respondents, when instead of becoming responsible adults who are in control of their lives and the lives of their loved ones, they became weak. Here is one such example: “I have an unpleasant feeling that I am used to everyone depending on me, and to not depending on others, either psychologically or financially. I used to support my family, all my children and grandchildren. Psychologically, I was strong, but I became weak. Turns out we have to go and live out our lives elsewhere, it’s not a very pleasant feeling.”
In emigration, people begin to perceive their age differently than before, because life circumstances force them to do so. For many, this allows them to better understand themselves, their strengths and the greater opportunities offered, and sometimes they have to become tougher and more self-centered to accomplish this.