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Photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash

Why It’s Impossible For You To Understand Immigrants

The Missing Component You Must Implement

My first therapist was an immigrant. She wasn’t from an African country but she knew what it felt like to live in a place where once you opened your mouth, questions about your origins flooded.

Apart from the great job she did to help me see habits I was blind to, there was something about the way she gave me feedback that made me think she really got me.

Of course, she was trained. Most therapists are supposed to be able to do that.

I think because I knew she was an immigrant, I felt somewhat safe.

Somewhat heard. Somewhat understood.

It’s been harder since I stopped seeing her.

I was talking to a friend earlier today who had just left Cameroon.

She asked how I handled the feedback from people who believed that the ability to get into an airplane and leave Cameroon meant you had made it in life.

“Do you want the truth?

It never goes away. At some point, you realize that you’ll never be able to explain and they’ll never be able to understand.

And that it’s okay.”

I remember enjoying the process of documenting my lessons in this new country. It was a beautiful process and if I could go back, I would surely do it again.

I also remember the trough that had me doubt my ability to cope. The same one that had me wishing to go back.

If I have to label where I am right now, I just popped my head across the sea to catch my breath.

No longer drowning, I am.

Writing about living anywhere in the hopes to get understanding is a waste of time. Especially if it’s for people who have never immigrated themselves.

I’ve noticed the same type of responses on both ends.

  1. Americans : Well ,if it’s so bad, then why did I leave?
  2. Cameroonians: If it’s so bad, why did I leave?
  3. Americans: I took someone’s place and I deserve no sympathy.
  4. Cameroonians: I should be more grateful for this chance everyone wants.

If you read the comments on some of my pieces, you might realize that some of them could have caused me to wonder if there was any sympathy left.

The people who really understood, didn’t try to share any opinions.

It was more: “I hear you.”

There were no suggestions on how to fix things; no proposals.

My idea of understanding — at least, when I’m explaining something to someone — isn’t really for them to fix it.

I want to be heard. I want to feel like you actually care about what I’m saying.

That is something my therapist did well. It’s something that good friends do.

I think if parents did this well, a lot of the pain in the world would melt instantly.

In order to understand someone, you need to walk in their shoes. The mere suggestion of this exposes the privilege I have to dare mention that people should go to other countries in order to be understood or to understand others.

That’s a pretty expensive route, isn’t it?


I don’t think immigrants want to be understood. They want to be heard. Because what causes me the most pain isn’t the people instigating that I am searching for sympathy.

Just in case I did not clarify, I am not.

Sympathy doesn’t help the man building his life from scratch and forging his place in a new country.

Then again, after two years, what is “new”?

What’s the statute of limitations on homesickness and complete integration into the social and economic system of the new home?

And that’s the thing.

You could listen to your immigrant friends share a story from work, something racist or otherwise. You could find fascination in a story comparing America and Cameroon.

However, each person takes their own pace to find their place wherever they are.

Whether they want to go back because it’s too hard. Or they choose to stay because they have nothing left and fear to shame their families.

There’s no clear cut reason to why some people adapt better than others. Except maybe this quote I heard somewhere a while back.

“Wherever you go, there you’ll be.”

It’s been my experience that my view of the world, my goals in life, my approach to work and love, haven’t really been changed because I live in the US.

Unfortunately, to prove this, we’d have to clone me and have a version stay in Cameroon and verify after two years.

But since I’m the law on what makes Kamga tick, then I can comfortably state at this point that immigration doesn’t really change people.

It doesn’t make them harder to be understood.

It makes them more of themselves and most people just don’t know how to listen.

And if you can’t listen, you just can’t understand.

Written by

Cameroonian writer and video creator. Featured in LEVEL and P.S. I Love You. I write about building relationships and personal transformation.

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