Forget about free will when choosing where to settle down

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Forget about free will when choosing where to settle down

How do you pick where you’re going to live in the world? When I was a lot younger and a little dumber I used to think that you had to see most of the world for yourself before you could choose where to settle down.

After your world tour, you could narrow your list down to a few top countries to start a new life in. (Nowadays, according to Newsweek, Korea would come in 15th.)

By the logic of this theory, once you choose the ideal spot, life would presumably begin in a multi-bedroom home with a delightful view of the beach. As a pertinent side note that may have some bearing on that logic, my life in Korea began in a one-room apartment with a less-than-delightful view of a brick wall. It turns out that you don’t necessarily end up in a place of your choosing. Rather, your little decisions and the opportunities that arise along the way often decide for you.

For many, that place is where they happened to be born. But even for expats, the adopted country isn’t always chosen through a rigorous elimination process. The fact is, doors open in your life and you walk through them. Next thing you know, you’re living in Seoul, or London, or Ouagadougou (in case you’re wondering, that’s in Burkina Faso).

Another theory that I brewed up back in those heady days of ignorance was that if you don’t like where you live, you should just leave. I couldn’t understand why people don’t just move to a better locale when a war breaks out or a rape campaign begins in their neighborhood. To the south of France, for example, which has very few rape campaigns from what I’ve heard, along with a pleasant climate.

There are two major obstacles to this, each with a series of attendant impediments that stand between people and a worldwide quest for the perfect place: jobs and relationships. Both are tricky to get into and difficult to walk away from, and both can cause life trajectories to veer off in unexpected directions. Of course, when I was formulating the above-stated theories, I had neither.

As a completely arbitrary example, take someone from Canada who has somehow ended up married to a Korean. No matter how enticing some of the countries on your list may look, there are now simply just two places that are going to take precedence in ensuing marital arguments over where to live. The rest of the world fades away because getting a job will be obstructively hard, and because you don’t know anyone there who will take care of your kids for free.

So do you really get to pick where you live, or does the world decide for you? I still believe that you can choose, if you’re ready to enjoy your personal equivalent of a brick-wall view for a few years. But I’m starting to think that how you feel about where you live is much more important than where it happens to be.

So if late one night you find yourself falling in love with someone from Ouagadougou over the Internet, you may want to practice falling asleep under a mosquito net. Who knows, you just might like it.


By Richard Scott-Ashe [richardscottashe@gmail.com]
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