Cognitive Immobility

Uprooted Minds: the Emotional Tides of Migration

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Awareness is key in addressing the emotional hurdles of migration. Uncover the importance of recognizing cognitive immobility and fostering a balanced and fulfilling transnational life.

During a presentation I delivered last year, specifically for the Science Society, on my research concerning Cognitive Immobility, I virtually met a distinguished gentleman from India named Mr Deep. During the presentation, he asked a few questions, which prompted me to request that we stay in contact afterwards. Deep left India for the US, and after a few years, he returned to India. He spent 15 years there before moving back to the US. Now, he is engaged in both countries simultaneously.

He wrote:

Sorry for the delay in replying. I’m putting some of my thoughts below in reference to your questions. My first stint in the US was for a period of about 8 years which involved graduate study and then work. After the initial excitement of the first year, the unrooted feeling had started to happen but I continued and finished my graduate studies. And then continued to work. It was a period of confusion but the economic factor also made things difficult so after I started working and I had a few friends, things got better. In those years I still could not put a finger on the issue. But then after a few years of work I started to spend time in India and then finally decided to move back.

Cognitive immobility was the ‘issue’ he could not put his fingers on. This is the case for many people who, after an initial urge to move abroad, become disillusioned and long to return home or even have mental health issues. Very few actualise this desire, but most fantasise about it forever. Mr Deep is a professional and can move wherever he wants, but he longed for India, his birthplace and the place he called home. After spending eight years in the USA, this longing made him return to India.

Mr Deep was in the first stage of cognitive immobility a few years after arriving in the US from India. This stage is awareness/separation, when he became aware of his cognitive entrapment in India and associated stress and longing. While in the USA, he attempted to ‘recover’ by ‘revisiting’ India to see if he could regain what he felt he was missing.

However, it did not solve the problem; this was when he entered the second stage of cognitive immobility. Unable to bear the stress of loss, he moved back to India after spending eight years in the US. While in India, he was more comfortable but eventually realised that he longed for the US. He spent 15 years in India before relocating back to the USA. It could be argued that for Mr. Deep, ‘no home is truly a home’ now.

He further stated:

I never really lost contact with India and have made regular trips back and like I said I have started to work on creating a sustainable community there. So it assures me a place if I do decide to return back in my later years but also a project that keeps me connected and a place to go back to for some time of the year.

Now, he is in the last stage of cognitive immobility, the stage of stabilisation. He no longer seeks to reclaim or recover what he ‘left behind’ anywhere but is attempting to ‘retain values and pursue goals to help him cope with the loss, alleviating the sense of entrapment.’

He finally stated: I think these aspects of migration are something that for instance students are not aware of when going to another country with vastly different culture and would be a very important aspect of an orientation and something that needs more awareness.

For Mr Deep and millions of others who may have similar experiences, this is the inevitable aftermath of migration. Being aware of this could help strategise ways to ease the situation. Awareness is vital. However, it is critical for those who relocate to new places to ‘build and sustain four critical components in their lives to ease the emotional stress produced by cognitive immobility: a craft, a community, contemplation and good physical and mental health’.

About Ezenwa Olumba


I’m a doctoral researcher who researches and writes about issues at the intersection of memory, migration, and politics. I’m particularly interested in how violence, culture, atrocities on people and other life experiences influence people’s emotions, collective actions, (im)mobility aspirations, and identities. My outstanding research on ‘Cognitive Immobility’ has been well received, and the blog post emanating from it has been read by over 500k people worldwide and translated into other languages. I have published a research article on conflicts and blog posts on drones, eco-violence, and relief funding.

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