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Analysis & Opinion
24.10.11 A Quiet Separation
By Svetlana Kononova

A popular recruitment portal recently published a strange advertisement: an amateur writer seeks an editor to help him finish his book as he cruises the world on his personal yacht. It turned out, the weekend Hemmingway was, in fact, a Siberian businessman who said he was fed up with his life and had decided to change his lifestyle for good. “Half-immigration,” where one spends as much time abroad as possible without changing citizenship, is a trend among rich Russians, and it has become chic to manage your business from abroad, travel and feel like a “citizen of the world.” But while a decade ago only the rich could exercise this opportunity, the Russian middle-class has also recently begun to adopt this strategy.

Sergey Tugarinov, a specialist in Internet marketing and editor in chief of the anti-smoking, healthy-lifestyle Web site, called his emigration a “typical” attempt to change his lifestyle. “The moment [when I emigrated] coincided with deep soul searching. I was changing my daily routine: I gave up smoking and drinking. I got tired of being in the same place and wanted to see something new.”

Tugarinov now lives with his family in Thailand and is content with his new life. “Internet marketing is the most convenient profession for a traveler. I like Asia. I have been interested in it since my childhood. I feel comfortable in hot weather; I like the spicy local food, and I quickly got used to left-hand drive and motorbikes – now I can’t imagine my life without it. Generally I didn’t face any serious difficulties after moving there, except the high price of healthcare,” he said.

“Half-immigrants” are not illegal aliens; rather, they use legal ways to stay in a chosen country for a long time. Like a separation without divorce, it gives weary citizens a chance to get some distance without the onerous paperwork. The idea of “half-immigration” is also closely tied to new lifestyle philosophies, like down-shifting and other personal development credos. People who choose this way of life have different reasons for leaving Russia, but many seem to be happy with their decisions. “Moving to a new country opens new markets, opportunities, and professional and personal contacts. It is also advantageous for raising children. I have two. They are growing up more open-minded than they would have in Russia. If a child lives in a multicultural and multinational society, he can’t become a grey, mediocre person. And it is well-known that talented exceptional people move the world. Knowing foreign languages is also very important. My children speak fluent Thai, English and, of course, Russian,” Tugarinov said.

While the total number of Russian-speakers outside of Russia is estimated at more than 20 million, it is difficult to say how many middle-class people with Russian or CIS citizenship live abroad permanently or most of the time, and don’t use traditional immigration schemes. About half of Russia’s emigre community keeps its citizenship, but it is unclear how many are actually “half-immigrants.” However, as many countries develop more stringent immigration policies and limit opportunities for naturalization, it is possible that “long-term tourism” and “alternative immigration” will come into greater demand.

Polina, a programmer from a small town in central Russia, moved to Turkey because she didn’t see any prospects for professional development in her hometown. “I graduated from the university and got a diploma with a focus in programming, but couldn’t find a job because seven years ago employers in my town didn’t want to hire women for these positions. I taught computer science in school but my salary was too little to survive on, and I always wanted to develop myself and to do something creative. I needed to move, but to where? I didn’t want to go to overcrowded Moscow or St. Petersburg. I decided to move to Turkey. At least there I could use my knowledge of English. Also, there was the sea and the good climate,” she explained.

Polina is now self-employed. She edits a local English-language newspaper, teaches English and Turkish and creates and develops Web sites, including her favorite project – a Russian-language Web site about Turkey. For her, the change was not only professional, but about a chance for personal development and “self-actualization:” “Moving to a new country gives people the opportunity to break the cycle of everyday routine, look at their native country from the outside, compare life in different countries and to find new jobs. It inspires self-development because it is necessary to learn new things – a new language, culture, mentality, and people. I have more opportunities for self-actualization than I did in Russia,” Polina said.

Those benefits also carry on for the next generation, she continued. “On the one hand, a society teaches children to have respect for their elders and traditions. On the other, children in the resort regions are growing up in a mixed international environment. It is a good way to prevent racism and to continually broaden their outlook,” she added.

Both Polina and Tugarinov believe that the most difficult and most important aspect of “half-immigration” is to learn and understand the mentality of local residents. “This is the kind of information that you can hardly ever find in books, but it is a must,” said Polina. “It is necessary to be tolerant of local ways and manners. Intolerance is a typical mistake of many tourists and some immigrants,” added Tugarinov.
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