The ‘Somewheres’ vs. the ‘Anywheres’
There are two types of people in the world, the people from somewhere and the people from anywhere, or so it goes…
British author David Goodhart coined the terms “Somewheres” and “Anywheres” to explain the divisions of British society that brought on Brexit and the rise in populist politics.
According to Goodhart, the Somewheres are people who are more locally rooted and conservative as opposed to the Anywheres, who are globalists that are well adapted to change. The Somewheres attribute a large part of their identities to their place of origin or local communities and are less likely to move. The Anywheres, on the other hand, form an identity based on their life experiences rather than a place of origin; they are a highly mobile population usually congregated in large urban cities like New York, London, or Tokyo.
If I was born a Singaporean, I can choose to get my degree in the US, move to Germany for work, and settle down in Thailand to start my own business. Easy peasy, the world is my oyster and I’m able to live my best life.
Economic and systematic factors are involved too. In the example above, I was lucky to be born in a developed country with a strong passport (a Singaporean can visit up to 190 visa-free or with visa-on-arrival), and into an upper or upper-middle-class family with the means to send me abroad for my studies. But what if I was born as a poor Nepali with the same aspirations to venture abroad in search of a better life? Well, good luck with that.
As a Nepali passport holder, I can only visit 38 countries in the world without prior visa arrangements, and the only developed country on that list is Singapore. If I wish to visit somewhere like the US, even if it’s just for a short visit, I have to fill a long-form, demonstrate that I have enough funds for the trip, prove that I will not illegally overstay, and make an appointment with the embassy at my nation’s capital. Oh and let’s not forget that I have to pay a 160 USD application fee when the average wage for a government worker is 500 USD/month in my country; rural or blue-collared workers probably earning less than half that per month. If I fail my interview? Say goodbye to that 160 USD which could be all of my monthly wages, not including my transport fees to get from where I live to Kathmandu, the nation’s capital, and back.
Unfortunately, this is the reality for many rural Nepalis who seek a path to becoming Anywheres. An acquaintance who owns a coffee shop across from the American embassy in Kathmandu had once told me that it wasn’t an unusual sight to see distraught Nepalis come out from the American embassy after a failed visa interview and do drastic things: a man once smashed a bottle over his own head in despair. Imagine how it would feel if you borrowed money from your neighbors and traveled miles to make it for this interview, only to be rejected from your one shot at a better life and losing your investments. It is nothing short of devastating.
So you see, the divide between the Somewheres and the Anywheres is not just political, as seen in the case of Brexit, but one that also has economic and systematic dimensions in the global scale.
It had only been recently that I have fully realized the unfairness of the latter two dimensions of this divide. It is comparatively easy for an Anywhere person to become a Somewhere person should they wish, but it’s usually an uphill battle for a Somewhere person to become an Anywhere person.
I am an Anywhere person, and quite frankly, not by choice at first. My parents were Somewheres who’ve managed to cross the divide and become Anywheres through hard work and persistence. From a young age, they’ve dragged me across continents, forcing me to adapt constantly and adapt quickly. As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to belong, to not stick out like a sore thumb among my peers, and to have a place I can call home for more than a few years at a time — I wanted desperately to be a Somewhere person. But as time went on, I recognized the benefits of being an Anywhere person — having a multi-dimensional world view, strong adaptation skills, and friends from all over the world.
Why is it that an American or European can travel the world with wages from their part-time restaurant gigs but an Afghan couple cannot even go to Hong Kong to visit their only daughter who happens to be studying there (true story by the way).
A few months ago, I attended a training in Thailand with a diverse group of practitioners in my field from around the world. As I looked at the attendees’ list, I recognized an unfamiliar name with her country of residence listed as Syria. Curious, I asked our program manager why this person was missing, and she explained that unfortunately, the Syrian woman wasn’t able to secure a Thai visa in time to make it for the program.
You see, there is no Thai embassy in Syria and the consulate there does not issue visas. The nearest embassy is in Turkey, of which Syrians also need a visa to enter. Say you didn’t mind the bureaucratic hassle and got your Turkish visa in hand; you would still have to take a few days off from work to travel to Istanbul to go to the Thai embassy to hand in your application. I’m pretty sure that the attendee had every bit of merit to be at the training as any of us there were, but the system just didn’t work in her favor and ultimately, she had to forgo the opportunity.
At the same training, a Pakistani participant encountered a problem with trying to register for an important conference that he was due to attend in Malaysia. The conference was closely related to his work. The online registration system, however, only accepted payments from Mastercard, Visa, or Paypal and most Pakistanis don’t have access to those payment options. Anxious and distraught, he looked close to tears at the thought that he might be denied this opportunity to advance his career. Luckily, the conference organizers were understanding, and they allowed him to pay at the venue instead.
Nuances such as these can become major roadblocks for the aspiring Anywheres who may remain strapped as Somewheres; it can be small, such as not being able to go to Bali for vacation without months of advanced planning, or it can be big, such as being denied the opportunities to your success simply because you didn’t hold the “right” travel documents or financial tools.
Many developed nations in the world are strong advocates for universal human rights and equality for all. But when the governments of those nations talk about such concepts, do they only have those who live within their borders or cultural blocs in mind, while systematically discriminating against those who fall outside of those categories?
Nobody should be denied opportunities for advancement simply based on the geographic location they were born in and the passport they hold. It’s time for governments around the world to rethink the current system of mobility management so that global opportunities may be available for all, instead of just the privileged few — most of whom are simply lucky to be born into such privilege. Only then, will the equality they speak of truly materialize.