This is a tough question, and lies at the heart of why many do not return. There seems to be no bridge between their current area of expertise and the state of their profession in the Caribbean. It just seems easier to stay put.
When I lived in New Jersey I certainly thought so.
It began to dawn on me that continuing to live in Piscataway was the easiest way to go – the proverbial path of least resistance. I had enough materials possessions to last me for a long time – a 4 bedroom house on a 1/3 acre lot, a new car and a safe job. Jamaica was many, many miles away.
Then I took a 2 week trip home, and when I walked through my front door, I burst out crying (to my surprise, I’ll admit.) I had begun to give up on returning home, and it felt horrible… like I was turning my back on who I was at some fundamental level. After conversations with friends I redoubled my efforts to return.
I have often thought about that episode in my life, and how settled I had become in New Jersey… which is sometimes referred to derisively as “the arm-pit of America.” The trip home helped me to see that I needed to make returning home to Jamaica easier than staying in the U.S. There were many things that I did that helped to make this a reality some 10 or so years later, but one action that helped was to develop a network of clients and consultants back home in Jamaica. When my network grew to the point that its center of gravity was in Kingston rather than in New York, I knew then that it was time to make the final move.
How would I advise other professionals at the heads of their fields who are interested in Moving Back to Jamaica?
The first is to assure them that just about EVERYTHING makes its way back to Jamaica. We are a very aggressive people when it comes to learning and using the latest techniques, and while most things take time, we are a nature of early adopters. We take pride in continually narrowing the gap between ourselves and other professionals in “foreign.”
Notice however, that I used a qualifier—“just about.” It will never snow here in Jamaica, and if your area of expertise is training ice skaters, well, that might take a while… However, I love the movie “Cool Runnings” for it shows Jamaican audacity and assertiveness at its best: we likkle but we tallawah! (i.e. small but very strong)
The second point to note is that a professional who has expertise but lives abroad, can more easily be included in the goings on in Jamaica than ever before, thanks to internet technology. Technology has shortened the distance dramatically.
A professional who is not willing to learn and use the latest available tools is just allowing unnecessary distance to be created between themselves and fellow professionals back home.
The third point is that the overseas Jamaican professional must invest time and effort to learn the lay of the land. As a learner, the best posture to take is one of humility and curiosity, rather than an approach that suggests “I am the expert come home to help you poor people out.”
The longer the overseas professional maintains the stance of a learner, the more they can adapt what they know to fit the Jamaican circumstance. They should be reading books, newsletters and blogs, attending conferences, joining professional groups, visiting websites, meeting people and staying in touch with them no matter what.
They should follow their natural interests in the field, allowing their passions to take the lead, rather than any “networking logic.” When they find topics of interest, they should be willing to speak on them, share about them, write about them… and promote them to the general public if that makes sense.
If the field does not exist in Jamaica, create it!
For example, if I am the only expert from the Caribbean in a kind of eye transplant that no-one knows about, the best approach is to give enough information about the transplant to a wide enough audience that a demand begins to get created for its use (to use business terms that most doctors would abhor.) Start an association of “Doctors who Eye Transplant,” speak about it and write about it in the press, and be prepared for the day when the Jamaican public is ready to accept it as a viable procedure. This combined process of taking the lead in a chosen field by humbly giving away valuable information, is rarely taught well to professionals, even in the U.S. In the Caribbean, it is the rare professional who does all these well, and I found that the distance from Jamaica forced me to do more of these activities than I would have done otherwise.
The irony is that we Jamaicans want our professionals to bring home the best of what they can find from abroad, and we are often willing to pay a premium for it. We recognize that it takes time, effort and money to stay on the cutting edge, and we want our professionals, wherever they are based, to make the necessary investments to benefit our country on a whole and us as individuals.
However, I hinted before that the professional who returns home thinking that they “already know” what Jamaica needs in any area is doomed. We Caribbean people will quickly make fun of, or ignore anyone who claims to be the expert. However, someone who demonstrates their expertise by the value and information they create is treasured, and that is how an overseas Jamaican can overcome the challenge of networking from afar.