What is an Expat?

0 Flares Filament.io Made with Flare More Info'> 0 Flares ×

It can be quite a controversial term.  Here are some of my reflections on the word EXPAT

 
 

Ok, a place to start.  If those are the official definitions, what is the practical usage of the word EXPAT?  Ah, there’s the rub.  Practical usage of the word varies with geographical location, nationality, class, etc.  Basically, it varies depending on your perspective  Let me elaborate.

I will begin with my own experience.  I moved abroad, from the United States to Switzerland, four years ago.  Upon arrival I did not relate to the word EXPAT.  While I knew I was away from my homeland, I arrived due to my husband’s job with a local contract, expecting to stay 5 – 10 years, maybe more.  I didn’t consider myself an EXPAT then because I thought of an expat as someone staying only for a couple of years, maximum.  Soon I met someone who had lived in Switzerland for more than 25 years and still called herself an EXPAT.  That was my first recalculation of the definition of EXPAT.

And so I adopted the term.  I was away from my homeland, and the longer I was, the more I realized that while I could learn the language, the customs, the culture to some extent, I would always be an outsider.  Ideally, a happy, well-integrated, appreciative outsider, with a love and of her surroundings, her local hosts, but still, an outsider.  An EXPAT, in the most literal definition of the word.  I began to accept myself, even appreciate that as long as I was here in Switzerland, I would be an EXPAT.  Good.  I liked it.  Me, EXPAT, adventurer, choosing to put myself in foreign surroundings, learning constantly from the process.  Feeling more American than ever, feeling luckier than ever to learn another way.  Broadening my perspectives.

Then there is the other definition of EXPAT, the UGLY EXPAT,  if you will.  EXPAT:  SPOILED, RICH PROFESSIONALS WHO HAVE LITTLE INTEREST IN THEIR HOST COUNTRY OR ITS LANGUAGE, WHO WANT MOSTLY TO SPEND TIME WITH OTHER EXPATS (PREFERABLY FROM THEIR OWN COUNTRY), WHO FIND THE WHOLE PROCESS OF LVING OVERSEAS A BIT OF A HASSLE, BUT ARE WILLING TO MAKE THE SACRIFICE FOR THEIR “CAREER.”

Wow, is that an EXPAT?  Hmmm, that’s not a label I want.  Isn’t that really a relic from days past?  After all, not so many people have the “all expenses paid” overseas assignments these days, and even those who do, surely they have interest in the country they are moving to, the people, the culture.  In this day and age, in this global economy?  Well, my experience on that tells me yes…and no.

And so…that definition that I would consider quite out of date still remains.  Why?  So many reasons.  One, it is the definition many learned and have held onto, even though things are changing.  Two, we expats have done quite a bit to support this definition, and some still do.  And three, it is easier for local residents to talk about EXPATS than to really take the time to get to know them, just as it is easier for EXPATS to talk about the locals than to get to know them. Easier yes, but not nearly as enriching for either group.

Human nature is to keep to our own.  One way we do that is to focus on  our differences, point out problems and issues, instead of taking the time and energy needed to get to know each other.  We have far more in common that not.  And what is different is just that, not better or worse just different.  A bit difficult to adjust to?  Perhaps.  Not our way?  Perhaps.  But in the end just different.  And really, aren’t we glad, even thrilled to have those differences?  Would anyone really want a world made up of only people like the ones in his/her country?  No thanks.  We want the romance, the thrill of travel, the adventure.  But when we live with the differences day to day, whether as a foreigner or with foreigners in our land, sometimes we lose sight of that.  And that is when labels end up dividing us.

And so, many of us find ourselves in a foreign land, calling ourselves expats, whatever the reasons for our move.  Perhaps there is a better term, one without so much baggage, but for me it still fits, acts as an umbrella including all of us living away from our homeland, the good, and the bad.  As much as I would like to be the “ideal expat” and not have anyone think of me as having any of the “UGLY EXPAT,” the fact is sometimes I am.  Sometimes I am clueless about how things are done and put my foot in my mouth.  And, I am working on it.  Working to be a gracious ambassador of EXPATS.  Working to and then do my best to make EXPAT as positive a term as possible.  In turn it is my hope that the locals will be encouraged to be gracious, patient hosts and that we will all learn from each other and grow so much richer in the process.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please add your comments by selecting the Comments link to this post.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Pin It Share 0 Google+ 0 LinkedIn 0 Filament.io Made with Flare More Info'> 0 Flares ×
0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Pin It Share 0 Google+ 0 LinkedIn 0 Filament.io 0 Flares ×