A nice post from Delhi Bound here, check this out Saigonese!
One of the new blogs I read is the Displaced Nation. I fell in love with them during their Alice in Wonderland series, and I still read them now that it’s over.
A recent post touched on being Mobile in America (Mandy touches on what it feels like to be a Mississippian in Manhattan and the post then discusses whether you can be an expat in the borders of your own country).
I have my own opinions on this matter, but occasionally think that you all might rather hear the thoughts of others. I polled my friends, Lynden, Caitlin, Cindy and Mariella (all who have been expats outside of their home country for MANY years – collectively, I think 60+ years!) and here are their answers.
First the wikipedia definition of expat (expatriate) ::
An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin term expatriātus from ex (“out of”) and patriā the ablative case of patria (“country, fatherland”), from Greek Exo (outside) and Patrida (Fatherland, Country).
1. Mandy – in this post – says ” I don’t think I’ll ever completely fit in. What am I?” Do you have an experience whereby you ask yourself the same question? Has it been harder in one location than another?
LYNDEN = Naomi, even if you lived in India for 100 years none of us would ever fit in cos’ we are not Indian. I have done the north and south of this intriguing place (we’ve also been hard core domestic expats in Oz) and of all the things I have felt “belonging” has never been one of them. I was saying to one of my Indian girlfriends about 2 weeks ago that I crave experiences where I am not the only non-Indian female in the room/crowd/party/bar/sport stadium/airport/aircraft/train/……..
CINDY = I can definitely relate to this comment. When I go home to the States, I don’t feel like I fit in there anymore. My experiences have made me a different person and a lot of people don’t want to hear about your foreign country experience all the time. They tend to think you are “bragging” but in reality, you are just relating the conversational points to your experiences, but the experiences themselves are in a different context since I have lived abroad for so many years – and that has to be clarified!
Also, when it comes to talking politics, I find that my views have changed so radically because of my experiences living abroad. Take child labor for example. I in no way condone it and wish that all children were able to have a happy and healthy childhood in which they receive a decent education, however, I also recognize that for some children, in some situations, working provides more opportunity for them. For example, my housekeeper when I was in India was born on a coffee plantation in the Mangalore area. She left home at about the age of 12-14 to go work as a house servant for a family in Bombay. While there she went to school in the evenings and learned how to read and also to speak English. Because of this she was able to work for foreigners when she was older and earn a much better income than if she did not speak English. she moved to Bangalore, married a man from Nepal, and works for foreigners earning easily twice as much as she would earn working for a local family. If she had stayed on the plantation as her siblings did, she would have married younger and would have become a plantation worker, like the generations before her.I also, will of course, never completely fit in in the foreign country I am living in!!!
CAITLIN = So about fitting in: the only time/place where I felt out of place was in Texas where I grew up. Was it TX or was it coming of age there and not being born there or was it just those awkward teenage years? I have no idea. But, I haven’t necessarily chosen the expat life as a means to fitting in somewhere. We will never fit in in places like India but I don’t expect to either–that’s precisely why I like it because it shakes up your world and gives you a new perspective . For me being an expat is about experiences, not necessarily about fitting in but then I’m not terribly bothered by it either as long as I have a few good friends.
MARIELLA = I always think this, but then wonder if most people don’t feel the same way. I fit in as an ‘expat’ in general but don’t necessarily fit in with every expat group. I am okay with that…..is that too anti-social?
2. She also says “Like most expats, Kary and I debate about the right moment to move on and where to go next. Will we try the West Coast, or consider moving back south?” … is that true? Do most expats debate about the right moment to move on and where to go next?
LYNDEN = I dont know!! When the boredom gets the better of us we move!!
CINDY = We don’t debate where to go next. In this economy we look at where the next job is and go there. It’s pretty simple. The goal for my husband is to stay securely employed and since I am a photographer I can go anywhere 🙂
CAITLIN = I think the answer to this relies totally on your specific situation and it’s usually job-related. For us, we know we’ll be shifted every 3-4 years so it’s not up to us. That is, unless husb quits his job!
MARIELLA = My husband and I usually have very different opinions of when it is time to leave for home or to move to another post. Since he is the one that we are following, the decision to move usually ends up with what job opportunities he has at the time. That is very frustrating.
3. Mandy says “Tell me, why do so many Americans seek adventure overseas when it’s perfectly possible to be an expat here?” … is it possible to be an expat inside the borders of your own country?
LYNDEN = I can tell you not so many Australians seek adventure overseas – gypsies like our family – and the non-diplomatic Aussie mates we have here – are in the minority. It is NOT possible to be a domestic “expat”. I used the term flippantly before! Having done both, it is simply not even close to being comparable.
CINDY = In a way, this is a good question, but I think that again, we took the opportunity that was presented to us. While there are certainly cultural differences in the different regions of the US, I also think it is safe to say that those differences are far more exaggerated if you live outside of the US. I would rather be an expat in a foreign country myself. I have enjoyed it and wouldn’t trade it for being a US expat at this point in time. I may change my mind on this in the future though 😉
CAITLIN = I don’t think you can be an expat in your own country. But, of course there are plenty of adventures to be had within our own country, it’s just different than say living in India as an American.
MARIELLA = I am sure there are some great adventures in the USA, but the cost and time to do them aren’t usually available. As a true expat, you usually have more vacation days, a potential amount to travel on or have enough savings from the job to travel more….Also, there is a huge difference in a country’s culture that is outside of American than the different cultures in America. I find the first one more interesting and challenging.
4. Question: Can being an “expat” within your own borders be just as enriching as becoming one by crossing borders?
LYNDEN = Absolutely NOT – it can be enriching but no, the experiences from going overseas for a family could NEVER be matched by any experience you might have in your home country. Even if you look at the nuts and bolts of it – I dont know anyone who gets paid less for being an overseas expat. The positive financial impact being an overseas expat has on your life automatically opens the door to experiences and opportunities MANY would NEVER have in their home country whether they are in the North South East or West of America, Australia or Timbuktu.
CAITLIN = I think moving around the US can be very fulfilling, like getting to know different people and different parts of the country, but it is still one country. That is the beauty of the US, to have these great states with their own histories and local quirks, but in the end we share a common history that bonds these different regions together, even north and south. This is what makes our country so amazing. That’s why I don’t think you can be considered an expat in the US just because you move from one state to another.
MARIELLA = My answer is no….I think that learning a new culture, language and even just learning how to adjust and live in a foreign country is ten times more challenging than staying within a same country where the language and most customs are the same and the system of how things are done would be similar. There is an adjustment but it is much easier when you speak the language and are familiar with the customs. There are some fantastic places to see or live in the USA, but I just find living abroad more stimulating.
So what do you readers think? Do you agree or disagree with any of the comments from these folks?
I would love to hear your answers and thoughts on the third question …. can you be an expat in your own country?
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