Who are these expats?



Due to a recent comment on my blog I want to clear up what exactly this expat thing is. An expat is someone who’s living in a place that they do fundamentally identify with. This is very different from an immigrant. Quoting from the Wikipedia article on expats:

The difference between an expatriate and an immigrant is that immigrants (for the most part) commit themselves to becoming a part of their country of residence, whereas expatriates are usually only temporarily placed in the host country and most of the time plan on returning to their home country, so they never adopt the culture in the host country – though some may end up never actually returning, with the distinction then becoming more a matter of their own viewpoint.

Expats retain their culture and identity as being apart from their host country. And ambivalence on return is key. Expats run the gamut. There are expats who have definite plans to return, vague and shifting plans to return, and no plans whatsoever to return. However, all of them fundamentally identify either with their country of origin or some other group independent of the country they live in. Or they’re in love and they don’t care where they live: home is where the heart is.

17 replies
  1. hijo de thor, sobrino de messner
    hijo de thor, sobrino de messner says:

    nunca estuve mas de acuerdo con ud, el hogar es un sentimiento, al igual que la familia, por mi parte sientase adoptado en la mia.

  2. exnat
    exnat says:

    Hola Hijo y Karine,
    Muchas gracias. Casas pueden ser construidos de materias primas de la tierra. La materia prima del hogar es amor y es duro.

  3. Adrian
    Adrian says:

    Of course, no matter what you want to call yourself, to Argentines you’ll always be an immigrant.

  4. exnat
    exnat says:

    Hey Adrian,

    Sorry it took so long for your comment to appear. It got blocked by this spam filter on my site… If this happens again I’ll have to figure out another system…

    But getting to what you write, I’m not sure I understand. Most Argentines are a little scared of getting emotionally connected to me for fear that I’ll leave one day. Most don’t expect me to stay.

    I would phrase it the other way: it doesn’t matter what I call myself or what Argentines call me: until I call myself an Argentine, I’m an expat.

  5. Coogie
    Coogie says:

    Funny. In my online dictionary the translation to German is nothing more than ‘somebody who does not live in his home country’ or ‘person who lives abroad on a steady base’. That’s how I like to use it without adding moral or emotion, since I believe that’s what comes from the individual.
    I suppose, opinions like the above (cause I’m not going to take it for the one and only true definition since there are so many) are doing nothing but categorizing people for all the wrong reasons.
    So, there is prejudice, so what? What am I supposed to call myself? SALP (for steadily abroad living person)? Or maybe just Coog;)
    I never happen to discuss my expat being with locals. Sure, they ask what I do here and all, but they are fine with ‘studying, working, enjoying myself’ and I don’t get the feeling that they have a problem with it or that they get that knowing look on their face ‘Oh, she’s one of THOSE…’ Know what I mean?
    Sorry for the bit confused post, it’s getting late and I was out last night:)
    Un beso, Coog

  6. exnat
    exnat says:

    Hey Coog,

    Thanks for the comment. I don’t think I talked about morals or emotion in my post except for “ambivalence” and that’s a bit more of intellectual ambivalence. I also don’t understand what you mean about prejudice… I don’t think people are “prejudiced” against me but maybe you could explain more.

    I DID make the leap though that “home” is where you feel emotionally centered (“where the heart is”). So I guess the question I’d have is when you define yourself as a SALP, where are you “abroad” from?

    I guess what I was trying to say is that expats (and SALPS) primarily define themselves as abroad/away/absent from the place where they primarily identify. One could, in theory, say that you’re a citizen of the world and not see yourself as belonging to one place in particular. Someone who did this could hardly say they were abroad though because there’s nowhere to be abroad from.

    No, I don’t think that folks here stereotype me so much as that folks DO expect me to leave their lives at some point and not come back. This is not a problem with making acquaintances. It can be a problem when forging friends. You’ve lived abroad quite a bit. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Maybe this is what you meant by prejudice. But I think whether someone is going to be in your life in the long term or the short term is actually a pretty good basis on which to categorize people.

    Maybe we’re just misunderstanding each other. Can I clarify anything for you?

  7. Coogie
    Coogie says:

    Hi Nate, I just wrote a superlong comment and then my pc hung itself up:(
    So, I’ll try again, maybe a bit shorter this time.
    I think I didn’t explain myself well.

    I was referring to the Wiki-definition that I don’t agree with. To me it sounds like an expat will always be a stranger/outsider in his host country and I don’t think that is the case. I believe that one can identify with great parts of the new country and I don’t see how anybody would not identify with their own culture at the same time. It’s part of everyone’s identity. I totally agree with you when you say “However, all of them fundamentally identify either with their country of origin or some other group independent of the country they live in”. I find that rather natural.

    I also don’t agree that immigrants necessarily adopt the culture of the country they live in 100%. We have a huge number of immigrants in Germany (down to 3rd generation by now) and many of them still integrate their own culture in their everyday lives, which I think is a good thing. They are still a fully integrated part of society though.

    As for the prejudice: Maya once posted a comment on my blog saying that some people see her as ‘yet another xy who is like yz’, based on the idea of knowing what an expat is. But I think a more neutral definition would be a lot better since a less neutral one gives people more of a chance to categorize people in a way like that, which should be the case, because we are all so different, especially in terms of culture.

    I do get your point about friendships, but I think that is also a question of development in immigration in general. I think the more people come to stay and actually do stay, the less locals (and other foreigners) will assume, that expats are only here on a short term base. It’s a learning process, I think.

    Personally, living abroad to me has always been an emotional matter, also for that fact that as an immigrant’s daughter I never felt really rooted in Germany. So all I can do is stay in a place where I feel good as a human being, even if I cannot give reasons for that; to me it doesn’t really matter why I feel so well here, I just do. So, yes, to me home totally is where the heart is.
    I hope I haven’t misunderstood your post in first place:)
    Have a great weekend, Coog

  8. Coogie
    Coogie says:

    I wrote something weird there “But I think a more neutral definition would be a lot better since a less neutral one gives people more of a chance to categorize people in a way like that, which should be the case, because we are all so different, especially in terms of culture.”
    I actually meant a neutral definition would give us more of a chance to be seen as an individual.

  9. Coogie
    Coogie says:

    Hi, sorry, me again;)
    I just followed your link to the quoted Wiki-article and was surprised to find that the whole article makes perfect sense to me except for this one sentence that you picked out. For the most part it says that expats are simply people who don’t live in their country of upbringing. The Latin origin is exactly what it is in the German translation. And there are several examples in the article of expats that even more undermine the very general meaning of the word.
    So if we could just take it for that, there wouldn’t be a problem with people having trouble being called an expat or taking it as a categorization which it just not is.
    However, there are no further references to the article in general, so it might just be someone’s idea of what an expat is (at least the cited part sounds a bit like it).
    So, I’ve done so much explaining now – ENOUGH!;)
    Just wanted to add that I didn’t mean any offence (cause you sounded a bit offended) with what I wrote – I usually don’t, maybe I’m just not really good at expressing myself, and I really like your blog and think you are a nice person (online at least);)

  10. exnat
    exnat says:

    Hey Coog,

    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate your verve. I am certainly not offended by your thoughts and I am thankful for your taking the time to share them.

    So, I took a note from you and checked out Dictionary.com and from the best I can understand “to expatriate” is from the latin expatriāre [to banish] which strikes me with a sense of loss and being a stranger/outsider more than a friendly home away from home.

    Maybe it’s just a word game but to me home means that you’re claiming to be an insider. You can define home however you want but to the extent that you’re away from home you’re an outsider. My point is that immigrants are redefining where home is while expats are away from home.

  11. exnat
    exnat says:

    “Nothing is but thinking makes it so”

    Well, from a certain point of view nothing exists. However, there is a universe out there and we can choose to chop it up in ways that are useful to us and then give those little bits names. So, we could call expats SALPS (like Coog does) but that doesn’t change the fact that there are certainly people living away from the place with which they primarily identify, their tierra madre.

    We definitely exist.

  12. Coogie
    Coogie says:

    But, Nate, that sounds a bit like wanting to go back home? Do you want to go back home? Cause I don’t. My home is here. Not because I feel like Argentines are my soulmates and dunno what else, but because I am here.
    I used to think a lot about this feeling of having a home or homelessness, but now I think it wasn’t the place, it was just me.
    So, for many years Germany was my home, then it was Ireland, now it is Argentina. Even Peru was my home for 2 months. Or maybe they all still ARE my homes. I mean, when I am in a place and I live there and laugh and cry and there’s joy and pain and friends and strangers – where life just happens and I am there, that’s my home. I don’t tend to feel this on holidays, but when I get involved, yes.

  13. exnat
    exnat says:

    Hey Coog,

    It sounds like you’re defining home not as a place but rather as a feeling. I’m really happy you’re feeling more at home where ever you are 🙂

  14. Agnostic
    Agnostic says:

    Ntahn, I just don´t buy it. I´ve never seen an expat in my entire life. I´ve seen your pictures and you look like a regular person to me. You can´t be an expat…

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply