Do you think of yourself as an expat?

Do you consciously consider yourself an expat (if you’re someone living outside your home country)?  If not, is there a label you prefer, and why? 

Reins NY Style Deli.  Amazing Jewish Deli in Vernon, CT.  A perfect place to stop and eat on the drive between MA and NYC.  Part of what I consider my “home” stomping ground.

Today’s post was inspired by my friend Jessica.  In the course of a conversation on the Expat Bostonian Facebook Page, she mentioned that she doesn’t actually think of herself as an expat, although she’s been living abroad for the past 15 years.  Her comment inspired me to think about my conscious choice to use the “expat” label.  I’ve never thought of myself as anything but since we moved abroad.

Multi-story escalator at Ion Orchard, and part of my new stomping grounds.

I began to wonder how the labels we use to define ourselves relate to our feeling about living abroad…

For me, I think there is some level on which the term expat is comforting.  It implies (in my head, anyway) a level of impermanence.  That I can always go back “there” again (even as I’m learning that the “there” I’m from has ceased to exist).  It’s a handy label–I’m not from here, I’m from somewhere else…please excuse my bumbling incompetence.  I’ve chosen to take the label and wrap it around me like a security blanket.

What about you…what labels did you choose?  Do you like the term expat?

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19 Responses to Do you think of yourself as an expat?

  1. Stacey says:

    Being an ex-patriot is like saying “I’m no longer keeping the home fires burning but I’m also planning to leave at some point”. I’ve been pondering the term a lot myself. It has occurred to me that there’s a (huge) class divide in people who work overseas. If you come for a crappy job you’re a “migrant worker” but if you come for a good job you’re an Expat. I’m not sure what I think of that aspect of the title. We are by that definition expats but I wouldn’t call my maid a migrant worker or an immigrant (because she plans to go home) but would she call herself an expat?

    • Crystal says:

      Thank you for bringing this up. There are definite class connotations to the use of “expat.” I doubt my helper would use that term either.

      In fact, the times I’m ambivalent about using expat are those moments when it confers the idea that I sit around eating bon bons all day while my maid watches my kid.

  2. notabilia says:

    Sometimes. Depends on the situation. “Expat” has some unfortunate connotations and can imply rich, spoiled, close-minded, etc. (Obviously, most ‘expats’ I’ve had the joy of meeting here aren’t like that, but you know what I mean…) I think I use “American” or “New Yorker” much more than I use “expat.”

    • Crystal says:

      That’s very true. I most often self-reference here as “American” although I think of myself as an expat.

      • notabilia says:

        I guess, while I use it occasionally, I find the term a little outdated given today’s global migration of talent.

      • Crystal says:

        I guess it depends on where you’re from. Ravi comes from a much higher socio-economic background than I do…none of his friends or parents friends found it strange that we were to move abroad for his work. Many (most?) of them had or were expats themselves (or first generation Americans who, like Ravi, grew up with a much more heightened awareness of the world around them). Contrast that with my very working class background where going to college out of state was freakish and daring….moving out of the country just isn’t something people actually do. I think that it’s far more common in non-US countries to move abroad than it is in the US.

        I do agree, though, that the term is a bit outdated. When you compare our move with Ravi’s parents move to India when he was in high school for a few years….the two packages are millions of miles away. We’re Americans who live in Singapore–we don’t have a house, a driver, paid schooling for our kids or any of that. We have a “local package” and while we are financially well-off, we don’t have the kind of “expat” lifestyle that the term connotes. We don’t have the American Club membership (waaaaaaay too pricey even if we wanted it), and I stress about paying tuition for the girls once they hit primary (and feel happy to have found a financially affordable option that we like academically as well for pre-k and k). I’m going to take a hard look at local schools when the time comes, or consider going back into teaching to get the tuition break for my kids (I am a certified teacher after all…).

        But the casualness with which other countries approach the whole “global migration of talent” to use your excellent term is something I hope our girls acquire. I want them to take a wider view of their options than I ever did before now.

      • notabilia says:

        Excellent points, C. Our family has lived all over the world and has/does move quite frequently. Many of our closest friends are overseas for work as well. (We use Skype a lot.) That we moved overseas is *almost* no big deal.

        Ditto re: local package stuff. Although, at least among my Singaporean friends, most people realize that we are here without the “expat” perks. The current global (there’s that word again!) economy doesn’t allow for that sort of lifestyle anymore.

  3. At the back of my mind I always think that I will be going back to NY at some point (although I don’t know when) since being in SG hasn’t quite given me the same level of permanence that I was hoping for.

    Hmmm. When I use the word “expat” to describe myself, people give me strange looks because I am Asian and speak the language. 😐

    • Crystal says:

      I have a friend who, like you, could “pass” for a Singaporean, and she’s found adjusting here much more challenging because people expect her to “get” things that they don’t expect me to understand. Do you find that speaking the language has made it tougher for you at all (or easier in some ways and harder in others)?

  4. Dawn says:

    I didn’t realize you frequented the Boston/NYC route. I second the recommendation for Rein’s! Most of the time I end up taking the bus so we end up stopping at Arby’s or Burger King (gag) but when I go with my family in the car, Rein’s is my favorite rest stop! Yum!

    • Crystal says:

      Ravi introduced me to Reins about 6 years ago and I never looked back. Prior to that, I mostly tried to drive after midnight to avoid traffic (with varying results) so I most often didn’t stop at all in CT and was starving by the time I hit the Charlton rest stop in MA or wherever I was going in NYC.

  5. bookjunkie says:

    I think expat can be a useful label when you want to seek out others who have taken the same life journey. If I was trying out life in another country I would probably call myself an expat too…as more of a description than a label. But sometimes I too wonder whether it’s offensive my me to put a label for a group of bloggers under my blogroll, and hope they are not offended. To me it’s another convenient descriptive title like foodies or design bloggers. Yeah it gets a bit tricky.

    • Crystal says:

      I think it’s very human to want to find labels that make it easier to define a situation or a lifestyle. Expat is much easier than “American living in Singapore” or an even longer description like “first time living abroad” versus someone who’s been abroad for over a decade. Expat is a useful broad label, and like you said, it can be a really helpful label when you first move abroad to find community.

  6. Flora says:

    I never started out calling myself an expat, I was just a chick from California that moved to Singapore. But I feel like it’s a title that’s been given to me by people here; I’m called an expat before I even have a chance to explain myself sometimes.

    I think it depends on the situation and who I’m talking to.

    I don’t like the assumptions that come with calling myself an expat, because people sometimes think I’m a spoiled lady of leisure. That’s not true.

    • notabilia says:

      Flora and I have had long conversations about this and I agree that 1/ we may/may not choose to identify as “expat” and 2/ this is a label that may/may not be bestowed to us depending on where we are from and even the color of our skins. Because I am a person of color, I also deal with lots of other assumptions about… well, a lot of things. Don’t get me started ;).

      • Crystal says:

        You make an excellent point. There are a lot of assumptions that get made about Ravi that I’m not subject to because I’m white and he isn’t. This happens here, but is often an issue in the US even more. It would probably happen here more if he didn’t generally avoid Little India.

      • notabilia says:

        The assumptions I have faced here are distinctly different from those I have faced in the USA. And they come in my day-to-day interactions with people–cab-drivers, store clerks, even some of my students. Actually, I feel fine in Little India. No one really gives a hoot about me (or anyone for that matter) and the food is divine!

      • Crystal says:

        With Ravi it’s that he gets spoken to in various Indian languages (none of which he speaks) and he gets frustrated that people expect him to be more Indian. Which, ethnicity aside, he just isn’t. I am jokingly referred to as my in-laws “indian child” if that says anything.

        But because he’s a person of color (and could easily have been born here), it’s not until he opens his mouth that it’s clear he’s not local. With me, it’s fairly unavoidable.

    • Crystal says:

      I was saying to Stacey that the instance where I *am* uncomfortable with the term expat is when people assume that means I’m sitting around eating bon bons while someone watches my kid.

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