Expat Life

I Don’t Like Using The Term “Expat” To Describe Myself

You might consider that hypocritical because my blog is part of a few expat sites and I participate in “expat linkups” but I don’t think of myself using that terminology. Yes, by the very definition of expatriate “a person temporarily or permanently living outside their native country” I am one.  I love America, but I hardly ever think of my “American-ness” on a daily basis. I’m not embarrassed to be identified as American, but that rarely ever comes up in standard daily transactions. In fact, more Londoners have asked me if I’m Irish than have ever asked about America. But here’s the rub of why I don’t use the term for myself: I don’t feel as if I am living away from my home. I don’t feel like an outsider in London. I’ve spent about an eighth of my life here now. Which simultaneously doesn’t sound like any time at all, and a lot of time. 

smelling flowers, not an english rose

I may never be an English Rose. 


I’ve read articles on the rise of the term “expat” and it seems to be that there was a move away from the term “immigrant” because it implied lower socio-economic status; skilled workers get to be “expats” whilst lower income position workers are “immigrants.”

 

 

 


But the modern usage of the word “expat,” to me, implies a certain element of “being a stranger in a strange land” with a fairly consistent element of homesickness, or with a feeling on not truly belonging anywhere. I miss Target as much as the next person, and sometimes all I want in life is a peanut butter M&Ms but there’s never been a moment in my journey where I’ve felt I don’t belong. Sure there are differences between the US and the UK (obviously I have a whole tounge-in-cheek series on it in titled ‘When in England’), but most of those differences are first world problems of not having a tumble dryer and laughing when I got a scathing look from a fellow student when I told her I was wearing dirty pants (in England that means underwear) whereas what I meant was that my trousers hadn’t been washed. 


But have I ever felt like I didn’t belong or that I was torn between two cultures? Not really, no.  I think there’s a danger in the expat community of creating desiginated “home” vs “here” comparisons where one seems right and the other wrong.  In my opinion, if you focus on the differences of where you live every day than you are holding yourself back from ever fitting in. 


I won’t bat an eye if other people call themselves “expats”. I don’t mind at all. In fact, I have zero opinion on their usage of the word. If it fits them and their journey comfortably, who am I to argue what someone identifies with? Would I feel differently if I  was living abroad in a country I hadn’t studied in or one I didn’t know the language of? I’m sure I would.

My own personal journey is different than many that you read about in expat blogging communities, which are military expats, company transfers and those who teach abroad. I studied abroad during undergrad, went back to America for a few months, and then returned to the UK for a Master’s degree. When my MA was over, I went home to apply for a visa so I could return once again, this time to permanently settle here. So by the time my “expat” life in England started I felt that I had already pretty fully culturally assimilated, aside from my pesky passport.  As atypical as my MA course was, I still went through a British educational institute, so I shared a cultural experience with many, many Brits. I never had the “traditional” expat experience. Though I did shed many, many a tear over visas, but that’s a different ballgame altogether. 

The biggest differences I’ve encountered in England are the same differences I’d encounter had I moved to another side of the US: the difficulty of making friends as an adult, discovering new favourite places, etc. Mine just so happen to be across the ocean from the rest of my friends and family. Whilst I’ll never be British, I also don’t feel like I am living in a country that is not my own. This is why I feel like an “expat impostor”. Maybe I’m splitting hairs but it’s a label that doesn’t feel right for me. Like a dress that looks sweet and is perfect in theory but is itchy when you wear it for a few hours.  I’ve created a home with someone and that would be our home no matter what country it is in.

 



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  • frankyburns

    As someone who has lived outside of my homeland for 28 years now, in three different countries, I have NEVER identified in the slightest with the word “expat.” The first time I even heard it, I had no idea they were referring to me. Then I asked what the heck it was and they told me, but it just sounded too weird of a word. No way. I’m not one of those, never have been.