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.