Don’t Be an Expat, Be an Immigrant

If you’ve been in WordPress as long as I have (c. 6 months) and happen to read posts that have been tagged with “Europe”, “Blog” and “Culture”, you would’ve encountered a happy number of blogs that are run by people calling themselves expats. For those unfamiliar with the word, it is simply a clipping of the word “expatriate”; a person living somewhere other than in his home country.

I don’t mind these people and neither do they mind me, but there is something about the word that would make me cringe if I were ever to use it on myself. Despite being a perfectly suitable term to describe someone like me, it has some connotations that I do not agree with. Thus I prefer to call myself an immigrant.

When I think of expats, I imagine Western Europeans playing golf in Costa del Sol, living in their small communities, drinking in pubs that are owned and visited by likeminded expats and consuming a culture that has been imported from “home”. As adorable as these people are, they usually have as much to do with Spain as skydiving has to do with a strawberry yogurt; these expats have simply built a temporary home that is in no way bound to the local culture… It’s the climate they’re there for.

There is nothing wrong with the road they’ve chosen, neither are all the people calling themselves expats exactly as previously described but the conscious usage of the term “expat” always highlights a particularly strong bond with home country. Often these expats differ little from tourists: they’ve come study a culture at a hand’s distance but never (or barely) touch it.

The word “immigrant” has its share of negative connotations as well. It appears the word “expat” is more popular among the Westerns, perhaps because it is considered to be the lesser of two evils (for “immigrants” are often frowned upon in Western politics). However, it could also be argued that there’s a difference between the terms; an “immigrant” has moved permanently, while an “expat” stays in the country for a limited or undefined amount of time. But seeing as no one ever knows the future and whether they will indeed want to spend the rest of their lives in a country or another, a majority of immigrants could still be considered as expats.

How is being an immigrant any better then? Usually immigrants wish to integrate; they want to belong and call the foreign culture their own. This does not mean they want to give up their old culture, which will usually be maintained within family circle. Perhaps the indefinite length of their residence (and the fact that they may have come to stay) causes immigrants to connect more actively. Despite initially conforming to circles of similar cultural heritage, institutes of education and employment eventually help immigrants to step out of their comfort zone.

Ultimately it does not matter whether you call yourself an expat or an immigrant. What matters is that you take actively part in the culture in which you are living. Don’t limit yourself to your good old [place nationality here] pub and instead go investigate what the “Pink Panda“ has to offer. Who knows, you might even have fun.

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