Recently, a friend and I were talking about both of our home countries and an expat event hosted soon. A fellow friend chimed in: “But you aren’t an expat anymore. You’re an immigrant.” She turned to my friend who had been living here for 8 years already. Her statement threw me off a bit and began to pose two very different feelings of how and why we were both in America. So I stopped and asked myself: Does my friend consider herself an immigrant? Do I consider myself anything other than an expat? Two questions to ponder on.
According to wiki’s definition of an expatriate, this is ”a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of their citizenship. […] Skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual labourer who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labelled an ‘immigrant’ or ‘migrant worker’.”
While I cannot fully agree with the first sentence (what if you have more than one citizenship but grew up in a different country all along? Are you an expat for all three countries or just countries other than that?), this definition makes the most sense to me. It emphasizes the difference between having the freedom to move abroad as opposed to feeling the (financial) necessity to move to a foreign country.
Urban dictionary cannot be seen as the most serious source, but occasionally they do have some quite entertaining definitions of being an expat, such as the following one:
“Often their pay is considerably higher than the locals and they live a life of wanton pleasure while working as little as possible. Other times, like as an English teacher, they live better than locals but not by much and spend their leisure time searching for the best deals on local beer.”
Well, if that had been the case when being an expat in NY, I would have been one happy bird. Unfortunately, my salary did not at any point exceed that of other locals but probably could have been found in the mid-ranges of our society. I am also not spending my (scarce) free time searching or best deals on booze. Even though booze has been a crucial part of my existence in America.
Now, back to the beginning: Considering the fact that my friend did no voluntarily come here but moreover on grounds of her parents moving here, I do not see her as an immigrant. After all, she was a teenager and there was no reason other than her parents’ expatriate behavior that initiated her move. However, since it wasn’t entirely up to her free wills (who has those really as a teenager these days), she isn’t necessarily an expat either. Or is she?
I used to think that the meaning of an expat is bound to time spent in a country. After being in this country for almost 5 years, I sometimes have a hard time seeing myself as an expat, too. At times, I almost feel fully integrated into this city, which has been my home for so long. At others, I still don’t feel I fully belong and am repulsed by many things about my chosen destination.
But being an expat does not mean your stay is bound to time at all. Even if you’ve been abroad for a decade or more. As this article by InterNations points out, it is more for the reasons you moved to this country that define you as an expat. “A career decision, a thirst for adventure, to find love, to follow a spouse or partner, or simply for a change of pace.” But of course this is only a small scope of reasons why people move abroad on free wills.
I guess I still consider myself an expat, despite the time having passed and me growing more and more comfortable in my surroundings. I am still here on my own terms, and that is a great feeling. At the same time, my thirst for adventure is awakening travel plans to faraway countries. Maybe I am just thirsting to being a fresh expat somewhere else again, too. But the questions I ask myself remains: Where to return to – Germany, the home country, or America, the country that has become home for the past half of a decade?
Perhaps being a constant expat is not a bad thing, especially at a relatively young age and when having no major responsibilities, such as a family of my own. Best to take it in before wanderlust disappears.
So, in conclusion, here are a few rambled thoughts on how it feels like to be in a foreign country for almost 5 years:
** You don’t miss your family. You frantically miss your family.
** You miss your home country. You re-consider why you left and don’t miss your home country.
** You set yourself apart from others in this new country. You are no different from others in this country.
** You miss everything about the past. You miss nothing about the past.
** You are annoyed with the things you once found great about your new country. You find new things to find great and gain perspective in the process of.
** You see how some people back home have not changed. You see how much you have changed.
** You wake up every day and can’t believe you are still here. You wake up every day and see the city as an adventure.
Life is an adventure. That’s why you came here.