Expat or Not? How Our Members Identify
After moving abroad, many people struggle with their identity. Do they still identify with their home country or do they feel more settled in their host country? Are they expats or do they see themselves as something else? It turns out that these identities are not as cut and dry as they might seem. And the longer they stay, the more likely it is that expats reevaluate their identity. We asked our member to tell us about their expat identity.
Expat: A Temporary Identity for Some
The term “expat” has been widely discussed throughout the last decade. Many have criticized the label as being exclusive and only describing white and wealthy people moving abroad. Despite this perception, many still identify with the term expat.
Aside from describing people who leave their home country, there is also a finality to it: expats often only stay abroad for a limited amount of time. Our members do not seem to be too rigid in their interpretation of the term. Many who identify as expats are planning to live abroad long-term.
However, it is also a label many newcomers identify with. When we asked our members about their identity, many said that they identified as expats when they first moved abroad. However, over time, this changed for them.
"I have been living in Istanbul for eight months now. When I am home and watching my country's news channels, I never feel like I am abroad. But when I step outside, the reality is something else. I identify as an expat."
"Although I am far away from my home, I feel more connected to my home country. When I first moved abroad I saw myself as an expat who is in search of greener pasture."
“When you do not see something by your own, you have so many misconceptions. Being an expat to an international — two decades taught me a lot and changed my perception.”
International: Neither Here nor There
Those among our members who have lived abroad for many years are more likely to identify as “international”. They usually have ties to both their home country and their host country. While they don’t feel fully settled in their host country yet, many of them have no intention of returning to their country of origin anytime soon.
“I was born in London, moved to Australia when I was 5, and moved to Ireland be be with my French husband! I feel pretty international, but I do miss some things about Australia.”
“I feel more international, like I feel I'm 10 Pakistani, 10 percent Indian, 10 Afghan and 70 European.”
Global Citizen: At Home Wherever You Go
Of course, some of our members are so-called “serial expats” and have lived abroad in many different countries. These are the people who have found ways to settle in and feel at home wherever they go. They usually see themselves as global citizens — being at home everywhere and nowhere.
“My first country where I lived was Italy. I was a student. Here in Spain, I would say that technically I am an expat, however, I consider myself as citizen of the world. Usually, I adjust very fast to a new environment.”
“Having lived abroad more than in my home country (Netherlands), I feel more like a world citizen than any nationality.”
“Curiosity, explorer and being adventurous. But above all being free as citizen of the world.”
Although most of the 230 members who shared their point of view identified with one of the categories, some did not see themselves as expats, internationals, or global citizens at all. Instead, many who hadn’t settled in yet still identified most strongly with their home country. They are Filipino, American, or Australian, to name just a few.
Others identified most with their status as students. Those are the ones who have moved abroad only to study and are planning to return to their home country after a while or when they have graduated. For many of these members, their path may not have been carved out yet. They may still end up moving to another foreign country or staying in their host country.
“I am a Filipino citizen and I am proud of my heritage.”
“I came to Australia in 1972. Since then, I have moved back and forth to the USA eight times. Finally, I have settled down in Brisbane for good, as an American moving to Australia.”
“I have been here for more than three years. I plan to go to another country after completing my bachelor's degree. I still define mysef as a student.”
“I have been in Germany for two months. I am open to staying back after my Master's Program. Yes, I feel connected to my home country whilst I am also adapting to the host country culture. I identify as a migrating student.”
Your Identity: A Personal Journey
One thing that became clear to us when looking at the answers of our members was that there is no hard and fast rule on how people who live and work abroad identify. Although there are some commonalities, like the ones we covered above, a person’s identity is very personal. And it is informed by many aspects, some reaching beyond the duration of their stay or the purpose of their move.
So, maybe you have moved abroad and you don’t feel like an expat yet, or you feel like a global citizen but you struggle to put into words why that is? It is okay to struggle with your identity after your move abroad or realize that the way you identify has changed after a while.
“Identity — it is something important when you know who you are. I think we always feel our roots, in different level, each of us, but still, identity it is something that is by default in us.”
“Identity and the values you believe in are crucial. On the other hand, there is the identity you believe you are versus the identity as you are seen by society.”
InterNations team member Crissy also struggled with her identity for a while. Find out how she learned to love and embrace it.