What Is An Expat, Exactly? – Part II

Posted on 24. Jan, 2009 by Emmanuelle Archer in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration
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Today we continue our exploration of what makes someone an expat.

Setting aside the antiquated notion of expatriation as banishment or exile, we come to the more general meaning of the term according to Merriam-Webster:

to leave one’s native country to live elsewhere.

It is interesting to note that most authors and academics who write with expats in mind use a much narrower definition. Indeed, many of them work under two assumptions:

1. Expats are being sent overseas by a sponsoring organization (a corporation, church, government, NGO or the military)
2. Expat assignments are limited in time; expats will eventually move onto their next international assignment or go back to their country of origin.

In other circles, including online forums and many expat clubs, the definition seems somewhat broader: people who relocate without a sponsoring organization and have no plans to leave their host country are counted as expats, whereas academics and authors might contend that they are really immigrants.*

* Which theoretically would make me an immigrant and not an expat, as I relocated independently and have no intention to leave Vancouver anytime soon. Yikes. Does that mean I have to change my branding as an expat coach?!?

There are many more nuances to the “expat-but-not-really” status. Even though our PC-obsessed societies may be reluctant to acknowledge it openly, these nuances often rest on social and economic criteria. Refugees and migrant workers, for example, are not likely to be called “expats”, even though they have all left their native country to live elsewhere.

Here the assumption seems to be that expats have at least some financial means (in relative terms) and also that they have some degree of choice with regards to expatriating themselves- the alternative to expatriation is not persecution, famine or extreme poverty.

So, what would you call yourself? An expat, an immigrant, something else?

In the next post, I will attempt to synthesize these various definitions and introduce my perspective as a coach on what makes someone an expat, mentally and emotionally.

Emmanuelle

Related post: What Is An Expat, Exactly? – Part I

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