Reflections on 3 Blog Posts About the Expat Identity

“Today’s “Expats” Form A Community Based On Shared Experiences, Not Race” – according to Ruchika Tulshyan

In many ways, this holds very true. Oftentimes, the fact that both of you, or all of you, are expats and share certain experiences is enough in order to bond. I think there comes a phase in the life of many expats where they almost do not bond at all with people who have never had the experience of being an expatriate before. I had this experience, too. In this situation you are similar in the sense that both of you know what it feels like to be a foreigner in that country. Often this feeling develops at a time where the expat strongly links his or her identity with being a ‘global citizen’, or a ‘global nomad’. Ironically, while being a global citizen implies that you you are adapt at behaving to the cultural environment, people in this situation often get stuck in their own little expat bubble, where they hardly have contact with locals at all.

Here some statistics first published in an article by Annie Hill

  •  38% of interviewees said that the majority of their friends are other expats
  • 20% of interviewees said that most of their friends are locals
  • 38% of interviewees report that their social group is a mix of locals and expats

While everybody has to make his or her own decisions, my experience is that the healthiest lifestyle for an expat is to have both, local and expat friends. Without local friends, we will never be able to get a real understanding of what the local culture is like. Without expat friends, we have nobody who can understand our concerns. And again, the idea by Ruchika Tulshyan is a very important one in my opinion: we should not choose our friends based on their race. I personally think that  the true nature of an effective expatriate should be that he or she strives towards meet as many different people as possible, and to understand and accept their different viewpoints. 

Life as an expat offers “a quality of life that satisfies the desire to feel like a self-determined individual” – says Rashmi J. Dalai

Before I give my comment to this, I would like to say that this is one of the best articles I ever read on the expat identity. I highly recommend reading it. What Rashmi Dalai argues is that because societies do not have the same cultural expectations of expatriates than they do compared to the native citizens, expatriates often feel like they can live their own personal identity more freely when they live abroad then when they live ‘back home’. I can really confirm this as true for myself. Going back would be extremely difficult for me, because I know that there would be expectations of me which simply do not relate to my identity anymore. It is my believe that expatriates, especially those who lived in multiple countries, pick and choose those aspects of the different cultures and incorporate them into their identity, which they personally like the most about each country.

In my case, this means that I try to incorporate the Australian informality, the Indonesian politeness, and the German efficiency into my own identity. Here in Australia, that is no problem. Nobody expects foreigners to act exactly like Australians. If I was to go back to Germany, however, Germans would think of me as being extremely rude when I would like to address everybody by their first name, and as extremely wishy-washy at the same time, because of my polite, indirect way of talking.

 

Tim

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