I’ve been asked this question a few times since abandoning the nation of my birth and as I find myself sitting here on this quiet Wednesday evening with nothing better to do, I thought it might make a good mid-week blog. So, what is an expat? Well, it’s short for expatriate. What? That didn’t answer the question? Okay, fine. Dictionary.com says:
[v. eks-pey-tree-eyt or, especially Brit., -pa-tree-; adj., n.eks-pey-tree-it, -eyt or, especially Brit., -pa-tree-] Show IPAverb, -at·ed, -at·ing, adjective, noun
–verb (used with object)
1. to banish (a person) from his or her native country.
2. to withdraw (oneself) from residence in one’s native country.
3. to withdraw (oneself) from allegiance to one’s country.
–verb (used without object)
4. to become an expatriate: He expatriated from his homeland.
5. expatriated; exiled.
6. an expatriated person: Many American writers were living as expatriates in Paris.
I can’t remember when I first knew the meaning of the word, but to me “expat” always brought to mind images of upper-middle class folk who were sick of living in America so they headed south of the border and set up shop in Mexico (making killer Mexican breakfast). I pictured loud shirts, flip flops, and shorts. Days and nights on the beach, and so on. The reality is that people are expatriated or become expatriates for a number of reasons. Since I can’t speak for anyone but myself I’ll tell you what it means to me. First, I should clarify that I didn’t really abandon the US. It’s not that I was unhappy with the government or my life in any way. In fact, it seems that as I get older, I get happier. Here’s hoping that trend continues.
In 2004 I moved a whopping 550 miles from home to follow a boy. Shortly after moving I got a phone call from my aunt who had a job opening with her company. It was a one year position as an assistant, probably nothing more than a gopher, but would be based in the UK. As amazing as it sounded I turned it down. I’d just moved for this relationship and had just started a new job. It didn’t feel like the right time. Of course (you knew this was coming) when that relationship ended (see, told ya) I was kicking myself. Six years later when I was once again faced with the prospect of a one year assignment overseas I certainly wasn’t going to let it slip away as easily as the first. I wasn’t planning to relocate nor was I even looking for a new job but here I am.
For some becoming an expatriate is a way of turning their back on their mother nation for whatever reason. For me, it feels temporary…at least so far. I’m only an expat in as much as I am currently a resident of a nation other than the one in which I was born and raised. I have every intention to go back though the more people I talk to, the longer one stays in Amsterdam the harder it is to leave. I’ll save that for another post.
It seems that the answer to the question “What’s an expat?” is not an easy one. Some are removed from their country against their will, others leave never planning to return, and others still leave for a little while to get a different perspective or a new experience. I fall into that last group…for now.