Obviously there are many expats who move abroad primarily for economic reasons, and there are those who move for a better climate or lifestyle. But there are also many expats who seem to be more comfortable or just happier living in a culture and country outside their own. I think I put myself into this category, and recently I wondered about this after chatting with my brother who has lived in Germany for the past 15 years or so.
We were talking about how when you are in your home country (the US in our case) that it’s easy to feel like a nameless member of a huge society, and that when you live abroad there is automatically something at least a little interesting about you. Not everyone would be comfortable admitting to something that sounds a bit petty like this, but I do believe it’s true for many of us.
Being an expat makes you a minor celebrity in your new country
With the exception of the United Arab Emirates and a few others in that area, if you are an expat it puts you into a tiny sliver of the population. Even in a city like London where it feels like half the people weren’t born there, you are still a member of the small community of where you were born. Even people born in Jamaica or Pakistan only make up a small percentage of people living in London, so each one stands out in the bigger picture.
Practically speaking, you can spend most of your time among people from your home country, but you can also spend all your time in areas where you are the only one. If you go to a market in a random neighborhood, you are “that Jamaican guy” or “that Pakistani guy” and there is automatically something interesting about you.
How long have you been here?
Why did you move to London?
Do you like it here?
Do you plan on staying permanently?
Locals and even other expats love asking these questions to people from other places and they are great icebreakers. If the same Jamaican guy was walking around Kingston, there are no obvious things that makes him interesting. Sure, each of us is interesting in our own way, but most people aren’t interested in digging around to figure it out, so being from somewhere else is a big deal.
Being an expat makes you a minor celebrity at home too
Along the same lines, when you live in another country, there is something automatically interesting about you, at least to your friends. Whether you are visiting your home country or not, people like to bring up “My friend who lives in Thailand” or “My old roommate who lives in Japan.” When you are home you are a easy source of conversation for anyone who has any knowledge or desire to travel the world.
Of course there are downsides to moving abroad, mixed with many other upsides. But it also makes us somewhat special whether we are home or abroad.
Has this been a factor in your decision to live abroad at all?