Unexpected Expat

DSCN0843aIt was a surprise to me that I could be part of the world of expats. When I made my move to the Netherlands I saw myself as an immigrant. But then I was more drawn by the love of my life than the country itself (a ‘lovepat’ or ‘lopat’ some would say). While 10 years earlier I had visited the country and thought that it was a place I could enjoy living, that wasn’t my main motivation for moving here.

Others make moves more for the love of the work opportunity than the country itself (work migrants), and that is also similar in some ways to my experience. While not my main motivation, I saw my move also as a great chance to finally learn another language which I knew I would only achieve by living in the country and culture where that language was spoken. For me it was also a chance to test the career development principles that I had been teaching others for 10 years and see how effective they were in an international transition.

Still others may be more motivated by escaping something in their previous situation or location (refugees). And then there are international students, seasonal workers, repatriates, working travellers, happy wanderers and probably many more variations and mutations who could all fall under the umbrella term ‘expat’.

While at first I didn’t self-identify as an expat, I have found myself drawn into the world of expats: an unexpected expat.

I am now part of the world of expats because it is a place where I can connect with others who are also having ‘international experiences’; people who are not living in their passport or birth country. Writer and traveller Pico Iyer noted in his Ted Talk that this group of ‘global citizens’ is growing rapidly has reached 220 000 000 people, the 5th largest nation on earth.

It seems in some ways that it was a natural development for me to be drawn into the world of expats, but it was not one that I actively sought. At first I was very focused on assimilating into the culture, learning the language and finding work here. My goal was to fly under the radar and not be detected as being someone from elsewhere.

Once I achieved that to a certain degree by, within two years of arrival, being contracted to facilitate career development training in Dutch, I became aware of the fact that I would never achieve full ‘Dutchness’ as my accent would always give me away. I then allowed myself some time to ‘play’ in my native language. It was so refreshing and I found that it helped me recognise some personality shifts and adaptations that I had made in order to find my way forward in Dutch. It was nice to reconnect with more of my English personality again. I also found that there was an energy when connecting with other English speakers, and especially fellow Canadians, that I had not yet achieved in my Dutch efforts. It was freeing and nourished me in some ways. It helped me continue forward in Dutch as well as English. And so I have accepted that I am also an expat, although not the stereotype that I have always associated with the word.

Where do you fit on the continuum of ‘expat-ness’? Do you identify yourself as an expat or something else? I’d love to hear from you and explore this further with you.

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