People become expats for a wide variety of reasons. Some do it for financial reasons, others have a thirst for adventure and some have no choice when their jobs call for them to move around the globe.
While living in Russia, I met a lot of expats who didn’t move abroad for work or to be with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Many had originally planned to stay for a year just to have a bit of adventure, and ended up staying a lot longer. I also noticed that many of them were not very integrated into Russian culture, didn’t have a lot Russian friends and spoke hardly any Russian at all. They preferred the company of other expats. So why did they stay? What was the appeal of living abroad? As I contemplated these questions, I generated a list of possible perks:
1) Living abroad gives you a sense of uniqueness. Many of the people I met were the only person in their family who had ever been or lived abroad. Those who came from small towns seemed to look upon living abroad as a badge of honor. There were a bit sophisticated and interesting because of their international experience. There’s also an element of uniqueness to your nationality. In small towns you may be the first and only American some people have ever met. Many Russians, for example, enjoyed meeting Americans and Brits and so you became instantly interesting based not on your own personality, but on your nationality.
2) No one knows where you’re from. While many people might know which country you are from, few will know which state (if you’re from the United States) or city you were born in. Of course, other people from your home country will know, but others around you will probably have different ideas. Many of the Russians I met had no idea where I was from. Even if I pointed out my city on a map, they didn’t have any frame of reference for the place I indicated. Other Americans, however, would tease me from time to time about where I was born. I had no idea of where the British people were from and couldn’t make judgments based on their accents or education like other Brits could.
3) You don’t have to follow all the rules. If you live abroad and don’t know the cultural rules, more often than not you’re given a cultural pass because you’re a foreigner. Of course there are limits to this. But I noticed that many people would notice a cultural faux pas made by a foreigner and brush it off, saying to themselves, “Well, he/she is American.”
What other factors make being an expat appealing? Have you or someone you know experienced any of these?