Immigrant or expat?

I have always called myself an immigrant. For some reason being an “immigrant” in my eyes had a lot more depth then being an “expat”. Moving to another country as an “expat” felt like a less temporary decision and therefore, a lighter one. Being an “immigrant” gave me the right to carry my suitcase full of sorrows but also provided me a hint of extra courage. By being an “immigrant” I could identify with those first arrivals, coming off boats after days of travelling, carrying all their belongings and looking for a better future. The fact that I arrived with a backpack and after a 24 hours plane journey had little impact on the romantic view I had of myself.

When I started my support group on Meet Up I thought about what term to use: expat or immigrant. I finally decided to use “expat” for a purely “commercial” reason: I wanted to target people who did carry their sorrows but … in a luxury case! Expats who, potentially, could pay for my services as a counsellor. Unlike immigrants who possibly were struggling to make ends meet.

I admit I felt uneasy about my choice of word. In a way I felt I betrayed what I believed and created a group for people I did not relate too, people I could not identify with. I spent some time pondering on this issue and I decided that “labels” were never a good thing. It was best to leave it and take it for what it was, a meaningless word. In fact I thought of bringing the subject up with the group and use it as a topic to discuss in the future.

Then today this article comes up on my Facebook page and it forces me to look at that uneasy feel again and reflect on the fact that sometimes “labels” carry a lot more meaning that we give them credit for. More food for thought.



6 thoughts on “Immigrant or expat?

  1. Molto interessante, credo che questa differenza in termini cosí evocativa non esista solo in inglese. In italiano, per decenni, ho sempre sentito solo espressioni come “emigrato” o “migrante”, parole che fanno subito venire in mente valigie di cartone tenute insieme con la corda, degli italiani che cercavano fortuna all’estero nel secolo scorso, o immagini purtroppo attualissime di tanti altri popoli che cercano una nuova vita.
    Gli italiani in fuga di oggi – e sono un numero in continua crescita – come si chiamano? Credo che oggi si usi il termine “espatriati”. “Espatriato” dovrebbe suggerire il senso di una mobilitá lavorativa ad un alto livello occupazionale o di competenze. Ma è davvero così? Non secondo l’articolo del Guardian.

    • Io mi sono sempre sentita “immigrata” ma ultimamente la parola “espatriata” sembra più presente anche se non la sento mia. Non avevo mai pensato alla questione razza, ma leggendo l’articolo devo dire che non mi stupisce affatto.

  2. Hi Barbara,

    What a coincidence… I read this in yesterday’s Guardian…

    Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants? | Global Development Professionals Network | The Guardian

    Speak soon, (see you next week…) Love C xxx

    • Although white I have always felt like an immigrant, Christian, but this article did make me think and I understand your point. I can always count on the Guardian to stimulate my brain 😉

  3. Immigrant makes me think of the post-war generations, looking for a better life in a different Country. I’ve always thought about myself as an expat, maybe because we’re a mobile family, we haven’t settled in yet in a particular Country we are expatriates, we live outside our Country but we haven’t immigrated into another one. Does it make any sense?

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