Monday, January 11, 2010

How long can you stay an expat?

DSC09749 The Economist had an interesting article about living as a foreigner that concluded:

"The funny thing is, with the passage of time, something does happen to long-term foreigners which makes them more like real exiles, and they do not like it at all. The homeland which they left behind changes. The culture, the politics and their old friends all change, die, forget them. They come to feel that they are foreigners even when visiting “home”.

"Beware, then, however well you carry it off, however much you enjoy it, there is a dangerous undertow to being a foreigner, even a genteel foreigner. Somewhere at the back of it all lurks homesickness, which metastasises over time into its incurable variant, nostalgia. And nostalgia has much in common with the Freudian idea of melancholia—a continuing, debilitating sense of loss, somewhere within which lies anger at the thing lost. It is not the possibility of returning home which feeds nostalgia, but the impossibility of it. "

True, false, somewhere in between?

The conventional wisdom among friends in the US was that five years was the threshold.  I’ve known folks who hit these rocks in less than a year, others that remain connected and content for decades.

For myself (approaching five years), I have kept my connections with close friends and colleagues; I still feel more like an expat than an emmigrant or exile.  But the article did give me lots to think about, and it echoes the broader academic literature on expat experiences.

4 comments:

Anita said...

In Between.

Textual Healer said...

hi. Your link to the economist article doesn't work! Shame.
Like Anita I am somewhere between.
I rather suspect that your frequent trips to the US, and to the UK and Switzerland may mean that you feel more like a global citizen than someone who has located to a foreign country - with a slightly - but nonetheless importantly - different culture and a language that in your own words you speak with the fluency of a three year old (I know that feeling!).
A good test will be how you feel when (and if) you spend three months here without going 'abroad'.
vriendijlke groetjes

tay said...

Most realize there is a world to loose, and choose a position of security.
Straddling worlds means you will never be engulfed by the local zeitgeist, finding understanding and empathy with kindred walkabouts
What was it you said about being less concerned with the meaning of things, taking more enjoyment in the beauty of the world?
Sure cure for nostalgia if not heartache.

Dave Hampton said...

Thanks, Nick, for the catch: the link is now fixed, sorry.

Nick, I agree with your assessment that I feel more global than Dutch-local. Still, it feels more like I;m 'home' in the Netherlands than in the US or UK these days.

Thanks, Anita, for the comment, and Tay, for the reminder.