Recently an interesting discussion took place on the Expatriate and Cross-Cultural Success Facebook page – when do we consider ourselves expats and when are we immigrants? So I’ve decided to try to explore it and I thought we’d start with a dictionary definition. According to Miriam-Webster:
- the word “Expatriate” is actually a verb or an adjective and means someone “living in a foreign land”.
- the word “Immigrant” is a noun and means “a person who comes to a country to take permanent residence”.
If we go only by these definitions above, I see one major distinction that sets them apart. Immigrants have an intention to stay – whereas for the expatriates this intention isn’t mentioned and isn’t clear.
Put another way, immigrants may have a larger emotional commitment to their new place of residence – and, thus, their approach to making it is different. If expatriates know that they can always leave and they know it coming into the country already – how much effort will they try to put into… (a) finding ways to belong; (b) creating connections, (c) absorbing new ways of being, (d) making life-long friends, etc, etc, etc?
Everyone is different of course and I am not stating that temporary assignment expats don’t have the commitment to create the best life they can in their new country. Yet, I think, the knowledge that they can always leave creates a degree of comfort that “if it doesn’t work, it’s okay because three years from now I am leaving anyway.” Immigrants don’t have that luxury.
What do you think?
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