20 Comments

  1. suzer
    February 20, 2011 @ 6:52 am

    I use both words – expat, in my opinion, is simply more trendy, and perhaps acknowledges the fact that it is much easier these days to move abroad with the knowledge that it may not be ones final move. That being said, I find natives in any country tend to use the word immigrant when referring to those they wish weren’t arriving in their country, hence why I use both. I think it’s important to acknowledge that being an expat/immigrant isn’t easy, and no one chooses to live far from their family, friends, and culture without a good reason.

    • Andrew
      February 20, 2011 @ 10:46 am

      No, it isn’t an easy life. “Good reason” though can be a lot of different things some of which are less common than others. Some “good reasons” can be poor choices but still lead to an interesting life.

  2. Laurel
    December 3, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

    I like the word expat as well, even though I am planning to stay in Germany which would technically make me an immigrant.

  3. Sabrina
    November 29, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    I think I would call myself an expat rather than an immigrant. And I think that has party to do with the fact that I don’t know how long I will stay here in the US and if, when, and where I will go next :) I think it also has to do with me not wanting to let go of Germany completly. And by labeling myself an immigrant in another country, I feel like I would do that. Maybe it’s time for a new term?! It seems as though there are many of us out there who have left their native countries to live and work in foreign countries. It also seems that many are somewhat “serial expats” who move from one foreign country to the next… We need a new term :)

    • Andrew
      November 29, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

      Ok. Work on that new term.
      I like that idea of not giving up the home culture completely. I have no real interest in leaving Germany, but I like the American aspects that I wander around with. Again the idea of having one foot in both comes up.

  4. Sally
    November 28, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    I actually just had this conversation with my students this weekend. As immigrants from SE Asian countries living and working in Thailand, they are called “migrant workers.” Meanwhile, I’m from North America & have been living & working in Asia for the past 4 years and I’m called an “expat.” We are all pretty much in the same boat — we left our countries to find work elsewhere and none of us are quite sure if and when we’ll ever return to our home countries. What’s the difference? Well, basically, just our skin color and the relative wealth of the countries we come from. As you said, these words carry a lot of connotations with them.
    I think, just to mess with people, I’m going to start referring to myself as a migrant worker now!

    • Andrew
      November 29, 2010 @ 9:40 pm

      Hah.. go for it. Migrant English Teacher.. put it on your business cards.

      Really an interesting thought with the class differences. This is a theme among the comments that for some reason immigrants are thought of as coming in from “lower” economic statuses and perhaps even bringing things down. While Expats may just leave so don’t get that same issue. Or at least are seen as supporting themselves without need to ask for govt assistance. Dunno, perhaps it is a jealousy/envy/paranoia effect on the use of terms.

  5. Whitney Moore
    November 28, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    I would like to be called an Expat (if I ever get that far) not because I don’t like the sound of immigrant but I just think Expat is sort of 21st century. I’ve never actually thought of Expat’s as having to go home this was actually a surprising fact to me.

    • Andrew
      November 29, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

      “Fact” may being lending the idea more weight than intended. It was an idea that occurred to me as I was reading around.

  6. Jen
    November 28, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    Very interesting clarification and discussion! I think Mary Anne explained it very well and that’s how I think of it as well. An expat is someone who is still attached to their native culture and thinking about it, while an immigrant is more forward facing into their new culture. I’m curious about when or if people make this kind of transition in their thinking, maybe without even realizing it at first. I agree, too, that the word “immigrant” does have some negative connotations from our culture and media, as if they are people who are “less than” – they are looked down upon. I’m still so new here in Germany that I still consider myself an expat, but I would like some day to feel more integrated here, though I don’t think I can be one of those people who can go totally native and lose my language and own cultural traditions (at least not entirely).

    • Andrew
      November 29, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

      Hi, thanks for the comment. Your comment on the other post was one of the inspirations for this, so I am happy to see you weigh on it.

      I really like this idea of the distinction between being “an American living in Germany” and “someone originally from America in Germany.” Retaining the cultural identity seems to be a hallmark of the mental idea of an expat. The only downfall of this theory is what I sort of remember of the immigrant groups from the US. Mexican restaurants and Spanish speaking enclaves exist in the part of NC I come from. These are considered immigrants even though they retain much of their identity and language. Does it lend credence to the idea of class differences for the term immigrant?

      I am enjoying the idea of expats being somehow still fully a part of multiple cultures. Retaining connections to their home whereas immigrants cut more connections. Dunno, just occurred to me.

  7. Jack and Jill Travel The World
    November 27, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

    I agree with OneGiantStep… immigrant in my mind has a connotation of someone from a less developed country moving to live in a developed country, usually in the hope of improving their lives. You almost never use the word ‘immigrant’ for a westerner in Indonesia, for example. Even if he’s been there for a long time, married a local, and intends to stay there forever.

    So I guess in my mind, the purpose of the move (to improve own’s living situation vs chance/sense of adventure/work purpose) plays a bigger role in what the word means for me

    Hmmm..
    Not quite sure where I’m going with this really… Haven’t, had, coffee, yet…

    • Andrew
      November 29, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

      Thanks for the pre-coffee thoughts. Any better ideas after coffee?
      This is kind of my point of doing the post the way I did. To see the difference between how a term is used and what the original and modern dictionary meanings are.

  8. MaryAnne
    November 27, 2010 @ 12:11 am

    I think the word expat feels like it has one foot in that culture and one foot tentatively holding on to other things… if that makes sense. An expat is never fully integrated, whereas an immigrant is there for the long haul– as in, for many upcoming generations. An immigrant has decided where they want to live, they go there, they try to become fully a part of that culture. They aim for citizenship and suchlike. An expat tends to pick and choose the parts of the culture they are willing to take on. A friend of mine emigrated from France to Canada, got a long term engineering job, bought a house, became Canadian after going through the citizenship process, and fully intends to be there long term. Me? I’m an expat in China, dabbling in the bits of Chinese life that appeal to me and ignoring the rest. I will never be Chinese, nor do I think I want to be. Afrikaners in South Africa have a hilarious (and gross) nick name for the British who settled there, who never fully accepted a fully African life: soutjie. This was short for two words that, um, indicated they had one foot in Africa and one foot in Britain and their, um, dangly parts in the sea: sout (salt) pil (dangly bits).

  9. MaryAnne
    November 27, 2010 @ 12:11 am

    I think the word expat feels like it has one foot in that culture and one foot tentatively holding on to other things… if that makes sense. An expat is never fully integrated, whereas an immigrant is there for the long haul– as in, for many upcoming generations. An immigrant has decided where they want to live, they go there, they try to become fully a part of that culture. They aim for citizenship and suchlike. An expat tends to pick and choose the parts of the culture they are willing to take on. A friend of mine emigrated from France to Canada, got a long term engineering job, bought a house, became Canadian after going through the citizenship process, and fully intends to be there long term. Me? I’m an expat in China, dabbling in the bits of Chinese life that appeal to me and ignoring the rest. I will never be Chinese, nor do I think I want to be. Afrikaners in South Africa have a hilarious (and gross) nick name for the British who settled there, who never fully accepted a fully African life: soutjie. This was short for two words that, um, indicated they had one foot in Africa and one foot in Britain and their, um, dangly parts in the sea: sout (salt) pil (dangly bits).

    • Andrew
      November 29, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

      I love that story of the SA name for the Expat British. This seems to be a common theme in the answers here that expats do not give up their old nationalities and culture so much. Preferring to live with one foot in either place.

  10. OneGiantStep
    November 26, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

    I think that if you aren’t planning on leaving, you are an immigrant….but expat does sound way cooler! I wonder why immigrant has a bad connotation in my mind too. When I think of immigrant I think of people coming from lesser developed countries to my own but never the other way around. Hmmm…I’ll have to think about that.

    • Andrew
      November 29, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

      Did you come up with anything else after thinking about it? Check what Sally says below about the idea of it really being the class-difference somehow.

  11. Mandi
    November 26, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

    I’ve often given this point thought: at what point do I turn into an immigrant, rather than an expat? To me, expat has such a temporary ring to it, while immigrant sounds so final. Quite honestly, I’d place myself somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I’m also curious to hear what others think about this!

    • Andrew
      November 29, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I expect that almost all of us are in the middle of any scale.