The Open Home

living with an open heart

Out of the Fatherland

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Photo c/o The Children of Blessing Trust (Malawi)

Today I have been reading a post over at 3rdculturechildren, a really interesting blog that I follow, written by a family who serve with the US Foreign Service. The post is entitled, Exploring Popular Perceptions about the Serial Expat.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, expat is short for expatriate which in it’s latin form means ‘out of the fatherland’. It basically means a person who is living in a country and culture that is different to that of their upbringing. This is what the Husby and I would have been if we had gone to Malawi. This is what we will be if we do eventually get to go overseas with our family.

Our experience of expats

Our experiences in Malawi and at Bible College have definitely widened our experiences with expats. We have had a wonderful time staying in the homes of both a Canadian family and a British family living as expats in Malawi. We now have British friends living (or soon to be living) overseas, now spreading across 5 continents. Some are serving voluntarily with mission organisations, both short and long term, others are migrating and setting up their home for life.

Perhaps you feel you do not know many people who are living overseas? It is important to remember though, that expats are not just people from your hometown who have moved overseas, but also people from overseas who have moved to your hometown. I am blessed to have friends in both categories. I now have many dear friends from overseas who are living as expats in Britain, representing countries such as Australia, China, Kenya, Malawi, New Zealand, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Myth busting for the expat

The post over on 3rdculturechildren (3CC for short!) talks through some of the common perceptions people have about those living overseas as expats, both those who serve voluntarily and those in paid work.

The writer, Chloe Trogden exposes the reality behind five common myths about expats;

  • They don’t want to grow up
  • They don’t want to commit
  • They can’t get (or don’t want) a ‘real’ job
  • They’re adventurers
  • They’re risk takersOut of the Fatherland
The Husby taking a risk with those sun-dried mice!

Where do these perceptions come from?

The post over at 3CC got me thinking about where these perceptions come from. In some respects I believe these perceptions are used more with the expats who fall under the ‘leaving your hometown to go overseas’ category. In my experience we seem to be more critical of our own going overseas than we are of those from overseas coming to us. Particularly if people plan to go to a less developed country.

Perhaps this is because most of us are quite patriotic of our home town and country. We enjoy living here and believe it is a good place to do so and can understand why others would want to come from elsewhere to do likewise. I guess it can therefore feel like an insult to some when one of your own wants to leave the hometown that you and others are perfectly happy in. At this point many start to question why someone would want to leave their home and I guess this is where these perceptions may stem from.

A useful tool

I believe these myths are not only relevant for the expat, but also for the person preparing to be an expat, the would-be-expat if you will. The post really resonated with me as someone who is hoping to experience expatriate life with my family. Although not yet expats we have in some way or form had all five of these perceptions expressed to us as we’ve researched serving in mission.

Over the years I have felt frustrated and hurt by some of the comments people have made about our hopes of one day moving overseas. The post at 3CC has enabled me to see which perceptions these comments may stem from and I now feel able to respond to future comments in a way that will hopefully result in a better understanding of the reality of expatriate life.

Please head over to 3CC and check out their post…

If you are an expat. It may be a useful post to forward to friends and family who still can’t quite comprehend your way of life.

If you are a would-be-expat. It may prepare and assist you with some of the misconceptions people will inevitably express.

If you are not an expat and do not plan to be one. It may challenge some of the perceptions you have about expats and missionaries, helping you to see that their lives are not too different from your own, they just do it in a different location.

Have you encountered any of these perceptions about expats? 

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

© Jessica Girard and The Open Home, 2013.
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