Once an expat, always an expat?

Article
Published 2019-08-16 12:52

You can live for years in a foreign country and still never feel completely at home. And when you go back home, it is not a done deal either. Indeed, it is not always easy to find your bearings and feel like you belong in the country in which you grew up.. Does going abroad mean you will never stop struggling with your sense of belonging? Expat.com tries to answer this question.

Jonathan is what we could call a "serial expat": the young man has not lived in the same country for more than six years since he was born. So when you ask him about his "home", it can be tough for him to answer. "In fact I never feel completely at home, I kind of permanently feel like a guest. I try to get accustomed as quickly as possible to the food and the customs of the country but other than that, I don’t really feel at home. I never plan to stay too long, so I try and learn as much as I can, but I never fully integrate.” The young man of Haitian origin currently lives in England. 

Clinical psychologist specialized in interculturalism, integration to life in a different country Chani Sabatier, explains that the degree of integration or assimilation to a country depends on several factors, such as the reasons why a person leaves his country of origin and the circumstances surrounding his departure. For example, the extent to which one will invest in their host country is bound to be different depending on whether one goes on a fixed-term work contract, or goes backpacking or whether someone decides to permanently settle in a country they feel good in. 

"The key thing that has made my integration easier is knowing where I was going. I came to Quebec was because life generally seemed more appealing to me here than it did in France,” explains Alejandro* a Spanish young man who had lived 20 years in France before moving to Quebec.

Once a foreigner, always a foreigner

Even when you’ve integrated in your host country, the feeling of being a foreigner can be difficult to get rid of. Isabelle - a long-time French expatriate in the United States - has, indeed, experienced this. On her blog, FromSide2Side, she explains that she still feels a bit out of place in her host country, despite the fact that she has become an American citizen and has built her little habits in Kansas, where she lives.

"The years have passed and even though I feel a little at home, I have found my bearings, I have friends... I realise that this feeling of being at home was somewhat artificial. We have become Americans but that does not mean that we have made this country our home in its own right. There are random things that sometimes make you realise you actually are not home,” says Isabelle who wrote an article on this subject in 2018 titled “Building a home when living abroad”.

"One’s host country rarely becomes one’s home country, as exemplified by all of the expats I follow. There is always a kind of loyalty regarding one’s identity and one’s culture, because often their family stays in France and because despite everything, despite all the attempts of integration, it is always hard to see above these particular ties" confirms Chani Sabatier.

No magic recipe to integration

The country in which one goes, but also the personality of the person who settles abroad both play an important role in the process of integration and assimilation. There is no magic recipe to how to properly integrate but according to Chani Sabatier, one will definitely be more successful if they build a strong network of friends as well as has a job they love. his side by building a network of friends and having a professional activity.

One can also practice activities they used to practice in their home country, such as leisure activities that one used to practice in one's country of origin. Chani Sabatier also believes that we must know how to take advantage of what the host country can bring us in terms of novelty and opportunities, and remain open-minded. "I think there is some mourning to do. Expatriation involves mourning of one’s original culture, in relation to its representations of self and others. And also, sometimes, in relation to its values,” warns the psychologist.

* The first name has been changed.