This is a slight deviation from my usual Expat Diaries posts, which I write with the hopes of shedding light on what it’s like to move abroad and inspiring other wild hearts to create their lives in the place that their soul yearns for.
But after reading this article, Why Are White People Expats When the Rest of Us Are Immigrants?, it got me thinking about the privilege of being able to up and move to a new country with a relative ease, so I felt obliged to comment on it.
The article raises the important point that the words “expat” and “immigrant” are loaded terms, steeped in assumptions about social class, country of origin, and economic status. You don’t hear politicians complaining about “the expat problem.”
Not only were there few barriers to my move to the UK, but there’s a whole class of visas that allows young Canadians to live and work in another countries for up to 2 years. And although applying for a long-term visa is both time-consuming and expensive, the colour of my skin and the country emblazoned on my passport are likely to make the process somewhat easier for me.
But why should these opportunities be available to me but not a similar woman born in a different country?
I understand that borders and laws and nations exist to make life easier. To provide order. To help keep us safe. But inherent in many of these laws are assumptions about who a person is because of the colour of their skin, where they were born, or how much money their family makes. Most of us like to think that we are immune to most prejudice, but the language we use can also perpetuate this kind of thinking.
This series would have a very different tone if it were titled “The Immigrant Diaries” – a word that suggest struggle and often poverty. Whereas the “word” expat suggests a certain romantic and luxurious lifestyle, even though its definition (a person who lives outside their native country) is almost identical to “immigrant” (a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country).
That’s not to say that either word is inherently bad or that I plan to stop using them, only that it’s important to think about the context surrounding our language and to be intentional with when and why we use it.
Certainly moving to the UK has had it’s share of difficulties but never have I had to deal with accusations that I’m stealing someone’s job or that I don’t belong here. When I do mention that I was born in Canada, it usually results in an even warmer welcome.
So today I just wanted to offer this gentle reminder of the privilege that comes alongside being an expat and that there is power in the words we use, so wield them wisely.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the article. Does it make you uncomfortable using the word expat?
P.S. What do YOU want to know about living abroad? Let me know and I’ll talk about it in a future post.