As a long-term expat, people always ask me “why?”: “why did you leave the United States?”, “why did you move to the Czech Republic?”, “why did you move to Argentina?”, “why do you study so many languages?”, “why don’t you want to return to the United States?”.
Now, on my 10th anniversary of being an expat, I feel very fortunate to finally be able to answer those questions. The answer is simple, yet complicated: I am an existential migrant, and always have been.
In my opinion, there is no way to answer this question. Sorry.
I was in Paris just one month before the attack, staying just 2 blocks away from Le Petit Cambodge in Belleville. Then I was in Istanbul in December, again, just one month before the attack, staying 2 blocks from Sultanahmet’s main square.
In between the Paris attacks and my visit to Istanbul, my loved ones asked me if I was sure that going to Istanbul was a good idea. I replied, “I’m still going”. The truth is, I didn’t really know if it was a good idea, and although I did consider my options, there was never any real possibility of me canceling my visit to Istanbul. Today, I don’t have any mixed feelings about having visited these locations when I did, and I would go back to both cities in a heartbeat. And yes, I realize how lucky I am, and I am grateful.
For me personally, I decided that I didn’t want fear to control or influence my decisions. That is no way to live. The best thing we can do right now is not let the violence and terror (even if by our own volition) take away our freedom to enjoy life. Take a cue from Paris. Everyone must decide for themselves, but this is what I have decided, for me.
When you live abroad, you inevitably end up dating and having relationships with people from other cultures, which comes naturally to the existential migrantsince they are xenophiles that are inherently more attracted to what is “different” and “unfamiliar” anyway.
However, although many existential migrants actively seek out foreign partners, this decision can bring on a whole new set of problems and challenges….as if dating and relationships weren’t hard enough! Not only do you have to get to know each other and integrate your unique personalities like any other couple, you have to do this while trying to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers. On the other hand, these differences can also be the main driving force behind cross-cultural relationships that do work. Meaning, what can tear you apart can also keep you together.
Based on my experience and that of other expats, I’m breaking down cross-cultural dating by examining a few of the stand-out influential factors affecting these connections.
1. We have no system for greeting or saying goodbye
Unlike many countries that have clear systems (such as an air kiss on the cheek, or an air kiss on both cheeks) the U.S. has no system for greeting and saying goodbye. Do you hug? Shake hands? Kiss? Do nothing? There are no clear rules. Well, if you’re meeting someone for the first time, you shake hands, and if you’re seeing someone you haven’t seen for a while, you hug. But what about all of the situations in between? Meeting friends for lunch, arriving at a party, coming home from work, dropping in on a neighbor? Confusing.
There are many reasons why being an expat is the best life ever (check out my Top 5 reasons being an urban expat is the best), but living abroad also comes with a fair share of struggles and sacrifices. Here are my picks for the top 5 struggles of expat life.
Today, the urban destinations of American expats are numerous, and expanding. In addition to the more traditional destinations (Mexico, Canada, Israel, Australia and many countries in Europe), in recent years we’ve seen new currents of American migration, especially towards Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. They tend to choose these destinations for a combination of personal, cultural, linguistic, educational, professional and economic reasons. It’s also important to mention that many Americans are also heavily influenced by their family and social networks, and often choose their host country, and city, accordingly.
Above all, the trend of American expatriation to urban destinations is the most notable, especially to “global cities” where they find international lifestyles, cultural opportunities, diversity, excitement, and of course growing urban expat communities.
Moving to a big city abroad is an an exciting adventure!
You meet people from all over the world. As a foreigner in a big city it’s just natural that you fall into the international social scene and meet other amazing urban expats.
Freedom and independence. Living abroad is essentially living outside the box and as a foreigner you generally aren’t held to the same expectations as locals, which means a life of independence and freedom from society’s rules and expectations.
Freedom from a boring life. Everything is new and different: new language, new culture, new food, new friends, new customs…
You increase your intelligence. Yes, all these new and different experiences, new language, new culture expand your mind in ways you never thought possible.
You also learn a lot more about yourself and grow and change so much just by getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself.
Lots of young and educated Americans are expatriating from the United States, more than ever before. Why? Here are a few of our theories, based on interviews with 27 Americans living in Buenos Aires.
1. The Rat Race
Many of the Americans interviewed mentioned their dissatisfaction with the “rat race”, the “fast pace of life”, the “competitive” atmosphere and the “work-oriented lifestyle” in the United States. According to them, Americans place too much emphasis on professional success and spend too much time working.
The good, the bad and the ugly of the transience of the expat communities in global cities.
The revolving door of expat friends when you live abroad
Most of the participants in my case study of Americans living in Buenos Aires claimed to have more foreign friends than local ones, and in many cases, those friends are English-speaking or American friends. In this context, many commented on the “revolving door” of expat friends in Buenos Aires due to the typically temporary nature of American expatriation to Buenos Aires.
making American friends is easy when you’re abroad!
Meeting other expats when you’re living abroad is actually really easy if you live in a global city. In fact, in my personal experience and those of other expats, making new American friends is way easier abroad than it is in the States.