First of all, I want to explain the difference between being “bilingual” and “fluent”, in my opinion. “Fluency” is subjective and mainly refers to your ability to communicate well, even if you make mistakes or have a foreign accent. “Bilingual” means that you speak it as well as your native language. So, how long did it take me to get to the point where I speak Spanish as well as I speak English? Oh, about 20 years. Everyone is different, so I can only comment on my own process, but based on my own experience, here’s my formula for becoming bilingual:
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.
When you live abroad, you inevitably end up dating and having relationships with people from other cultures, which comes naturally to the existential migrant since 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.
One of the best explanations right now as to why Americans or other expats decide to live abroad is the theory of “Existential Migration” (Greg Madison, 2006). Unlike economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration, existential migration (based partly on Heidegger’s alternative understandings of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’, and the concept of ‘home as interaction’ rather than ‘home as place’) is seen as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about one’s own existence by moving abroad and becoming a foreigner.
“Rather than migrating in search of employment, career advancement, or overall improved economic conditions, these voluntary migrants are seeking greater possibilities for actualizing, exploring foreign cultures in order to assess their own identity, and ultimately grappling with issues of home and belonging in the world generally” (Existential Migration, Madison, 2006).
Moving away from the good old U S of A is awesome, but all American expats will at some point face these ATROCITIES.
1. Having to PURCHASE water AND drink refills at restaurants.
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.
1. Being so far away from family and friends
I think it’s great that people are becoming more interested in this issue!
Check out this article posted on theguardian.com: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/13/white-people-expats-immigrants-migration
…and another article from the Wall Street Journal blog! http://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2015/04/02/expat-under-fire-a-global-nomad-argues-against-those-saying-its-racist/?mod=e2fb
Check out my own research on this topic:
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.
Emerging urban expat destinations
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.
Towards the end of each interview with 27 Americans living in Buenos Aires, I asked the participants to define the word “expat” (the overwhelming majority had already mentioned the term at some point or another during the interview).
The Revolving Door of Expat Friends
The good, the bad and the ugly of the transience of the expat communities in global cities.
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.
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.