Expat Magazine

What is an Expat for You? - Expat Blog Hop #1

By Clogsandtulips @clogsandtulips
What is an Expat for you? - Expat Blog Hop #1Tales from Windmill Fields has started an Expat Blog Hop. Each week, she asks expat bloggers a question that they then compose a post about before linking back to Tales from Windmill Fields to share with fellow expats.

What a cool idea!

A new topic is given to bloggers each Friday and the posts are published each Thursday. I'm cheating a bit and posting a day late because my new blogging schedule is Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
So, what is an expat for me?
Good question. I refer to myself as an expat on this blog, on forums, and when talking to other people who have never left their own countries for another.
By definition, I am an expat. Someone who has left their home country to live elsewhere.
I stared calling myself an expat because that's what everyone else in my position was calling themselves and calling me. But before long, I started coming across expat surveys and interviews that I could not participate in because I did not relocate for work. It seems that, often, the world defines an expat as someone who takes a job in another country, relies on the company for housing and integration, and leaves within a year or two.
That's not me.
I came here because I married a Dutch guy. When I first got here, I couldn't work because I didn't have a work permit and couldn't speak the language. I had to rely on myself and the Dutch government to integrate and my Dutch husband for finance and housing.
Not long after I moved to the Netherlands, I joined an International Women's Contact here in Utrecht. And perhaps that's a better term for what I am: an international.
What I think distinguishes my kind from the expat species is that I have to integrate. In order to work here, live happily here, make friends here, and socialize with my husband's friends and family. Because my other half is Dutch, I really can't afford to hide myself within an expat circle as many do who relocate for job opportunities.
They tend to send their children to international schools. They tend to hang out with other expats from work, the kids' school, and expat social groups. At the moment, I run my own business, and when I do decide to go back to work, it will most likely be in a Dutch environment. So hanging out with expat colleagues isn't really an option. With my child at a Dutch school, there will be few, if any, expat parents to socialize with. And I am a member of an expat group, but I also spend time with my husband's friends and have made Dutch friends of my own.
Because I'm going to be here much longer than the majority of expats, it is important that I integrate: learn the language, become familiar with the customs, meet and befriend the locals. In order to be happy here, I need to recreate the life I had in the US as closely as possible by figuring out how to continue to do the things I love.
Not all craft seminars are going to be in English. Try finding a vocal or theater group in English (yes, there are some, but not many, and rarely do they offer all that the Dutch equivalants do). If I want to take a dance, yoga, or pilates class, it's got to be in Dutch.
My having to integrate on this level deepens my connection to the Netherlands. Add to that the fact that it's my husband's home country and is part of our child's heritage as much as America will be. The vast majority of expats don't have that.
I think that "expat" has become a blanket term. It's used to refer to anyone and everyone who moves countries, even though there are various levels covered by that term.
When I go about my business, I don't feel like an expat. That's not to say I didn't. My first year or so here, I felt like a fish out of water. But now, I just feel like someone who lives in the Netherlands. Life here has become routine. The Netherlands has become home. I have friends and hobbies and a business here and have gotten very involved. I go to a Dutch doctor and a Dutch dentist, I take my dog to a Dutch veterinarian, and I go about my day in the local language.
There's no set time in the future that I'll be returning to the US. My husband and I would eventually like to, but we both realize that sometimes life leads you in funny directions and you can't always plan out the future. So I'm much more invested in building a home and a happy life here than your typical short-term expat just looking to have a good time while they're passing through.
What is an expat for me? It's something that I'm not and don't think I ever was. But I call myself one, because it's a helluva lot simpler than trying to figure out what I really am!
What is an expat for you? What term do you use to identify yourself?
Photo: Horia Varlan, Flickr
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