A simple definition of the word Expat, short for Expatriate, is a person who is living outside of their home/native country. A simple definition of Immigrant, is someone who moves to another country to live permanently.
Although, I am often referred to as an Expat by many, even I have referred to myself as an expat at times. I actually fit the definition of an Immigrant much better.
My intentions when I left the United States and came to Germany, were to live here, permanently. I had no intentions of moving back to the States, and still don’t. We have considered moving to Scotland at some point, but that is still in it’s “distant dream phase” of planning. Even considering that, I still have no plans to move back to the USA, my native home.
On arrival to Germany, we registered our address, obtained health insurance and notified the Immigration office of my intent to live here. I have taken the recommended German language courses, and am scheduled to take my A.1 language exam. I am following the steps needed to make Germany my permanent home.
Now, for me, and many others as well, the word Expat elicits certain images of foreign adventures, carefree travels, and meeting exotic people from all over the world.
Why doesn’t the word immigrant elicit positive images for people as well? Immigrants built the United States, other countries as well. They built the railroads, they built the cities, and they farmed the land. Today, they are still tending the land that feeds all of the United States. They are an integral part of the entire workforce.
Yet immigrants are feared. “They will take our jobs, and they don’t believe in our God. Their food is different and weird.” are just a few of the ridiculous things that are said, and worse yet, believed by many Americans.
I hear it here too, in Germany. Often people speak of their concern at the influx of refugees to the country. They are concerned that they will take their jobs, or get benefits meant for Germans. My husband and I remind them that refugees and immigrants are two separate and very different terms. A refugee is fleeing an often dangerous situation, seeking refuge. Many refugees want to, and plan to go back to their homeland someday. An immigrant wants to make their new country their home and live there, permanently. A refuge many in turn become an immigrant.
We often remind these people that are so negative about outsiders that I too am an immigrant, just like these people they are so worried about. Frequently, the response we receive is, “Well, you are different. Your situation is not the same.”
I beg to differ, my situation is exactly the same. I have left my native country, and plan to make this country my home. That makes me an immigrant. I am an immigrant.
The only difference I can see, is that I have blonde hair, and blue eyes. But, I am still an immigrant.
I have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, but I will not be taking anyone’s job here since I am still working on my language skills. This too is the same as many other immigrants. I met a lovely lady from Iran in one of my language courses, she worked for many years in her home country as a midwife, a highly trained field. But here in Germany, she is a house wife like myself, we are both still working on learning the language. Neither of us is a threat to anyone’s job. Neither of us receive any benefits, our spouses are able to work here and support us.
So, is this what is comes down to? Irrational and unproven fears of job loss and free money? Fears of different cultures and skin colors?
Is this why I am not considered an immigrant, because I look like a German?
So tell me, what do the words Expat and Immigrant mean to you? What feelings do these words evoke for you? If you are living in a foreign country, what do you consider yourself to be?