Labels! Labels! Labels! From birth to death, we are given titles and labels to define who we are. Whether it is self given or put on by society at large, at one time or another, a label is named after our name unofficially.
I am at another stage in my life now where another international move is inevitable and I’m questioning my label again- that of the title expat or nomad. Yes, after quite a blissful 3.5 years in the Netherlands, DH has accepted another job offer in another country and we have again to ‘up sticks’.
But let me start from the beginning about the title expat or nomad, which one do I choose? As young as I could remember, the term expat has always mean to me ‘the rich white family that came to Singapore’ under the guidance of a huge Western Bank like ABN Amro or some gas/oil company like BP or Shell. They get given a huge kick a** bungalow in District 10 in Singapore (kind of like Kensington in London or Beverly Hills in California), they get a nice car with a Malay driver, an Indonesian or Chinese live-in housekeeper and a big pay package with the ability to go home for one month a year. They socialize only with other expats in the same echelons as them and they look down on us poor locals. (I got that impression as a 6 year old that faced her first discrimination when an Aussie lady threw water and eggs at me for daring to sit near her mansion gate).
Then when I became a working adult, the term expat shifted to younger white males (predominantly) coming to Singapore to take on upper middle management jobs in either foreign or local companies. They may not have as good perks as their forebears but still higher salary than locals in similar positions. They still hang around amongst themselves in expat enclaves. But then, what I didn’t realized then was I myself became an expat when I accepted a job as a DJ/Entertainer in Beijing, China at the young age of 17.
I was working for a very big hotel (Shangri La) and hung around with other expats though I always enjoyed sneaking around hanging out with the local Chinese staff. (we were not really encouraged). That was the beginning of my foreign job attachment. Since then, I went to a few more countries working as an entertainer. But I never did think of myself as an expat as the term has a ‘dirty’ connotation to me- that of an overpaid underworked foreign person who doesn’t really interact with locals.
When I met DH, he himself was a foreign guy in Singapore but he doesn’t think of himself as an expat either. He was living a local life after he moved there from his university in Australia to be with his Singapore girlfriend, who then became his first wife. He lived in an HDB (‘government issued apartment’), ate and drank in a local ‘kopitiam’ (coffee shop) and earned a pittance (compared to his expat compatriots) despite his degree.
A few years after we met (and a few short terms placements after), he decided that he wanted to work in Europe (after being away for almost half his life) and took a job offer in England. Living in rural Surrey, there was no such thing as being an expat. You’re either English or you’re not, we felt. People there didn’t understand the concept of moving for a job overseas, certainly not the mums at the local school, who didn’t know how to deal with my situation.
It was there that I met a psychic who told me, “You and your husband are match made in Heaven. You both love travelling and cannot stay in one place too long. You are like Gypsies.”
Almost 4 years in England, another exciting job offer in the Netherlands beckoned us over. Moved here we did January 2008. It was here then that the term expat was attached to us again. We knew the term expat here in Netherlands has become to mean non-Dutch citizens who move here as an economic migrant. But still DH and I don’t really feel we suit the term. There are other expats who get given a much higher salary for their jobs, who get all inclusive deals like housing, car and international schools all paid for. We are then semi-expats in our minds.
I’ve also heard of the term nomads. According to http://www.globalnomads-dc.org/ “A global nomad is anyone of any nationality who has lived outside their parents’ country of origin (or their “passport country”) before adulthood because of a parent’s occupation. Then it that case, that refers to my 3 children, all conceived in 3 different countries and have lived in 3.5 different countries collectively. They are also labeled ‘Third Culture Kids’ as they are a product of a mixed marriage (maybe a Fourth or Fifth Culture Kid as I myself am already a TCK!).
Whatever happens and where we go next, I think I know the term I feel I am most comfortable with. Funny enough, I heard DH telling someone on the phone when asked why he ‘loves’ moving countries for his job. His answer?
Because I am a Gypsy at heart!
Whatever the connotations are with that word, yes, I like it! Call me a Gypsy next time you see me!
p.s. When and where we’re moving to will be the next post in this theme.