Friday, June 24, 2011

Which expat are you?

The one great advantage when you exercise is not only getting fit and in shape, but also that it gives your mind time to think.  My thoughts during my last session was on the different types of Expats that you get.  I am not referring to nationalities or cultures but more to the country that you find yourself being an expat in which can determine the type of expat you will be.

I determined that there are 3 types of expat country experiences:

1. When as an expat you move to a country that is similar to your own, but you are still culturally different, e.g. an American moving to Britain.  Fundamentally, you speak the same language, you eat similar foods, you have similar cultural habits and have watched movies or listened to music that is, can I say it again, similar.
However, even with these similarities there are differences too, they are minute but they are there. Whether it is a word that is different but has the same meaning, e.g. Barbeque to the South African Braai, or the way you address someone from a courteous "Hello, how do you do?" to "Hiya doin?" There are differences and you can feel and do experience these within the country. Your accent is also a dead giveaway and sometimes as an expat you are shunned purely due to this basic difference.

2. The country in between two extremes, this would be the expat that moves from e.g. Australia (English being the common language) to the Middle East.  Your official business language is English and most people would be able to speak and understand English, but you cannot do the same for their official language.  There is a commonality that exists as well, this host country has been exposed to Western culture through trade and industry, politics and commerce.  Sometimes these expats are more readily accepted as a foreign guest in their country. You are respectful of your host countries culture and traditions and are willing to emerge yourself into becoming part of the culture. 

3. Moving to a country that is the polar opposite to what you are used to, your nationality is completely and utterly different e.g. Argentinian moving to China.  The official language is one that most people will battle to learn, so when you are standing in a queue you haven't got a clue what is being said around you.  Your culture, traditions and habits are as vast as the Sahara Desert. You really have to acquire new skills and make major adaptations to survive.  As much as this type of expat experience can be rather a challeneg, it can have surprising advantages.  If you cannot understand the local language, it incentivises you to learn and forces you to be more adventurous and social in trying to fit in and develop a commonality with the local population.  Expats also tend to support each other more as everyone can feel the vast divide between locals and expats.  It allows groups of expats to formalize clubs that bind common interests and creates a social infrastructure of support.

There is another type of expat that we should include under number 3, this would be a person moving from e.g. China to America.  Commonly when a Westerner moves to a host country as an expat there are systems set up to support these people, e.g. compounds in which to live, social groups to belong to, etc.  However, this is not necessarily the case for non-Western expats when moving from their countries to e.g. America or the UK. These expats are not living in compounds or introduced to groups that are similar to themselves. They are often left to their own devices and need to find their own survival mechanisms. This type of expat experience could actually be the most difficult of all.

Which expat are you and are there more?

Denise is an Expat, Mom, Wife and Marketing Manager at a website that provides cost of living index information and calculates what you need to earn in a different location to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences. The complete cost of living rank for all 300 locations for all 13 baskets is available here.

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