There’s been a lot of online debate lately over the word “expat.” It all began with this article from The Guardian, in which the author wrote that the term had racist implications. While I’m in no way condoning the use of this term in a prejudicial manner, or denying it has been or is used in that way, I did want to share why I refer to myself as an expat and what responsibilities I believe come with such a label.
The definition of the word expat is someone who goes to live in another country from their own either temporarily or permanently. As such, I feel the appropriate use of this term today is to describe someone — from any part of the world — who has been relocated to another country for work or educational purposes. I consider myself an expat because my husband and I were relocated to Japan for business for a set period of time. This is what fundamentally sets apart someone who considers themselves an expat and someone who is an immigrant. While no one can say for certain what the future holds, as of now, I know Japan isn’t where we will grow old. If we were to decide it should be and that we were going to pursue citizenship, I would consider myself an immigrant. Japan would then be my permanent home, not my temporary one.
The label of expat, as with all labels, can be both inclusive and excluding, depending as much on how it is applied to an individual or group of individuals as the actions of those people. To me, an expat is a respectable and productive member of their adoptive country, doing their best to integrate and honor the customs of the place they currently call home. They don’t expect their new community to bend to them but instead seek to make friends and lasting connections.
I know how fortunate we are to have been given this opportunity and that choosing to move to another country on your own to begin a new life is accompanied by profoundly more challenges that we have faced. Those who have left behind where they were born — my relatives included — to create a new home for themselves and their families are far braver than I am.
I may not always get it right, and lord knows there are days certain aspects of life here may baffle me, but I have to always remember I’m a guest here in Japan, for however long we’re meant to stay. I take pride in where I came from but I don’t shut myself off to the lessons of where I am now.