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What would you call yourself when living abroad, and why?

(Summary of your responses)




“For me living abroad is about building a whole new life, with new friends and therefore making a new home without forgetting your past home or thinking about other new ones for the future”.

(from the responses)

In October, an article with a small survey was published on SmallBigChange.com, inviting you to share your personal views on this question. The same question was later published on the global forum of the Internations.org website.

The survey offered a choice between terms such as expat, expatriate, migrant, relocated professional, global worker, international professional or global professional, or a possibility to suggest another term. In both cases, respondents were asked to explain their choice.

Given the small and heterogeneous sample of respondents, the summary of the responses focuses on the content and topics raised, rather than on numbers.


Some observations


Most of respondents chose one or more terms they would use for themselves, but often with some hesitation about it. When asked about the reason for the choice, more often the answers would express why the respondent differs from a term, rather than identifies with one. In other words, the answers more often contained something like “I would not call myself a ...., because I do not....” than “I would call myself a ....., because I am ....”.


The respondents explained their choice of (or resistance towards) a term through criteria such as:

  • whether the stay is long-term or temporary
  • whether one was sent by someone else (usually an employer) or made one’s own decision
  • the level of additional privileges given by the employer, in comparison with the local employees
  • whether one has lived in just one foreign country, or in several
  • how different the “new” country is from one´s “home“
  • whether one “feels at home” in the new country
  • how natives regard foreign residents
  • whether people “back home“ would consider the person to be one of them
  • what one considers to have had the biggest influence on one’s own personality
  • what negative connotations the terms might imply in the relevant social environment


“I never realized that I was really Czech and all what it exactly meant before living abroad. Being far from my country made me understand how much "Czech" I was and what my origins were about, how much I and my way of thinking and feeling was influenced by the history of my own country. Although, when I come back to my country, I feel I am very different from people living there because of my experience abroad. That's why I consider that being "Czech living abroad" is a special kind of Czech and a special kind of foreigner.“

(from the responses)


“...as the company sent me here I think I qualify as expat rather than an immigrant - I have no intention to stay, but who knows what happens later in life?”

 (from the responses)

It seems quite common that people do not actually like any of the terms or the idea of being labelled in relation to living abroad, particularly if it is done by others or formally. There were many negative connotations mentioned, such as “...an expat or a migrant... implies that you are not feeling at home where you currently are”.

Some respondents referred to the topics of their own identity, belonging and home.

The topic of the relationship between a person living abroad and the generalized group of “the natives”, either in the “new” or in the “home“-country, occurred in several responses too.

Respondents described impressions such as being different from others; not being considered by the “natives“ as one of them; feeling good or “at home“ in the new country, enjoying living there. In some responses all these three feelings were expressed in combination.



If I dared to make any generalizations at all, I would say that, despite liking to socialize with other foreign people around them, people living abroad prefer not giving themselves any particular common name.


Thank you to all of you who have shared your views.

The observations can serve anybody interested in the topic as an inspiration for further research or discussion. I will be happy to receive your comments and ideas at aneta @ smallbigchange . com.


To see more responses, check the debate on the Internations forum here (requires logging in).

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