Expat. It is such a simple word but what does it really mean? Beyond the obvious in that it is short for expatriate, it means a whole lot more.
Recently, I was reminded of what it means to be an expat. I am one. I live daily as one. But it is only when I am confronted with the life I had before I came here, that I come to fully understand what it is that expat actually means. It means an exile.
Why do I say this? Well, all expats are living in a country other than the one of their birth. They have left behind all that they once knew, for a new land, a new world, a new experience. That has its merits. There is much to be learnt and understood, much to be felt and seen, thought and experienced. Yet, there is a price. To be an expat one has to give up all that one once had. One has to give up a country, friends and family. New friends must be found - and in my case a new family founded. Those are rewarding things - but they are not that which has been given up. The price paid remains paid. There is still a loss, still something left behind.
My thoughts have turned to these matters because of the recent visit of my mother and sister to Singapore. Seeing them, again, after a couple of years called to mind the world of my past that I have left behind. Old friends, old places, old thoughts and old feelings were evoked by their presence. I realized what I had had to give up, to win, for myself a new life. Some of those things I would wish not to have given up. Yet, it is unavoidable. Those places, people and things are not here, in Singapore. They will never be. Unless I return to England, one day, I will never see those places, people and things again. They will exist only as memories within, memories that will never live again. I have gained a new world, yes, but lost an old one. It is a hard trade, in many ways, that all expats have to make. They cannot be an expat and win a new world, without losing an old one.
There are riches, here, for me, in Singapore. I have a wonderful family, who daily give me joy and surprising moments - and I have interesting work, too - but all that I used to have, is mine no longer. In a sense, therefore, to be an expat - especially one who does not return to the homeland with any frequency - is to live a life truncated. All that went before has been cut away, to make way for the new life to come.
I knew the ways of the old world, well. I spoke the language with mastery, understood its customs, and had a map of it in my mind. The new world, however, remains strange, in some ways, despite the familiarity of my five years here. The people don't speak the standard English I once enjoyed. They don't think as the people I knew do. The social issues are not the same. Here I am a minority race member - and not just another one of the majority, as before (though being Irish, I was also a minority, in England, too, in another sense...). My social perspective on life here, is different. I am forever an outsider, looking in, not an insider looking out. I have friends, here, but they are few. It is difficult to relate when there is little common ground. The distance between me and others, here, is greater, though it was never that short, before. I have come to understand that I will never truly be a full part of the new world around me - for I will always be different, always be of another breed, another world. In that sense, I have brought my old world with me: it is inside me, it is me. Here, therefore, I am part of another culture, another nation, another race. My differences can never be dissolved, never wash off, or be forgotten. I will always be apart.
I look at other expats, here, too and note that though they may integrate quite well, in terms of work, socially they remain distinct. The world they have brought with them, inside them, cannot fully integrate with the world without. They are ever seen as different, and never, therefore, fully accepted as a true part of the scheme of things.
No doubt it is much the same all over the world, wherever expats live. They have left their old worlds behind, physically, but brought them with them, psychologically. Thus, they can never truly fit in. They are, therefore, marooned between worlds. They are no longer in their homelands, nor at home in their new nations. There will always be things, people, places, that they might wish were still part of their lives. There will always be things, people, places missing from their new worlds.
Only those who have been expats can fully understand these issues. Most countries take their expats for granted - seeing them as no more than a form of migrant worker. Yet, all these expats have given up a lot to be in their new world. No-one becomes an expat without a kind of sacrifice which cannot be seen, but which is ever there. All expats have left behind family, friends and culture. All expats have found new friends, a new culture and, for some, a new family. It is an exchange usually made by choice. But it is not an exchange without cost.
Perhaps the home nations of the world, should understand their expats a bit better, and appreciate them a bit more. For behind every foreign face, there lies a tale of an old world lost, a new world won.
Welcome them, therefore, for every expat has paid a price, no native ever pays: the giving up of a homeland just to be here.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html
I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)
Labels: England, exile, expat, expatriate, homeland, minority, mother, Singapore, sister, uk