I’m a wanderer. I fancy I have gypsy blood in my mish mash of ethnic backgrounds. In fact, I often tell people I have gypsy roots. It’s not like they can call me a liar since it’s impossible to know what roots I have except some gray ones on top of my head.
Although I was born and raised in Wisconsin, I haven’t called the US my home in decades. My first experience living abroad was at the age of 17 when I was an exchange student in Germany. My next move to a foreign country also lead me to Germany. This time as a soldier stationed in Heidelberg. I met and fell in love with my Dutch husband there and, although we went back to the US for me to finish my duty to Uncle Sam and go to law school, we eventually ended up living in Haarlem. That’s the original Haarlem in the Netherlands and not the borough in New York City. After nearly a decade in the Netherlands, we moved to Germany (again!) because I wanted to start a Bed & Breakfast. Turns out I am not the type of person who should be running a B&B. When my husband got a job opportunity in Turkey, I packed the business up and flew out to Istanbul to live with him.
While I’ve lived in four countries (include my mother country), I have never considered myself an expat until we arrived in Turkey. But that can’t be right, can it? The standard definition of an expat is a person temporarily or permanently residing, as an immigrant, in a country other than that of their citizenship. Surely, I am not a citizen of all those countries. Well, actually, I am a citizen of two countries I’ve lived in: the US (natural born citizen the way the drafters of the constitution intended it) and the Netherlands. But surely I was an expat in Germany? And perhaps even in the Netherlands in the years before I gained citizenship?
In my (sometimes but not all the time) humble opinion, a person is not an expat just because she is living in a country in which she doesn’t have citizenship. No, my definition of an expat is more about the intention of the person. It boils down to three points:
- Language – Although my German is definitely lacking (at some point I didn’t even try to figure out if it was der, die, das, etc.), my Turkish is practically non-existent. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, I haven’t made much of an effort with the language. We’re not planning on staying here and putting down roots, so why bother? Which leads me to my second point…
- Putting down roots – When we moved to Germany the last time, we bought a house and started a business because we were planning on staying there for a long time, maybe even forever (although I realize this is unrealistic as I get itchy feet after a while).
- Integration – Making local friends, adapting to the local culture, and generally becoming part of the community are signs that you aren’t an ‘expat’.
I believe that an expat is someone who doesn’t plan on staying in the country in which they are living. Expats often hop from country to country taking new job opportunities. They usually don’t make attempts to learn the language and adapt to the culture. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in Istanbul. *cringes* Maybe it makes us horrible people, but – to be perfectly honest – we’re not staying. Although only a small body of water separates our location from ‘Europe’ proper, it feels as if we’re a million miles and light years away. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the culture. It’s an ongoing adventure living here, but it’s not somewhere I want to settle down and let roots grow. Because I haven’t learned the language and we’re not planning on staying, I haven’t made any attempts at integrating. And that, folks, is why I’m feeling like an expat for the first time in my life.