A photograph on a Minnesota news website showing a street in Brooklyn, NY, has the caption:
A long line of Minnesota expats wait to enter the “Minnesota State Fair Affair.”
Meanwhile, on a classified ads website, someone from Wales is looking for other Welsh expats to meet in a pub – in Winchester, England.
While convention and Wikipedia define an expatriate as:
any person living in a different country from where he or she is a citizen
it seems that this definition is being gradually challenged, as shown by these two examples. You no longer need to cross borders to be an expat. You can be a domestic expat. A fish out of water in your own country.
Leaving aside the touchy debate of whether Wales and England are separate countries – for the purposes of passport control and this article, they both come under the umbrella of the United Kingdom – this challenge, upon consideration, is perfectly reasonable.
An intrinsic part of expat life is culture shock, which is, says the University of Northern Iowa College of Business Administration,
the trauma you experience when you move into a culture different from your home culture.
It has several stages:
Excitement/fascination – ignoring small problems; a sense of being on extended vacation;
Crisis period – when difficulties arise, the new country turns out to have feet of clay, and you realize you can’t go home;
Adjustment – a change from negative attitude to positive; rediscovery of sense of humor;
Acceptance/adaptation – a sense of belonging in, and adapting to the new culture;
Re-entry shock – upon return to the original country, when the whole process starts again.
In her 2002 article, What To Expect When You Relocate, Achievement Coach Nancy Morris says:
Surprisingly to many, culture shock can show up even when relocating from one region to another within our own country – we assume ‘culture shock’ only occurs when moving to a completely different country.
If you’ve ever moved from London to Newcastle, or from New York to Alabama, or from Toulouse to Paris, you’ll know she’s right. All the symptoms above can be yours, and you don’t need the inconvenience of an international flight to get them. A domestic flight will do it – or, in the case of our Welsh example, a short trip along the M4.
Nancy Morris goes on to say that
moving to a new cultural environment can turn from culture shock to “self-shock”.
During most of life’s transitions – changing jobs, divorce, bereavement – we have a tendency to question ourselves, and who we are. Surrounded by familiar family, friends, environment, we are usually able to make sense of this question and find an answer, even as we struggle to accept the change in our lives. When the change is cultural, however, acceptance is more difficult. As Morris puts it:
At home we have a mirror which helps to validate and re-affirm us. Within a new environment, the mirror no longer exists. So, at a time when you are seeking the answer to the “who am I” question, your surroundings are asking “who are you?”
Surrounding yourself with culturally familiar people – those with the same accent as you, those who feel as displaced as you; in other words, expat communities – is just one way of putting that mirror back in its place.
And it doesn’t matter you’re an Englishman in New York, or a Welshman in Winchester.
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