‘Once an expat, always an expat’, ‘catching the travel bug’ and ‘itchy feet syndrome’ – these are some of the fairly common phrases you come across when looking through expat blogs, forums and global mobility related articles. Indeed, sometimes expatriation moves from merely a one-time international work experience to a nomadic lifestyle, and there are probably good reasons for that…
What makes a ‘once-in-a-lifetime expat’ a ‘permanent expat’?
One of the older Telegraph articles brings up some reasons of why expat lifestyle can be addictive. Considering specifically corporate expatriates, the author argues that expat benefit package, pay and status can play an important role in one’s willingness to take yet another assignment.
Although in recent years economic difficulties have made companies reevaluate their overly generous expat compensation, this argument is still valid today. However, in terms of employees working abroad on a self-initiated basis, these arguments are less likely to explain the addiction to an expat lifestyle. Going abroad independently goes often hand in hand with employment challenges, lower pay and probation periods. So what is the reason for self-initiated expats to persist in their nomadic lifestyles?
Probably everything else apart from work and pay that can be summarized under the term expat lifestyle. Both corporate and self-initiated expats may get hooked with living in a foreign culture, experiencing and learning something new, meeting other foreigners, making local friendships, and exploring new places. These are the very aspects that are so difficult to obtain while living back at home, and hence, everything that a person ‘bitten by a travel bug’ would crave for. This is where the addiction is coming from, this is when it becomes difficult to settle.
A downside for the addiction to an expat lifestyle?
Generally, the term addiction has a rather negative meaning because feeding any addiction comes at the expense of something else. In this sense, if we talk about travel bug, we may as well realize that it can never be fully satisfied for a long term. Every new place, culture, and society eventually becomes familiar, and with time transforms into ‘home’ that will not satisfy one’s addiction anymore. So the natural solution is to move over and over again.
But at what expense? Maybe at the expense of something that comes with stability?
Take the professional career for example. A global mindset and international experience are naturally valued today more than ever before, and yet, it is difficult to argue that building a professional career is only based on continuous effort and progress in one specific area, direction and location. At the same time, I guess it is also true that moving around and landing a job that fits well into one’s career path in every new place is quite a challenge.
Something that also comes with stability is family, isn’t it? Every expat survey brings up the topic of family challenges, implying that being globally mobile when being not alone anymore is difficult.
As such, there seem to be some definite costs that may come with an expat lifestyle. Naturally there are also benefits. In the end, weighing these costs and benefits is a personal decision that makes some of us move and the others settle down.