Immigrant, Expat And Émigré
A national sport in Romania is the mass migration towards “the west” in the last 30 years. There’s some issue to what makes up the diaspora. But about 3.4 million people have left since joining the EU in 2007. Some as students, but most of them as foreign workers. That’s about 20% of the country’s population. So it’s been happening for a while at a high rate and it’s likely to continue for a while.
There’s a certain sub-genre of Internet literature devoted to this issue. It’s aimed at white-collar workers and professionals - so the folks who hang out on blogs. It ranges from advice on how to settle in a particular new country, to impressions from others living abroad, and the most popular ones, stories of bad experiences and of the grass not being so green on the other side. I’d hesitate to call it emigration-porn - but just a little.
So this is my contribution to this literary current. I’m writing this from the perspective of somebody who’s lived a fair amount abroad and has returned. I’m not going to urge folks to leave or stay. That’s a personal decision to make. Whatever context you have is going to weight much more than whatever J Random Dude on the Internet says.
But if you do decide to leave, it’s best that you do your homework. And I’m not talking about learning what sorts of papers you’ll need from the local tax authority, or how the medical system works, or what the cost of living is. You should absolutely do that too. But that’s the easy part a quick Google search can solve. What I’m thinking about is how to position yourself to have a good chance of success as a foreign worker.
First, there’s some definitions. They are muddy, but you’ve likely heard the terms expat and immigrant thrown around. They’re both names for foreign workers. The former has a good connotation and elicits thoughts of upper management types or professionals doing high-value-add work. The latter has a worse connotation - unskilled workers, construction workers etc . It is mostly a matter of perception though. But as far as I know, there isn’t a congealed anti-expat sentiment the same way there’s an anti-immigrant one. There’s a whole bunch of nasty -isms to explain the fact, but that’s not the point of the post. A third definition would be that of émigré. This means persons moving about in the artistic or scientific circles. And usually a high-visibility creator of some sort. So you’d speak of Nabukov, Hemingway or Gödel as an being part of an émigré circles. But not of the VP of Marketing for a local branch of a multinational corporation. Informally, if we were to stack them up, it would go
immigrant < expat < émigré.
So the advice is to try to land in the expat or émigré buckets wherever you want to go. Easier said than done. This is a label imposed externally - you can’t really choose it for yourself. But you can choose where in a given country you move to. And the main thing is to move to a place where there are already a lot of foreigners and a strong expat community. This will increase your chances of the local majority population having a good perception of foreign workers. Having a strong expat community will also mean that there’s more dedicated social events and generally more people in the same situation to connect to.
The places we’ve been talking about in the abstract so far are the big cities and centers of industry or administration. University towns are also good destinations when you’re a student or academic. Other than that, I’d be weary. Just like there are vast differences between cities in Romania, say between a big city like Bucuresti and a small one like Alexandria, there are vast differences between London and Bournemouth, or Munich and Brunswick. The situation is similar. All countries suffer from large scale internal migrations from smaller communities to cities. This has the socio-economic impact you’d imagine. Why head towards such areas then as an foreign worker? Anecdotally, many bad expat experiences originate from such places.
Anyway, this isn’t any rocket science or a “The Secret” level lore. If anything, that’s the most likely situation anyway. Big cosmopolitan cities are attractions in themselves. And being centers of industry & commerce they’re where you’re more likely to find a job. But it’s a point worth reinforcing and something to keep top of mind when planning any such adventure.