expat community

Why I Don’t Usually Hang Out with Expats While Abroad

Posted on Posted in Culture, Travel

Anyone who’s traveled has likely ran into an expat community. Most cities tend to have them, and you don’t exactly need to seek them out when moving abroad. In fact, the more foreign the city, the more likely it is to have a thriving expat community. In Granada, where I previously lived, expats were everywhere. They didn’t exactly take over the city, but they had their own pubs and restaurants and generally stuck to themselves.

Wherever you go, that’s what expats tend to do. They bring their own culture with them and form an expat community within a foreign city. It’s really no different in theory than minority enclaves in major American cities. But what expats often do is co-opt the culture of a foreign city without actually interacting with it.  In my experience, expats often shun the locals and have as little to do with them as possible when hanging around out with other expats.

In fact, I once met an expat in Granada who had moved after being inspired by a famous Flamenco guitar player. Originally from California, he had been living in Spain for three years. When I asked him if he ever performed, he practically scoffed at me. In this case (as in many others) he obviously had a deep reverence for the culture. But the way he had co-opted Spanish culture while still being an expat was almost a contradictory thing to witness.

The truth is, when I studied abroad in England I wasn’t necessarily much better. But in that case, I wasn’t an expat, I was a student. While I did interact with English natives (who spoke the same language) there was much i didn’t like about their culture. I found the institutionalized alcoholism and the concept of ‘taking the piss’ pretty off-putting. But even so, I did interact with the culture in non-superficial ways. And I did get a good understanding of how people in Oxford lived their lives, even if I wasn’t always a part of it.

For these reasons, an expat community always has value. Of course, when people of one city move to a different city, they are going to seek out vestiges of their own culture. But for me, that only goes so far. If I wanted to hang out with people like me, I would have stayed put in the United States. When travelling, I want to be open to having new experiences (and not brag about my experiences when I get home). Sometimes, that involves meeting expats from different walks of life, and sometimes that means interacting with locals. But to me, what it doesn’t mean is limiting yourself to an expat community. Because if you do that, you might as well have stayed home.

4 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Usually Hang Out with Expats While Abroad

  1. I don’t mind expat communities, but I agree some expats tend to just close themselves off from experiencing the country and culture and some go even as far as hating everything about it. What boggles me is that they still stay on with all the hate. So why stay? I think it’s more about just finding the right individuals to share your experience with abroad.

  2. A couple of big advantages expat communities have though is language homogenity–by default, everyone will speak English–and a mutual support system–it’s easier to find other friends from a nomadic community than from a settled one, when you’re an expat. For instance, in Prague, unless you’re speaking Czech pretty well (which takes a couple of years) or are dating a Czech, then the instances where you’re really deeply able to interact with the culture are pretty rare, and then when you finally tap into it, you move. So, lastly, sticking with the expat community is an easy option for those moving a lot and are otherwise fairly busy with work.

    But yeah, that’s not to say it’s all positive. Expats should take their time and try to integrate to some level, and especially work on the language skills, but after living in my 5th different country, I’m kind of running out of language skill space up there in the head. 😀

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