The Personal Costs of Becoming an Expatriate
I talk a lot in this blog about costs in terms of dollars and cents or pesos and centavos, but rarely do I go into the personal costs of becoming an expatriate. I'm not really a "share your feelings" kind of guy, but I'll do my best here to address the reader's question.
I was wondering how your loved ones in the U.S. felt about your expatriation. Emigration is such a huge event. What sort of changes does that have on personal relationships?
A Little Background On US Emigration
First, when discussing emigration from the United States, one has to realize that there's not a lot of it going on. In fact, type us emigration into Google and the answer you get is, "Did you mean: us immigration?" A little over a month ago, I was talking to an associate from Uruguay and I told him I had a site that was for expatriates and people from the US and Europe planning to move to Argentina. He asked me whether such people actually existed. He couldn't fathom why anyone from the US would want to move to Argentina.
In fact, the US Census estimates that the annual number of native-born US emigrants to be between 10,000 and 25,000. How many of these people are going to Argentina? According to the Argentina census of 1991 there are only 9,755 Americans residing in Argentina, a change of -12 from 1981, meaning net American emigration to Argentina is essentially zero. Of course, a lot has changed in Argentina since 1991 and my guess is that there are a lot more Americans here now.
The Personal Costs
Because of all this, when you tell someone that you're moving from the US to Argentina, most people can't fathom why. I went over my reasons for leaving in a previous post, so I won't get into that here. The reaction of my family and friends has been somewhat mixed. My father, an experienced world traveler and also the person most responsible for introducing me to the rest of the world as a child, couldn't be happier or more encouraging. Along with his wife and my brother, he will be visiting me for two weeks this November in Buenos Aires to celebrate Thanksgiving.
On the other hand, my mother is less than pleased. We were recently discussing by e-mail my problems obtaining funds for an apartment in Argentina. Her reply to me was, "Maybe this is God's way of trying to tell you that you need to live in the United States -- you could get a house here very easily!" Unlike my father, she has not planned to visit me. In fact, she hasn't travelled outside the country since my parents' divorce.
Like my mother, my girlfriend's parents have been less than enthusiastic -- going out of their way to try and convince her not to go with me. Neither of her parents own a passport and Mexican border/resort towns comprise the extent of their international travel. Based on my own first-hand observations, I've come to the conclusion that someone's attitude toward a friend or family member's decision to expatriate is proportionally related to the amount of international travel that one partakes in. The more international traveling one does, the better the attitude they'll have about someone else's decision to expatriate, perhaps even scheduling a visit.
On the other hand, if the only experience you have with other countries is from US newscasts, you're probably not going to have a very good opinion about places outside the country. The only time American news covers the outside world is when there's a war, civil unrest, or a natural disaster. Going by US newscasts, it would be easy to develop the opinion that the US is the only haven of stability in a world that's either falling apart or blowing itself to pieces.
I fully realize that moving to Argentina will mean leaving many things behind. I know that I will see my family and American friends much less often. In addition to leaving my country, I'm also leaving my culture, my language, and my sense of belonging. Since I've only spent a few months in Argentina, I haven't yet experienced life as a true immigrant, only an enthusiastic traveler.
Right now I'm traveling a road that many other people have traveled before and many others will travel after. I'm sure I'm having the same fears and hopes that others before me have experienced. Will I be able to learn the language and communicate? Will I be welcomed and accepted? Will I be able to forge new friendships and fit in socially? Will I enjoy my new life abroad? Will I succeed financially?
I'm sure that everyone contemplating emigration has asked themselves those questions. I don't arrive in Buenos Aires until May 15th, so I don't know yet what the answers to those questions will be. I'm certainly hoping it will be a resounding YES to all of them, though.