If you are from a country like the USA, England, Australia or just about any developed country, you are probably used to knowing people of many different races. Some countries in particular are known as melting pots that experience large scale immigration over many years. Certainly the USA is probably the world leader in this category, but many others are of a similar nature. Certainly Australia is another one that immediately comes to mind. European countries are too, to a lesser extent.
But, if you are from a developing country, there is not a huge amount of immigration. Usually, developing countries experience much more emigration than immigration. More people are moving out, leaving the country than the number of outsiders moving in. Why is this? Well, it’s really quite simple – developing countries usually have a lack of employment opportunity, an infrastructure that is still in the development stages and such. People naturally want to go where things are better. People are generally looking for where there is already established opportunity, and where the “stuff” works. In developing countries a lot of stuff is still in the “experimental” stage and in need of further development.
Because of this natural course of immigration and emigration, the natural flow of people is moving to the developing world to the developed world, at least on average. Of course, not everybody makes such a move, if they all did then there would be nobody left in the developing world! For example, in the Philippines where I live, there are about 11 Million Filipinos living and working abroad. That is a big chunk of the roughly 100 Million population of the country.
Now, the people who are the natural audience of this website are expats – generally that means that they are people from the developed world who move to other countries. Many expats, perhaps most, move to developing countries. We are sort of the opposite of the trend. Because the number of people moving from developed countries to developing countries is very small, we tend to stick out like a sore thumb in the countries where we relocate. Many of the world’s developing countries are comprised nearly exclusively of racial minorities. So, for example, where I live in the Philippines, there is a very small percentage of white people like me, or black people either. The people here, naturally, are Filipinos. Because of this, it is very easy to spot a “foreigner’ if you are Filipino. If you see somebody of another race, well, it is a foreigner.
Over the years, I have often considered getting Philippine citizenship. If I were to do that, technically, I would no longer be a foreigner, I would be a Filipino. Of course, ethnically I would not be of the Filipino race, but by citizenship I would no longer be a foreigner. However, if I were to become a citizen, if I were walking down the street, do you think most people who saw me would think “oh, there is a Filipino man”? No, of course not, no matter if I were a citizen or not, people who saw me from afar would not know, and would automatically say that I was a foreigner. It is only natural.
So, as an expat, can we ever fully integrate into society? I mean, in most countries, we expats are only a very small percentage of the population, and we are easily identifiable as outsiders. Of course, as we develop groups of close friends (local or foreign), we are fully accepted and taken in by those that we are close with. However, for the man on the street, we are simply outsiders, regardless of how “local” we have become over our years of living in whatever country we choose. So, while we may have a small group of people who consider us to be only who we are, the vast majority look at us as outsiders.
In my case, I have become very Filipino in many of my ways of thinking and doing things. I have really integrated into the culture a lot. I speak the language, and use it when I am out in public. But, I still struggle with the thought of being looked at as an outsider. When I see people on the street, I often wonder what they think of me. When I get in a taxi, I know that if it is a taxi driver who has not encountered me before, he likely thinks that I am a tourist, and for a taxi driver, a tourist is an easy target to take advantage of.
No matter how long we live in the country of our choice, no matter how much we integrate into that culture, can we ever be thought of as a local, or are we always outsiders?
What do you think?