Expatriate vs Tourist

Wednesday 11 April 2012

I've always found great value in traveling -- exploring, learning, experiencing different cultures.  There's nothing quite like stepping outside your box.  Traveling lets you glimpse into a different world.  You get a short stint (be it a day, a week or a month) in a foreign place and you can admire it for what you see.  Typically, you see the best of a country and if you do encounter the worst, it sucks, but you move on. After all, you want to appreciate it, the good and the bad, because before long, you'll be back in your regular life.

Herein lies the major difference between an expat and a tourist; a tourist leaves and an expat stays.  Things that seem cool and different as a tourist become a fear or a frustration for the expat.  It's not something they'll take a picture of and move on, it's something they'll face day to day whether they want to or not.  Tourists will choke down less than desirable food knowing that in a few weeks they'll be back to 'real' food whereas the expat has to find a way to make the less desirable, desirable.  Those weird smells - yup, you smell them every time you step out your door.  The particularly funny stories where you are trying to ask something in a foreign language and no one understands you, that is now your normal morning routine.  It can be incredibly tiresome.

However, there are upsides.  You may have to grumble through the difficulties but you also get to reap the positives; that beautiful beach is now part of your home and you can visit it every, single day if you want.  You also get to delve into a culture much deeper than a tourist sees on their short stay in the country.  You begin understand the inner workings of the place and you learn just how complicated a society can be.  You see the good and the bad and create a much fuller and deeper understanding of the culture you're living in.

It really is quite rewarding.  Every once in awhile I look out my window and think, "I live in Africa.  Oh my god, that is so cool."  Of course, there are occasions where I think, "Where the hell am I and how did I get here?" too, but I feel like I've grown so much in the last couple of years and I've learned more than I ever would have imagined.  Joe & I have talked about what a tourist's impression of Gabon might be - beautiful beaches, jungles, exotic, tropical, poor, dirty, culturally interesting, all of which, it is - but I'm glad we got to delve a little deeper, even if it wasn't so pleasant all of the time.


  1. Great post and couldn't agree more! Had similiar feelings when living in Libya!

  2. Agreed good post. I was toying with doing one but more along the lines of Expat v Immigrant and the connotations with the two words. Probably more issues with that in Britain though. I've only ever known London as an expat but I think it's probably amazing as a tourist. Living here does wear you down some times but overall I do like it and I'm happy I came here. Tons of people want to live here so I know that I've had and continue to have a great opportunity.

  3. Thanks - a while back I read an article about the expat vs immigrant thing. You might find it interesting...

  4. Beautifully said Jay. I feel a deep connection with the city that I have made my home for two years! It's nothing I ever felt as a tourist visiting a place. Much like my affection for Cuba which continues even though it's been 12 years since I lived there.

  5. I love the quote on the photo, it's so true! And I also love this post and completely agree. Having been in SA more than 4 years now it no longer feels exciting or like a vacation except for on those rare instances when I stop and think "Wow, I am leaving in Africa right now and it feels completely normal." And now I'm itching to travel to new places :)


  6. Great post. I hope that when I move to Ukraine and make a life for myself I can fully adapt and embrace life as an expat.

  7. Thanks McKenzie - expat life isn't always easy but you have to take the good with the bad! Good luck in Ukraine!


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