Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Expatriation vs emigration

Expat or emigrant? After 12 years in Ireland and with no intention (so far) of going home, I should maybe start considering myself as an immigrant. When I decided to leave France, in my mind I was "going abroad", "expatriating", "discovering a new country". Never once I told someone I was "emigrating"!

Why do Irish people always talk about "emigration" when they leave Ireland? It's something that gets me confused because I really feel this word has a very negative connotation. It feels like they are being forced out of their home country to re-build a whole new life somewhere else.

I've looked up the definition of both words and this is what I found:

Expatriate: An individual living in a country other than their country of citizenship, often temporarily and for work reasons. 

Emigrant: A person who leaves their own country in order to settle permanently in another.

I understand that Ireland is a small country (therefore with less opportunities) and emigration is part of Irish history for centuries, but I don't believe we should talk about it so negatively. When I read articles about the subject, most of the time it's about families torn apart and people being forced to leave. And it feels like there is no hope of these people ever coming back to Ireland (hence the "emigrant" definition). So yes, maybe even before leaving, they already believe there is no coming back.

I left France voluntarily. Back in the early 2000's when I finished my studies, the economic outlook in France was quite bleak. If you didn't have experience, there was very little chance of a job. But if you couldn't get a job, how were you supposed to get experience? I made the choice of leaving the country, but it was more to discover another culture and improve my English than just by pure economic necessity. I was hoping to stay two or three years and then go back home with experience and find a better job. As it happened, I met a guy, bought an apartment, had kids and I'm still here. But it wasn't my initial plan!
The majority of French people and foreigners I've met throughout the years are back in their home country and found a job without too much difficulty. The experience abroad definitely helped.

My husband left Mauritius in 2002 because he was offered a job in Ireland. Of course, his reasons for accepting the offer were very different than mine. He was working at the time but wasn't earning enough to sustain himself and take care of his parents. Trust me, when you earn less than 200 Euros a month (and you're the only one working in your family), you're not living, you're just surviving. He decided that leaving would be a better option to be able to help his family. He had the same plan as me. A couple of years saving money and he would be back home. As you can see, things haven't really worked the way he had planned! Now, there is no way he would live again in Mauritius. Re-adaptation would simply be impossible.

My brother-in-law also came to Ireland, in 2005. He left behind his wife and his then 5 years old daughter. He came here, studied computer science during the day and worked as a chef at night and at week-ends. He worked and worked and worked. He saved a lot of money and really sacrificed himself to offer a better life to his family. After a few years here, he had enough money to build a house back home. He actually had a great time in Ireland. He made a lot of friends and managed to have a good social life. He really enjoyed his time here but it was just impossible for his wife and daughter to join him and after 6 years, he decided to go back home and move into his newly built house. 
Nobody ever forced him to emigrate. He just decided to do what he thought was best for his family. I'm not saying it was an easy choice, but he took the experience positively and in the long run, it paid off.

And he's not the only person I know in this case.  A lot of foreigners come to Ireland to work, save money, and go back home after a few years. And then, some of them like me or Fabrice just decide to stay. I also have other family members in Mauritius who are not in a great financial situation but wouldn't want to leave their country and their family, even if it meant more money. 

So why is it so hard for Irish people to realise that maybe a good part of all these "expats/emigrants" will come back to Ireland? Why is there such negativity around the idea of emigration? Why does the general consensus seem to be that people are forced to leave without any chance of returning?

We all have different experiences, but maybe if people who emigrate were trying to take it as a chance instead of a punishment, and had a more positive attitude there wouldn't be so much negativity around the subject. 

Maybe we should stop using the word "emigration" for a start...