Internationlism and Mobility of Workers : The Experience of Expats Print
Written by Corina Mihaela Paraschiv   
Tuesday, 19 February 2008 18:32


*names have been modified to preseve privacy


            Traveling in the Seychelles Islands has been a most impacting experience for me.  People say it is impossible to experience culture shock while we stay only two days in a country, because we never really get out of the honeymoon stage of it.  Yet I found a way to be truely immersed, and that is, to follow a Seychellois-expat couple around the island on a Sunday afternoon.  Through their eyes, I saw not only a new country but also the reality of expatriates abroad – people who live in a culture other than their own. 


            Exploring this topic of migration and mobility of workers, there are three saliant aspects of the Rotary-expat life that was been brought to my attention : the role of expat communities in host countries, the challenges of adaptation for expats and the views expats hold in regards to their home countries.


Expatriate Communities in Host Countries


            The three families I have followed for the purpose of this paper all were part of the Rotary Family, an important factor in adjusting to a new country. 


            Ram is born in India.  Upon graduating with an Engineering bachelor degree, he  moved to Canada to pursue a masters degree.  The University he chose is a multi-ethnic university that is home of a large Indian and Pakistanese community.  In fact, of the sixtee clubs it hosts, about 80% of them are religiously or ethnically based.  One exception to it is the Rotaract Club, which bases its affiliation on diversity rather than homogeneity.  One of its mandate is to welcome Rotaractors and other foreign students into Canada and to facilitate their social inclusion and integration by exchanging on their culture and showing students around.  Every month, the club organizes social outings which are a great way for new arrivants to discover the popular hang out places, and ongoing projects make interactions possible with locals on a daily basis.  Of course, Rotaract – a junior version of Rotary Clubs – attracts people who have a higher tolerance for risk and a desire to live a truely immersive experience.  I have found by observing many of our new members adjust, that the environment was truely condusive to building a community;  28 members out of 30 were third culture kids.  Therefore, the club has been home to like-minded students, sharing values that were the same as the Rotary values back home and yet adapted to the local customs of the country they had arrived in. 


            James and Catherine immigrated from Africa three years ago, into the beautiful Seychelles Islands, even though they do not intend to stay there forever.  They have two children who live on two different continents.  At age 60, James is still not retired, and had to start his entire life back from scratch in a country where a head of lettuce costs on average 9 US$.  While still in Africa, James and his wife had resisted the urge to join Rotary, despite of the enthusiasm of James' Rotarian uncle, because James was already very involved in his Catholic Church community.  Upon moving to the island, however, James found a home away from home upon joining Rotarians.  The Rotary Club we met upon visiting the Seychelles Islands – where he engages actively – was a community entirely of expats, or of children of expats, but had a very integrated aspect to it; people were from various parts of the worlds, and the club ran unofficially in some dual language mode, both in French and in English.  Wherever we drove, Rotarians knew everyone from the community, Rotarian or not.  It was an aspect that is often different in ethnically-oriented expat communities, where people fail to integrate the local culture as well.


            My family itself moved to Canada after going through Belgium and was never part of a Rumanian community, although there is a large one present in Montreal.  My parents' philosophy has been to take the best of every country where we lived while carrying on the traditions, often brought by our Christian Orthodox religion, with us.  The circle of friends my parents have in Montreal is a mix of local people and immigrants.  Rotary remains a crutial bond, especially when moving into new countries, as the Rotarians have introduced our family both to the city and to friends on various occasions.  It has also, like the International Schools I have studied in, helped the transition from one place to another, without shutting us down into a culture-specific environment.  I think our culture shock and re-entry shock whenever traveling has been largely absorbed by the fact we have always been surrounded by cosmopolitan families, who shared a similar lifestyle in terms of traveling and living abroad, even though they may have originally had different backgrounds than ours.  


Challenges in Adaptation


            Until I visited India and until I was myself an International Student, I did not truely have insight in Ram's situation.  I recall an incident in a Rotaract Trip we had organized where, because of some troublesome behavior on the part of a member, I had run into a lot of problems as the President of that club, and had delt with complains and mediations while the rest of the group had fun, unaware of the difficulties I was facing.  I was not close to Ram, as he had just recently joined our club, and had therefore confided only to a fellow executive member.  When he became aware that something – without knowing what precisely – was wrong, Ram tried to accompany me through it and, I believe, was a little puzzled at why I kept so much distance.  This was of relevance because it shows a difference in values;  when traveling to Delhi, his parents had organized for us accomodations, and when we had to change the location we were at, his brother contacted Ram to find out what was going on and if we were alright.  That is when I realized how much families (and friends of families) are valued in his culture.  This is perhaps one of the most difficult thing Ram, like many new-comers to Canada, may have to face in Montreal in a school of 30 000 students where there is no sense of community.  Unlike in India, our society in Canada is based on values such as being responsible and independent.  Canada also lacks in its system of integration of foreign ethnicities so it may present challenges in adapting.  I can sometimes also notice differences in communication styles; he is very spontaneous and very open, whereas English Montreal culture is more reserved and more detached to things.  Because Montreal is a very diverse city, however, Ram will most likely find it easy enough to adjust over time.


            For the Rotarians of the Seychelles Islands, adapting to the new country has been a real challenge.  Many expats in the Seychelles do in fact return to their countries within a year; the insular mentality makes it so that everyone in town knows your business.  All products are imported, making good sometimes unavailable for a month at a time.  Efficiency is not the country's forte – with the current policies in place, and perhaps, too, because of the unbarable heat, Catherine adds, people in the country move slower, and conducting business in such an environment requires more flexibility.  While relations between locals and foreigners are not violent, they are not always amicable, either, and one may sometimes be driven to spend time exclusively with fellow expats when a visible minority in the ilsand. 


            My parents present perhaps the most interesting case to consider; because of the cumulation of four different residence countries, my parents have encountered a perpetual clash of ideas and conceptions about life and society wherever they went.  As their child, it has probably given me additional insight into ways of looking at things, perhaps even developping a culture that is not quite in line with my father's, which is not quite that of my mother's, but something of its own; a third culture.  Canada being a country of many immigrants, it is interesting therefore to realize that the inter-generation conflicts have an additional layer of complexity in families of third culture children.  Families such as mine can perhaps be even more puzzling as my mother herself was a third culture child, which explains perhaps the open-mindness and tolerance my parents have in regards to me developping my own cultural and belief system.  Such a thing is quite frequent and distinctive of families of third culture kids as well as of adult expats.


Views of Expatriates' Home Country

It is interesting to note that many expatriates who have successfully made the transition to one or several new countries share a common belief :  that we are global citizens of the planet, that traveling expands the mind and opens you to new horizons, and that diversity should be celebrated – even back home.  Yet it is interesting to notice the respect and awareness we can hold for the local populations in the places we visit – Catherine constantly reminded us that although they might be annoyed at times with the slow pace of locals in the Seychelles, they were guests in a host country, and had no intention on having their views imposed in a foreign culture.  This acceptance implied that cultures – even when we do not approve of them – have a very big value as we travel into them.  To an extent, I wonder how many expats realize that without people like those back home – people who do not travel and who cherish a monochrome, or less diverse view of life and culture-, cosmopolitans like us could not experience any of this culture shock when traveling.  In other words, we need people who adhere to cultural values of the country – often with nationalistic pride-, in order for the world to remain a truely comsmopolitan place, and to preserve the different cultures.   This is how the fates of two complete ends of the scale, those who love to experience a multitude of different cultures, and those who wish to live immersed in a single culture during their lifetime, are bound together.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 February 2008 15:17 )