Thursday, September 1, 2011

What is assumed of a respectful expat?

Through my experiences for the past three summers in Jordan, I have had many opportunities to observe Americans from a variety of backgrounds. These interactions have revealed three types of expats that frequent Jordan: passive, passive aggressive, and actively engaged expats.

Passive expats live in a bubble. They eat American food, hang out at American hot spots with fellow Americans and Westerners, have very limited interaction with the host country's culture or people and are quite content in maintaining this status quo. (If like minded individuals lived in the US, these would be the individuals who do not read/watch the news or realize that there is a world beyond themselves.) I have found that these individuals tend to be more critical of superficial aspects of the host country in which they live because they do not understand the underlying context that informs a Jordanian lifestyle. Although it is a significant obstacle, linguistic barriers are not the largest issue that prevents interaction, but rather an overt disinterest. These expats are very confusing to me because it makes me question why they force themselves to live an isolated life away from home.

Passive aggressive expats want an abbreviated cultural experience with only the aspects that they find acceptable and appealing. These expats are moderately informed, half-heartily attempt to learn the language and attempt to understand the culture. While gaining exposure to the culture, these individuals find themselves extraordinary and superior. Yes, they suffer from ethnocentrism and believe that their limited time in their host country will rival thousands of years of cultural and societal development. They attempt and fail to understand the parameters of the game of life in their new context and adamantly fight against the rules that are less appealing.

Actively engaged expats are participants within their communities and seek out opportunities to further cultural exchange and understanding. These individuals have their fair share of faults, but the underlying difference that sets this group apart is informed humility and respect. All expats make small and large cultural faux pas, the difference is once this group identifies a misstep has been made, they are regretful and take the appropriate measures to make amends. They value the comradery that they receive from locals and care about how they are perceived in their communities. These expats seek out opportunities to integrate themselves into their communities by researching the culture of their host family, accepting it's strengths and weaknesses, and seeking to strengthen positive efforts in a culturally respectable way. It is my hope that each of us will make an extra effort to understand the cultural context of others and build upon the good that we each have to offer.

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