The Exception to the Rule

26 September 2017


Looking back five years can be just as rewarding as looking back a century. To this end, the EAC continues to collect materials about the lives of current expats, using the increasing possibilities of the digital and social media. Gathering these sources might not only safe these experiences for future generations, but also help researchers to make sense of the current state of the world. After all, continuous evaluation of our knowledge remains necessary. This is because, upon close inspection, it becomes clear that some of the ‘rules’ about behavior and societies are not as flawless as one might expect.

Perhaps surprisingly, the document which illustrates this best for the recent history is itself an exception to the rule. Whereas most of the material about contemporary expats consists of blog pages, emails and posts on social media, this document is a diary. It was written in 2011, by a Maltese EAC volunteer and covers almost the entire period of his stay in The Netherlands. Therefore, it provides an interesting overall picture of this expat’s professional, personal and inner life during his journey abroad. Reading this document reveals that this person was also the exception to the rule in more than one way.

First of all, in professional terms, his stay in The Netherlands was not very successful. The archive contains numerous files of expats who managed to use international assignments to boost their careers. Combined with the success stories of expats occasionally published in newspapers and magazines, this might give the impression that travelling abroad as an expat guarantees a successful professional life. Reality is, however, far more complex. The author of this diary went into great detail to describe the difficulties he encountered while looking for a job in The Netherlands. When he eventually returned to Malta, he still had been unable to find employment, partly because of the language barriers in the Dutch labour market. One must therefore keep in mind that not every expat journey is a success story.

The reason why he travelled to the Netherlands in the first place was because of his wife. She had moved abroad to a different European country a couple of years earlier because of her job. This makes their case particularly interesting in terms of analysing European identity. According to most of the academic literature, one could expect to find a strong pro-EU attitude in this diary. After all, he was well-educated, lived in another EU country and his life was touched frequently by the EU. These are the categories in which support for the EU is usually strongest. Once again, however, the author was the exception to the rule. While initially pro-EU, his attitude towards the EU continued to worsen as the time passes, until finally, he outright admitted his distaste for the EU. Although his personal circumstances may have played a role in this eventual outcome, this case is nevertheless useful to keep in mind. It namely shows the problems of trying to place people into certain categories.

Few sources provide such a deep insight in a person’s life as the diary. Close examination of treasures like this can therefore not only lead to new insights, but also to a reevaluation of the established ones. While this case certainly is a unique one, it nevertheless shows that not every expat story is one of success. Furthermore, belonging to a certain group does not mean one automatically has all the traits attributed to it by scientists. We should keep reservations like these in mind, especially when analysing societies and cultures. It does not make the task easier, but it does bring one closer to fully grasping the complexity of this world.

Written by: Jasper (Intern at the EAC from May to October 2017)

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