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Project Xpat: Exploring The Expatriate Life

Expatriate Ernest Hemingway, 1923
National Archives, via Wikimedia Commons
Expatriate Ernest Hemingway, 1923

Funny thing about being an American living away from America: It makes you think more about what it means to be an American.

But which is the dominant sentiment? Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Or out of sight, out of mind? The answer depends on a lot of variables.

Over the years, various people and projects have explored those variables: the mechanics and meanings of expatriation.

One of America's most notable expatriates, novelist Ernest Hemingway, examined the notion from many angles in the 1920s.

On one hand, Hemingway glamorized the expatriate life. "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man," he wrote in a memoir, "then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

On the other hand, he mocked Americans living in Europe. "You're an expatriate," Bill Gorton tells Jake Barnes in Hemingway's 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises. "You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes."

A Privileged Lot

Now, nearly a century later, Americans still wrestle with the pros and cons of international living. For a while, the International Herald Tribune website produced a lively blog, Rendezvous, with stories about today's expatriates.

"Our world faces daunting challenges," the Rendezvous editors wrote in the inaugural post in January 2012. "Those of us who travel, live, work, connect and reason across national borders are a privileged lot; we see many of those challenges up close. And this fortunate minority of globetrotters is growing. We know more about the world — and one another — than ever before."

When the IHT was rechristened as the International New York Times, the diary ended, in June 2013.

/ Clary Estes
Clary Estes

Other groups, including Transitions Abroad and Expatnetwork, continue to connect with — and provide news and services to — the global community of American expatriates.

Making The Decision

On her website, Clary Estes, a 25-year-old American living in Japan, poses a question: Why are we ExPats? She is hoping to develop "a crowd-sourced journalism project where people can come together and talk about this question, while ultimately creating a forum to talk about globalization and personal identity outside of one's home."

She says, "It struck me early in my move to Japan that living in a totally different place is not easy and frequently requires people to learn another language, be far away from their families for long periods of time, adapt to new customs and laws, and a whole myriad different issues. It is as stressful, complicated, frustrating as it is exciting. So why do people do it?"

What It Means

It's an intriguing question.

We at Project Xpat have another.

Ours is a 10-word question: What Does It Mean To You To Be An Expatriate?

We want to hear from Americans living in other countries. And from Americans who know others living abroad.

And we are looking for a 10-words (or less) answer. With good, crisp photos of the American expatriates. If you'd like to participate, please use this form. (Sorry about the form-ality, but it's the easiest way for us to collect your answers.)

The Protojournalist is an experiment in reporting. Abstract. Concrete. @NPRtpj

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.