Nobody really writes about repats. There's no YouTube vlogs, nor are there pods. There's almost nothing about the repat life out there. And it's not surprising. When you're an expat it sounds interesting and adventurous but a repat...? There's something involuntary about it; most 'repatriation' searches come up with results about refugees or human remains. Expats have a lifestyle, while repats just have the boring old life. The repat, it is implied, returns after an unsuccessful immigration, the expat is forever chasing a new expat adventure in some corner of the globe. Here are the key differences.
- The expat vs. repat is a question of new vs. old
The expat has left their country in search of something different, and is full of hope and optimism. The expat will see a new country and culture with fresh eyes. Newness will be everywhere and separate the expat from the ones left behind as much as from the natives to whom nothing is new but the expat himself. The expat, it can be said, gives the locals an opportunity to experience newness by his or her very presence.
The repat might have some good stories, too, but he's got a limited horizon now that he's settled down back in the old home. Along with it come old routines, old friends, old haunts, maybe even old romances. All of this is, ironically, new for a little while, but then it's suddenly old and not worth writing about anymore.
- "Speak a new language so that the world will be a new world." - Rumi
We live through our language, it's our culture. The expat may see new locales, but only the person who can also speak its language will understand it. Of course there are plenty of expats who make efforts to adapt by learning the local languages and customs, but to the repat this is innate and he will easily navigate the native culture, understanding local nuances, while the expat remains an outsider looking in.
- The repat has all the benefits (and disadvantages) of citizenship.
A repat may vote, own property, and is eligible for any local incentives without restrictions. A repat may also have to serve a term in the army, go to war, and is subject to laws from which a foreigner -the expat- is immune. It's a double edged sword in either case. An expat who falls in love with (and in) the new country may need to jump through many hoops before getting the benefits that a repat always had, but then if you think about Ukranian repats, that might not be the worst thing.
- The expat and the repat have to answer different questions.
The expat needs a canned answer for, "What brings you here?" It's bound to be an interesting reason or the glamourous lifestyle reply.
A repat is simply asked, "Why?"
If the repat has moved from a more developed country (like Canada to Romania), the why implies, "why would you come back here? Everyone else is trying to leave." But if the repat returns to Canada from Romania then most people wouldn't even ask why, because they never imagined you were anything but an expat anyway. Of course you'd return.
Which brings me to the final difference, the most fundamental...
- The expat leaves, the repat stays.