Most people that expatriate out of the US in their early twenties are usually not so keen on coming back, at least for awhile, and it’s usually the reality of the international job market that brings them back home, at least that was the case for me. I had vague plans of spending my twenties there and take full advantage of the under 26 everything discounts and then come back to the US in my early thirties at which point I would need to earn loads of cash for retirement, being a good ten years behind. Some are able to break into the tough European job market and stay for at least two/three years. Others repatriate back to the consolations of making more money or for other career options that are easier to start in the US or to prepare to become even more competitive in the international job market by getting a law or MBA degree.
All of the above can be considered temporary re-patriates, who are strategically coming back home to hone their skills to whack their way back abroad. Others however do actually become re-patriates, meaning they come to realize something about their American roots that wasn’t apparent before and so after crossing the Atlantic have no serious plans to live abroad again.
The story of the re-patriate
The re-patriate is usually the happier of the two. No longer having to incorporate the abroad variable, a life can be started in the States. One such famous example of a re-patriate is Jonathan Franzen author of The Corrections who spent two years in Germany before he decided to become a writer and move to Boston. In an interview with “Die Zeit” he says how he was “cured of the desire to live on the continent.” Franzen goes on to talk of aspects of America and American literature that he missed that wasn’t found in Germany or German literature and ultimately came to realize these were the aspects that he now wanted to have or focus on. So how do some Americans get ‘cured’ and others come back wanting more? Are the ‘cured’ just wiser faster, realizing what the temporary re-patriates will realize 10 or 15 years later?
The story of the temporary re-patriate – their beginnings and their struggles
Most career counselors, unless you are a competitive economics major entering the fields of banking and consulting, will bluntly tell you one of the following statements: there are no entry level jobs in Europe for humanities majors or you have no skills that a European graduate doesn’t possess. Therefore, you’ll find a lot of people au pair or teach English or better yet get a Fulbright to study further or teach less English for more money. Or they get a DAAD, Marshall, or a Rhodes. But the Fulbrights and au pairs usually do not have it in their life plans to life abroad forever whereas the teaching English crowd want to stay for longer. I didn’t heed my counselor’s advice although it was always on loop in the back of my head, I went over to find myself working in the most God awful administrative/secretarial position known to man with no benefits and even less money. As you’re wasting away in Europe, your friends are happily moving on with there lives, by buying condos, getting real jobs, continuing their committed relationships into their fourth, fifth anniversary.
It is at this moment that, for whatever reasons you left the USA, you start to wonder; maybe I could be happy even happier back home watching Conan and having enough cash to get a haircut. You start to miss being able to speak with people that have English language abilities beyond small talk and you don’t want to go out with people who maybe using you to improve their English.
Basically I was torn, do I continue to stay in Europe with its 19 euro flights to Rome but no serious future prospects, or should I come back to the US, chose a career, pay my dues, pray to God that in three years time I will be relocated back with my proper job with no worries about illegal employment options or the stresses of freelancing. With everyone from the janitor on up telling me to go back to the US, I came back.
What Europeans think of American expats and how it fuels your repatriation
I found that most Germans and the British look at recent graduates who come to Europe to find a job as American rejects, meaning the only logical reason that an American would come to Europe without having to or for love or because their ancestors where from that region is because they couldn’t find a job in the US. Unlike guest workers or refugees or Eastern Europeans, they have a hard time understanding why anyone would leave a country that would offer them more opportunities and more money and try to live in a place that offers them less. When you try to tell them you like living in their country even without voting and working rights, they think you’re nuts. When I found this out, I was mortified. I thought to myself, “What! They think I am an American reject.” Wait, I CHOSE to reject the American job market, these Europeans should be flattered.
Parents take on the issue
Every time I try to go back to Europe to live there, I am confronted with the question by my father “Are you going to die in Germany? If you are then go.” I used to think he’s so dramatic but now I’ve come to realize it’s a good question. Even for expatriates that have lived abroad for 15 or 20 years, they always seem to be counting the years till their eventual return. It seems as though at any moment, once the mark hits 18 or 22, they’ll be back in the US for whatever reason, only to have marked their years abroad with a certain number. If I did decide to die in Germany, I’d probably have to explain to old Germans why I wanted to die there, just like I had to explain why I wanted to work there. It’d be annoying but by that time I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to.