An expatriate is defined (by Wikipedia) "as a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence." That covers myself here in Viet Nam. But where is the expat's allegiance? Does the expat intend to eventually return to one's homeland? What kind of expat then intends to remain permanently in a foreign country?
My journalist son-in-law, David Nakamura, now in Afghanistan, posted a dispatch a couple of days ago for the Washington Post that raised these questions for me. His article, entitled "FBI will conduct autopsies on 6 American aid workers slain in Afghanistan", stated:
The families of five of the eight foreign workers have requested that the bodies be buried in Afghanistan because they had dedicated their life's work to that countryI don't think much about my own mortality, but in the back of my mind I have wanted my remains (ideally in ashes form) to wind up in my home state of Montana. Recently, I have have been thinking more and more about eventually retiring here in Viet Nam. I have potentially 20 to 30 years of life remaining, and most of them might be lived in Viet Nam. At some point in the future, would I make a decision that my remains be deposited in Viet Nam?
The key words for me in the quotation above are "life's work". I returned to Viet Nam rather late in my life and career, so my life's work has not been here. But some of my best work has been performed here. (I say "returned" because I lived in Saigon for a year in 1971-1972). And now I am becoming very comfortable living in Viet Nam.
But I don't want to compare myself with these aid workers. These seem to be people with dedication and mission that I frankly do not share at this point in my life. I wish I did, but I unfortunately burned out that kind of dedication in my last years in San Francisco. I hope to regain some sense of mission in my retirement years, but I am still too committed to my professional work at this point.
I am just surprised that the families of these people requested that their loved ones be buried in Afghanistan. But some of the older aid workers had evidently provided dental services in Afghanistan for many years, even decades. At some point, the aid workers and their families must have realized they had switched "allegiance" -- not in a patriotic sense perhaps, but in a sense of commitment to their adopted country. To me, that is an enormous decision in life, one that most people never encounter in their lives.
I haven't encountered this decision yet. As much as I love living in Viet Nam, I still consider myself American first and plan to return late in life. I also know that I can never be Vietnamese or accepted by Vietnamese as part of their culture. I will always be an outsider here, maybe half in and half out. But I am open to coming to some kind of mission commitment during my coming years in Viet Nam. I will therefore also be open to a possible switch in "allegiance" that brings me to a decision to remain in Viet Nam permanently (not having researched yet the legalities of such a decision). Perhaps I will acknowledge a commitment to the best of both worlds -- half and half.