Why You Shouldn’t Think all Expats are “Losers”

I’ve been guilty, like a lot of people, of believing that something around 50% of expats in Asia, Taiwan, China or wherever you may be losers. There’s a lot of talk about how people come to Asia because they couldn’t make it in their own country. It’s an easy lie to fall into because it’s really quite alluring and misleading.

In some ways, it takes responsibility from the person saying others are losers to offset their own doubts about themselves. It helps them to departmentalize and stereotype expats into a narrative that makes themselves feel stronger, and everyone else looks weak.

What is a loser?

Even the term “loser” is problematic because nobody really gets into what a loser is. Is a loser someone that works minimum wage? Someone that disliked their current situation and wanted to move? Or is it someone that is decided they can be paid better elsewhere?

To call anyone a loser would suggest they’ve lost something, hence the word loser. I get it, there are people that are despondent, and there are people that are stuck as expats because their skills can’t crossover easily elsewhere. But I do draw the line.

I know people that are wrestling with their own lives, both abroad and in their native countries. The funny thing is, people in their native countries all assume life abroad is better, and the people living abroad idealize the place they’re from. Is there grass ever greener anywhere we go, or do we all just fantasizing to get through the grind?

Again, if you want to call expat losers, just remember, there is a line in the ground. You should remember, by calling expats losers, you’re probably calling people you know back home “losers” that are in similar bad situations with their professional career, relationships, mental health, or their outlook on life. The only difference is, one person is abroad, and one is in their native country.

I will concede this though; there are certain expats that make me cringe, but I don’t ever think they are a reflection on all expat, but of themselves.

Not being sent “the best”

There is often talk in politics and in the media about how the world isn’t sending their “best” to Taiwan. It’s a rather insulting notion that goes after migrants workers and expats that aren’t in incredibly specialized roles, and argues that Taiwan should be attracting more professionals. The only issue is, those professional jobs aren’t really there, and the ones that are, generally pay below what could be considered a competitive wage abroad, and only a competitive wage in Taiwan.

This mentality of the “best” has crossed over into the international community with some people saying “we aren’t being sent the best” and at times, it does come across as being weird to me. A foreign national in Taiwan being overly nationalistic? It’s a little right-wing to me and oddly enough this attitude comes from both liberal and conservative expats.

If Taiwan isn’t being sent what is considered “the best”, then questions need to be raised.

How do you define the best?

In this case, the government wants foreign professionals that can bring in expertise in areas the country is lacking. The problem is, they can’t really bring these overly specialized peoples.

To call this “the best” is insulting though. Migrants workers, people that teach here, or people that aren’t in extremely specialized roles still contribute to Taiwan. We pay taxes, interact with society, and we also give back. Sure, there are those people that flagrantly throw all this out the window and get the attention of everyone, but for the most part, expats and everyone else aren’t losers, but we aren’t considered the best.

What calling expats “losers” might actually be pointing to

It cannot be denied that being a native English speaking expat gives you a lot of benefits you might not otherwise have back home. You can easily get into a teaching role with minimum barriers to entry, and get paid very well. It comes across as exploitative and reigns in with the idea of white privilege in Asia.

When I consider the situation what comes to mind is that it comes down to the demand for English teachers which is mixed in with racism and stereotypes.

As much as I acknowledge this, I still think calling expats losers still doesn’t make sense, and issues of white privilege and exploitation are part of a separate conversation.

For the majority of expats coming to Taiwan, they’ve come here to work for a short time before moving elsewhere. I have family and friends that left Ireland and elsewhere to work in industries that were in demand abroad, and they got paid handsomely for jobs with lower barriers to entry, and none of them were teachers. Some were electricians, carpenters, doctors, nurses, and worked in marketing. Yet, in Taiwan and Asia, we take a stand to look down on people and call them losers for doing that here in white-collar jobs.

You can go to Australia to earn more and take advantage of the demand for a needed workforce, but you can’t in Asia?

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people that like living here because they like to feel special for being foreign, but for the most part, people coming to work here aren’t thinking about how they will make so much money, and how they are going to be special, they think about moving abroad and enjoying life. They think the grass might be a little bit greener on the other side for a while.

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Closing thoughts

I think it is important to get away from stereotyping expats as losers. There are scummy people for sure, and “sexpats” are a thing, but they’re not indicative of everyone else. It can be enjoyable to sit around and have a few drinks and have banter about expats in Taiwan, but let’s not forget that the majority of expats here aren’t this “loser” label that a lot of us tend to put on them.

I will say this though, and it will contradict everything I’ve just said, there are a very select few expats I call losers, but I’d never put that label on everyone, or anyone in any profession.

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Tomás Swinburne

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