“Don’t assume,” the saying goes. “It makes an ASS of U and ME.”
Well I don’t know about U, but ME is feeling pretty ASS-like at the moment.
I’ve been ploughing through the results of my repatriation survey, and it’s with a sinking heart that I realize I neglected to do something important. It’s the first thing you learn in Creating Surveys 101: define your terms.
Okay, you got me — I never took the course. But in my defence, it never even crossed my mind that my definition of repatriation would be different from anyone else’s. After all, the word comes from the Latin repatriare, which means “to go home again.” It’s made up of two Latin elements:
re, meaning “again”
patria, meaning “native country”
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of repatriation for the past 500 years has been this:
To return to the country of origin,
allegiance, or citizenship
Note the multiple interpretations of the original Latin patria. The dictionary definition offers three different qualifications for repatriation, which makes the job of creating a working definition for the purposes of my book a little harder.
My country of origin, for example, is England — a nation I left at the age of four. I haven’t spent more than two months there in the decades since. If I were to move to England, it would be an exciting experience, but a huge adjustment. It most definitely would not be a homecoming.
Citizenship as a qualification is tricky, too. I’ve met numerous people who were born abroad and hold the citizenship of their parents’ passport country, yet have never lived there. If you were born of American parents in Singapore and lived there for twenty years, would your move to the US be repatriation or expatriation? I’m sure there are legal opinions about this, but according to the definition above, if there’s no return, there’s no repatriation.
The third option — allegiance — provides a lot of wiggle room. Essentially, “returning to your country of allegiance” means you get to choose your home country. This makes sense for TCKs and other highly mobile people who haven’t lived in one place for more than a few years at a stretch. What would the criteria be? The country where you went to high school? Where you met your best friend? Where you felt safe?
There’s nothing new about any of this; it’s a debate that’s been going on forever. What I find interesting (yet makes me rue skipping Creating Surveys 101) is that a number of survey respondents define repatriation in a different way: something along the lines of “to leave one country in order to move to another.” Thus I’ve had several responses like this:
“I’m an Australian who has repatriated three times:
from Thailand to Denmark, from Denmark to Japan,
and finally from Japan to Australia.”
I see only one repatriation here. Even if this person has a strong allegiance to Thailand, Denmark, or Japan, there’s no return to any of those countries. There has to be a return.
I discussed this with several repats on Facebook, and although there were minor differences, the consensus was something like this:
Repatriation means returning to a country you call
home/once considered your permanent home.
What do you think?
If you haven’t taken my repatriation survey yet, don’t fret — there’s still time! Better be quick, though. The survey closes November 30 at midnight Eastern Standard Time.