Exploring a society where ‘we’ are expats, and ‘others’ are immigrants — the quirks, perks and ethnocentric contradictions of European emigrants are laid bare in a new book co-authored by a Malmö University lecturer.

Europeans often regard their home countries as a chosen destination for immigrants from around the world, and much political and media focus reinforces this notion. “What we often forget is that five per cent of Europeans live abroad,” explains Brigitte Suter.

Those aged between 20-30 years, often have a stronger cosmopolitan attitude, which is based on a European upbringing that highly values mobility and internationalisation.

 She is the editor of the book ‘Contemporary European Emigration’, which is based on research on the European emigration to non-typical destinations, such as Morocco and Angola.

For Sweden, the figure for those living abroad stands at around 660,000, a group which spans age, gender, class and circumstance spectrums. As reflected across Europe, some move abroad for work, for study, for love, some to escape racism or to maintain a middle-class standard of living, and others just because. With the latter, the driving force is adventure or self-development, explains Suter.

In one of the chapters, research found that migrants have different views and expectations on how they want to interact with their new community. In Singapore and Tokyo, for example, the younger European migrants express that they want to become part of the new society. 

Those aged between 20-30 years, often have a stronger cosmopolitan attitude, which is based on a European upbringing that highly values mobility and internationalisation. This demographic has often grown up with educational exchange programmes, such as Erasmus. At the same time, they have been fed with the European view that whoever comes to a new country must adapt.

“They are eager to be part of society. The frustration becomes great when it is not always possible in the way they imagined,” says Suter.

However, integration is generally more difficult for families with children. The fact that children often attend an international school can affect both choice of accommodation and socialising. Some migrant Swedes also say that Swedish culture becomes more important when they have children.

Of note to Suter, in light of the five per cent who live abroad statistic, was the phenomenon that this migrant group is absent in both public debate and research. In addition, Europeans who move abroad are not generally referred to as migrants or guest workers, but are rather described as ‘expats’.

“Migration is something ‘the others’ are engaged in, while Europeans are assumed to ‘travel’ or ‘be mobile',” says Suter, who through her research wants to flip this perspective.

Text: Ellen Albertsdottir

Contact the author, check out the book

"At a time when European unity is politically challenged by the question of immigration and integration, it is easy to overlook the fact that there are significant numbers of Europeans leaving the continent. Academically, little is known about why Europeans leave the continent, how they chose their destination, and how they experience their migrant life. Drawing on the lived experiences of contemporary European emigrants from a range of different countries, this book sheds light on how global economic, political and social transformations spur new forms of migration and mobility experiences."