IT and US: To Be or Not to Be an Expat?

Apr 23, 2022 841

In 2013, the United Nations estimated that 232 million people, or 3.2% of the world population, lived outside their country of origin. Imagine if all the expats were put together, they would form the 5th most populous country in the world. We could call it the United States of Expatriates. Around the world, the wealthy and poor alike are moving around the globe in search of new opportunities.

Beyond and apart from poverty, wars, climate change, persecution etc., citizens of more developed nations are also on the move, but for very different reasons. Often, limited economic opportunities in their home country or a simple desire to see the world has led them to relocate to different places around the world.

There seems to be a common thread, a push factor that causes migration transversally, across social and economic categories, age groups, common to single adults and families alike. This push factor is hope.

A positive psychological perspective on migration uses hope theory as a conceptual framework to explain the motivation and life satisfaction of migrants across the globe. Unsurprisingly, it seems suitable to apply hope theory when considering expats in the United States as well.

Certainly, hope must be contextualized and interpreted in terms of expectations, also in relation to the cultural, social, and economic level. The question here is the role of hope when it comes to the decision to become an expat. Knowing that hope theory is embedded in positive psychology, it is helpful to consider the tenets of this approach. How can we learn about hope?

Positive psychology research highlights how pleasant social interactions increase our personal well-being and provide greater life satisfaction. One of the easiest ways to increase our well-being is via listening, actually listening (Seligman 2002, p. 61). Listening can be a way of understanding a delicate construct such as hope, in the light of the decision to migrate. A research study in a form of a questionnaire or interviews may be seen as a form of listening to participants, especially when allowing them to answer more open-ended questions.

Why are we listening? What is our intent and purpose? Are we seeking to gain or give, learn or tell, explore or dictate, create or protect? Interestingly, when we listen well, we are also enhancing our health and the health of others. Just by sharing in a meaningful way, some people may feel better, knowing that they are being understood and their judgments are important to others. This may seem strange, as we would not normally consider using good listening techniques as a well-being practice. However, in the times of increasing emphasis on practicing self-care in the face of stress, one may feel encouraged by a good listener. In fact, researchers have talked about acculturative stress for decades. This type of stress is very well known to migrants, who also need to learn to listen and observe carefully the new cultures in the host countries, certainly quite different from their home country culture.

Furthermore, as stated in a recent McKinsey Quarterly article, The Executive’s Guide to Good Listening, strong listening skills are critical. If people could listen effectively and take heed of the suggestions in the article, they would also experience a well-being benefit and increase their ability to adjust to acculturative stress.

By launching the research study with Italian expats in the United States, we are essentially listening to their voices, trying to understand why people migrate? Answers are numerous and not mutually exclusive, for example: there is a need for more certainty at workplace, for the concreteness of medium and long-term objectives, for the safety of non-temporary jobs, not on a fixed-term basis, not only to be paid, but also for the pleasure of working.

Daily, we meet young people who have left, or feel that they would like to leave Italy, for many, maybe even too many reasons.

All of these reasons are valid, but unfortunately, we find that they are often quite impulsive, not based on careful and motivated reasoning, without a real plan related to professional and personal circumstances.

We certainly do not want to retrace the long and interesting road traveled by Italian Americans from 1900 onwards, but today it seems quite clear that there is no longer as much feeling of pride of being Italian and not even that stiff nostalgia for a distant homeland.

Perhaps today the greatest stimulus is and remains that of an economic perspective, where the place for pride in the Bel Paese is unfortunately no longer as strong.

For this reason, in addition to the scientific desire for research rigor, we have thought, in the wake of research on other migratory movements of medium-high economic and cultural level, to study a little more closely what has happened in the last 50 years to expatriates from Italy to the United States.

We cannot forget that we no longer have an Italy that grows as it developed in the 60s and 70s, perhaps until the early 80s, but we are still in the midst of a crisis. This crisis has profound economic, social and value-based ramifications.

Of course, we remain the first nation with the most outstanding cultural, musical, museum and landscape heritage in the world, but is that enough to keep people from leaving Italy or encourage them to come back?

We cannot and do not want to criticize the current reasons for such a drastic and even courageous choice, that of leaving the Bel Paese, but certainly the economic pressures seem to be the strongest motivations. This is very sad, because it demonstrates, with the flight of hundreds of thousands of young people from Italy, that our political choices implemented by the leadership have not in the least met the emerging demand for security, concreteness and future vision of our younger generations.

In order to listen and to try to better understand the abovementioned phenomena and the difficulties that can still be encountered in embarking on an expat journey, we would like you to take a few minutes to fill out a questionnaire, the results of which will be published also in this magazine.


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