Between Tourism and Exile


I. I am suspended between tourism and exile. 

II. To study abroad is to place yourself in the simultaneous grasp of these two incompatible ideas.

III. I am both the tourist and the exiled.

IV. I am neither the tourist nor the exiled. 

V. Because of this, I am privileged. Because of this, I have choice.


My professor is japanese, but she has lived in Spain for almost twenty years. She says that when she goes back to Japan, she doesn’t feel like it is home. Spain is home. She says that her spanish friends tell her that she is a foreigner and not an immigrant. It’s a statement of reassurance–they say the word immigrant with a tinge of distrust. 

According to the dictionary, an immigrant is a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence. According to the dictionary, a foreigner is a person belonging to or owing allegiance to a foreign country. 

My professor tells me that she is an immigrant. She tells me that she doesn’t understand why the Spanish keep trying to to assure her that she is not. 

It’s all about implied freedom–a sense of agency that is denied to some and protected for others. To fall under the category of the tourist or the foreigner is to benefit from the assumption that one’s departure from home was motivated by personal choice, not by the need to leave but by the desire to. To fall under the category of the exiled or the immigrant is to suffer from the implication that one’s relocation was involuntary, that one was forced to leave home by circumstances not under one’s control. The tourist is free, the exiled is condemned.

Both the tourist and the exiled, and likewise, the foreigner and the immigrant, experience a form of detachment. It is a detachment that is felt differently depending on the degree of freedom with which one makes the choice to relocate. For the tourist–the voluntarily exiled–detachment is a privilege that permits one to remain separate from the host culture without consequences. It is not necessary for the tourist to learn the language or the customs, to confront the lived reality of the country they are visiting. Detachment allows the tourist to experience only what they wish to experience, and to remain blind to all the rest. For the exiled and for the immigrant, detachment is the obstacle to overcome, the barrier to their integration, the burden which they must struggle to lift. The detachment which comforts the tourist is what torments the exiled.

In Spain, I am neither the tourist nor the exiled, and yet, I am both. Studying abroad is a constant balancing act between these two identities. My departure was voluntary but detachment remains my obstacle. Altough I am privileged with a detachment that does not affect my livelihood, I am aware that resigning to this division prevents me from fulfilling the purpose of my relocation. To learn and to integrate, one cannot remain on the periphery.


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