Our responsibility as expats

Sometimes it’s hard to really process all images, the heartbreaking tributes, the frightening eye-witness accounts. And it’s true, innocent people are killed everyday, all over the world, out of the glare of international media.

With the sheer volume of information and from the comfort of our own expat buncles, it is often easy to switch off. Unless the locations touched are places that we have visited, or where we have loved ones, or where we are posted. Unless you’ve been in other cities also touched by terrorism and the horror, fear and anger are awfully familiar.

Over the last week Brussels has been firmly in the spotlight.  This normally sleepy, laissez-faire capital city has had a rude awakening. The impact of the country’s linguistic and cultural divisions on its security apparatus, the lack of integration for sizeable immigrant populations, the lack of accountability for senior officials as more and more failings are broadcast around the world have been held up for all to see.

What does this mean for the city’s expats? Those living here know the rich vein of bureaucracy, sheer incompetence and weird traditions that underpin life in Belgium. Recently a journalist dubbed Brussels ‘the city that doesn’t give a damn’. Yes, it’s pretty easy to find things to complain about and mock in Europe’s capital. But this is bigger than Brussels, Paris or Beiruit.

Look, I don’t want to come across as a crazy, bleeding heart liberal but I’ve said before that expats are in a privileged position. We get to live amongst different cultures, languages, religions. We do ‘deep travel’ and the more postings we have, the more we realise that people are the same, their basic hopes and fears and dreams. We see the cultural differences and they fascinate and frustrate us but we also see the links across cultures and geographies.

I feel pretty strongly that expats have a special responsibility to pass this on. To keep debate alive. To encourage others, especially young people to get out and explore for themselves. That it’s our responsibility to live life to the fullest. To celebrate diversity. To savour the freedom that allows us to travel. To laugh. To have a glass of beer. To challenge the world views of those around us but also our own. Constantly. Above all, to draw on our experiences to tackle misinformation and prejudice.

What do you think?

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