My New Favorite Word for Expatriates

what exactly are we?

My coworkers and I are currently reading chapters out of a book called Deep Culture: the Hidden Challenges of Global Living by Joseph Shaules.

There are rich takeaways from the whole book but personally, one of my highlights is that I have found a new word to describe myself and so many others.

There is debate around what to call people like me who are living outside our passport countries but who are not citizens of our new country.

I wrote about this six years ago here: Immigrant, Expat, Racist?

Immigrant. Refugee. Tourist. Expatriate. (please, for the love, not ex-pats and not expatriots). Traveler. Visitor. Guest. Transplant. Alien. Foreigner. Local.

Here’s the word Shaules uses in Deep Culture: sojourner.


I love this. Sojourner communicates the temporary nature of an expatriate but implies a longer stay than a tourist or a visitor. But it goes deeper than simply saying someone is from somewhere else. It conveys an attitude and perspective that is vital to successful international living.

This is a fabulous definition of the word as it is used in the Bible. According to the Oxford Bible Dictionary: “This Hebrew term and its translation convey the basic idea that a person (or group) is residing, either temporarily or permanently, in a community and place that is not primarily their own and is dependent on the “good-will” of that community for their continued existence.

This idea of dependence on the good-will of the local community is beautiful and absolutely overturns the imperialist, colonialist, imposing, or parasitical accusations that can be, and sometimes are, thrown at foreigners.

This implies humility and connection, a reciprocal type of relationship in which one is welcomed and others are welcoming. The ability of a sojourner to thrive in a place depends on the local population welcoming them continually.

Imagine if this is how people approach living in a new culture or country. If this were how people approached someone who has just arrived.

How can we welcome you so that you can thrive here?

Will you please help me to thrive here?

We need each other.

Here is how another dictionary uses sojourner in a sentence, “The serious sojourner will seek out opportunities to give his time, talent and other resources for the benefit of others.” With this attitude and with the welcome of others, a sojourn can be transformative for everyone involved.

What do you think?

Should we start using this word instead? What might be a counter argument? What is your favorite word for someone living cross-culturally outside their passport nation?