Labeling those who leave

During weeks of planning for this week's lead story, we used the term "expatriates" to describe the group of Americans Sara Terry would be interviewing.

Once Sara filed the story, it no longer seemed quite right.

Maybe we're just being sensitive in a politically charged time. But the word can imply a kind of self-imposed exile that's tantamount to turning your back on the flag.

In fact, while we weren't out to impugn anybody's patriotism, the story as first assigned was meant to gauge whether some measurable segment of working Americans felt sufficiently dismayed or disaffected post-Sept. 11, 2001, to want to pack up and leave.

As it turns out, most of those Sara spoke with applied the "expat" label to themselves. And yes, one only half-jokingly prescribed a kind of turncoat line of defense for Americans abroad who feel threatened – act Canadian.

But the majority might be better characterized as proud Americans acting on a shared belief that their country is greater when viewed as part of a community of nations.

They're anti-isolationists who've found a way to export themselves professionally – for short stints or for good – in order to operate within that broad, often enriching, community.

It's seldom easy. Shipping out as a "company of one" to work from some garret apartment overseas is not unheard of. But the hurdles of visa and residency requirements make it almost impossible to work abroad legally without an employer – corporation, government agency, or nonprofit – to deal with red tape.

But the effort can be worthwhile. For many who pursue careers abroad, it's not about what they leave behind, it's about what they go to give, and learn.

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