The weird, manipulative marketing language of expat influencers

Photo by Sirisvisual on Unsplash

There’s expats who keep a blog, and there’s expats who are *~* Content Creators *~*. I am the former, but I follow both types, and I’m always intrigued by the behind-the-scenes work that goes into being the latter — posing for countless photos, curating one’s Instagram grid, and burnishing a professionally manicured image. It’s a lot of work, I know that much.

When these influencers start racking up their first few thousand followers, they also start getting sponsorships. Paid ads in between genuine content. Which is fine: nobody should have to work for free. But it’s when they cross into the realm of not just selling other companies’ products, but actually selling themselves, that a weird change in tone often takes place.

I’m talking specifically about the people who start advertising their services. I moved abroad, and you can too. Pay $99 to take my masterclass to find out how. Want to become a successful travel blogger like me? Buy my e-book or book a 45-minute Skype consultation to breathe in my knowledge.

This is a phenomenon that has bothered me for quite a while now, but it’s not until recently that I was finally able to put my finger on why I find it so strange and offputting. Broadly, there are three reasons.

1. Drawing a false equivalence between “living your best life” and “moving abroad” / “travelling full-time”

While it’s true that many people have significantly improved the quality of their lives by moving to a different country, it’s simply not true that the act of leaving the United States is a guaranteed one-way ticket to success and happiness.

There are so many things that Americans often take for granted: the right to go onto the street and protest the government. The right to use Facebook, Instagram and Wikipedia. The right to be out as an LGBTQ person. The right to be a single woman in public without her husband or father. The right to cast a vote in an election and know it’ll be counted.

Another example: living in Europe, one of the most common things that non-Americans tell me is: “Our healthcare system isn’t as great as you Americans think it is.” Canadians have told me that they have to wait an entire day in the hospital waiting room to be seen by a doctor, even if they’re injured or in pain. Brits have told me that it can take months or even years to be seen by a specialist. In Switzerland, where health insurance is mandatory, I’ve had to pay 400 francs a month just to be covered, and I pay entirely out of pocket for anything related to mental health treatment because it’s considered a pre-existing condition. It’s not all candy and rainbows, that’s all.

The idea of “living in America = bad; living in any other country = good” is a disingenuous falsehood being pushed by influencers who peddle their products by intentionally instilling a sense of anxiety and self-loathing in people. The truth is that there is no such thing as a universal best life. Everyone’s best life looks different, and living abroad is not a required component of the formula.

2. Dunking on people with 9-to-5 office jobs

This is an annoying trope in the bios of travel bloggers. A part of my soul was literally dying every day as I sat in my boring-ass office cubicle. That’s why one day, I gave my boss the middle finger, bought a one-way plane ticket, and never looked back.

It’s too bad that these folks didn’t like their office jobs. To be fair, there are many office jobs I wouldn’t enjoy doing either, like data entry or accounting. But here’s the good news: there is a myriad of interesting 9-to-5 jobs out there.

You could be the operations manager at a startup that’s using new technology to clean garbage out of the ocean. You could be a gender specialist at a nonprofit, working closely with local women to start and finance their own businesses. You could be the communications manager at a think tank that researches and ranks governments by their corruption level. These are three real jobs, held by three real people I’ve known in real life.

People with regular, so-called boring jobs are the ones who actually make the world function. They are civil engineers. Interpreters. Social workers. Food safely inspectors. Office managers. Human rights lawyers. Waste management workers. No one was born with the dream of being a cog in a machine one day. But without cogs, the machine — society — would break down.

3. The myth of ‘manifesting’ what you want

I really struggle with this concept of so-called ‘manifesting’, which seems to have popped up everywhere as a secular but still pseudo-spiritual replacement for the term ‘praying for’. The idea is that if you manifest any goal — such as moving abroad — hard enough, it will just magically happen.

Realistically, if you’re not a rich person, there are only three ways you can actually move abroad.

  1. Through your hard work. You apply for grad school and get in. You apply for an entrepreneurship visa as an established freelance graphic designer and get in. You apply to be an English teacher and get in. You put in the work, you build your experience, your skillset. Everything that you receive is earned.
  2. You have a partner or spouse who lives abroad, and you decide to move to be with them. That’s it. They sponsor your visa. End of story.
  3. You were born with a second citizenship. Your mom or grandma is Italian. You’ve inherited their citizenship simply by being born.

I fail to see how you can manifest a visa to live in Austria by closing your eyes and thinking very hard about it.

From time to time, I receive messages from friends of friends or strangers who have stumbled upon my blog. They are usually young American women, intrigued by life as an expat in Europe, curious to learn more. I always respond that I’m happy to chat and offer up a few times I’m available. 75% of them never follow up again. The few that do tend to write essay-length messages about how terrified they are of the possibility of moving away from friends and family. To which my internal response is… okay, then don’t?

I’m not here to be anyone’s therapist or life coach them into living their best life. If you want to move abroad, either you’re a do-er who does a lot of independent research, reading and preparation to make it happen, or you sit at home and you daydream.

In summary: no, you do not need to buy a masterclass from an influencer to figure out how to move abroad. If someone is trying to sell shit to you with emotionally manipulative language, unfollow them. And if you absolutely have to manifest something, please manifest all countries reaching their NDC targets under the Paris Agreement so that the planet doesn’t implode in flames. Thanks.

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