MediaTips: Emily Miller, an ‘Existential Migrant’

In our latest in a series on Media Tips, Dalyn Cooke catches up with Emily Miller, an American journalist living in Argentina who also works as a Spanish-English translator and blogs at Urban Expats.

Miller first moved away from America in 2006 and has never returned, living in several different countries from the Czech Republic to Argentina. Photo and report by Dalyn Cooke.

Q: When did you begin your career and how did you get to where you are today?

A: I became interested in languages at an early age. My strongest subjects in school were always languages — English, Spanish, French. I minored in Spanish in college and did study abroad in Spain. After college, I got a job at a charter high school in Austin, Texas, recruiting students and doing marketing. That was the first time I used Spanish at work. After a few years there, I realized I wanted to return to Europe so I became an English teacher and taught in Prague for a few years. Then I moved to Buenos Aires and got an administrative job at a language school, where I had to constantly speak Spanish. Five years later, with fluent Spanish, I became a Spanish-English translator, which is what I have been doing for the past few years, and what I would consider to be my career. I also run a travel blog.

Q: Where have you traveled to that has been the biggest shock and why?

Marrakech, Morocco — the uniqueness of that city (the separation and differences between the new and old part of the city, the people, culture …)

Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay — so much poverty …

Q: Why did you originally decide to move away from the U.S.?

I had always been interested in travel and other languages and cultures from an early age. I think living abroad was always in the cards. I was never going to be happy staying in the same place forever. I like to explore and I like what’s different. So my reasons were and have always been the same, and mainly existential. I wrote my master’s thesis about this, it’s called existential migration.

I am from Montpelier, Vermont and I have lived in San Antonio, Texas; Austin, Texas; Madrid, Spain; Prague, Czech Republic, and now Buenos Aires, Argentina. I became a temporary resident when I enrolled in a master’s program at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. After three years of temporary residency they automatically changed my category to permanent. So it wasn’t a choice, but rather due to circumstances. But I’m very glad I’m a permanent resident.

Q: How does the media and journalism differ in Argentina from the United States?

I don’t think it does differ that much. You have publications that are more right-wing, more left-wing, you have publications where you worry if the shareholders/owners’ political opinions influence content, etc. You also have a lot of sensationalism in the press. So all of that happens here as well, like in the States.

Q: Throughout all of your travels what has been the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Definitely language and cultural barriers have and continue to be the main challenges when I travel. With Spanish, I don’t really have the language barrier issue anymore, but there are still cultural barriers. There are still comments and jokes I miss because I didn’t grow up watching “El Chavo del Ocho”, for example. And it’s the same in other countries, trying to get around, trying to make a living, trying to integrate and fit in, in another language and in another culture.

Q: On your blog you said that you have always been an existential migrant. What exactly does that mean?

Since I was a small child, I’ve been interested in travel, languages, foreign cultures, people that look different than me. I used to write stories about traveling and draw pictures of airplanes and Japanese women and the Eiffel tower and even a map of Australia. That all happened before the age of 10. And I started learning languages when I was about 12 and immediately knew that’s something I was interested in.

Childhood drawing provided by Emily Miller

Q: I enjoyed reading the section on your blog titled “Expat” disclaimer where you further explained the difference between an immigrant and a migrant. Is there a specific reason why you put this section on your blog? What is the difference between an expat and an immigrant?

Because expat may be an elitist term. Many people think that immigrants migrate for economic or survival reasons, whereas expats are usually highly educated and from “first world countries”. Immigrant can be used as a derogatory term. There are socioeconomic (and possibly even racial) connotations attached to both terms.

Q: Being an expat yourself, do you ever feel left out or discriminated against as an American?

Yes. It’s called anti-Americanism and unfortunately it is a fact of life for Americans living abroad. Xenophilia, which is the opposite, is also a fact of life. Because we export so much of our culture (in Argentina they are massive consumers of American movies, TV shows and music), there are a lot of stereotypes, good and bad, but there is also a lot of admiration, almost like just being an American is a kind of celebrity status at times. It’s interesting. There is also a lot of political and economic-based resentment, especially amongst liberals here.

Q: What was the most interesting thing that you discovered through interviewing Americans in Buenos Aires for your case study?

That, in the majority of the cases, it wasn’t their first time living abroad. Meaning, Buenos Aires wasn’t the first foreign destination for most of them (it’s the same in my case). I thought that was interesting. Also, many of them talked about struggling to fit in socially and how that was their biggest struggle and frustration. How almost every single one of them identified as “liberal”. How they all had existential reasons for leaving the U.S., like me.

Q: If you could give aspiring journalists who want to travel and live abroad one piece of advice what would it be?

Learn the language. Be patient and go with the flow.

Q and A by Dalyn Cooke shared with the Reynolds Sandbox

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