I'm thinking that military and missionary lives, and perhaps a few other types of work abroad, are more strongly defined by the organization sponsoring the stay abroad than the specific surrounding the stay is happening in.

Thus questions concerning military or missionary staff are best answered by understanding the military or church responsible, rather than the country they are stationed in.


4 Answers 4


I think these need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. I am guessing most overseas military personnel don't consider themselves expats and might actually get offended at being labelled as such. Military personnel tend to have a big support network while missionaries are often isolated. They all face many of the same issues expats face like getting used to weather, food, local customs and homesickness. I don't see why a missionary asking where to buy Vegemite in the States should make the question off topic.

  • +1 Yes, the experience of an airman stationed abroad at a base is quite different from that of an ESL teacher in a village in the same country, but not much more so than being an oil executive sent to manage operations near the port or a diplomat assigned to the capital. Also consider that families and SOs may accompany personnel sent overseas, and may be less insulated.
    – choster
    Mar 20, 2014 at 15:36
  • 1
    +1 But I don't think we should be too concerned about the fact that people consider themselves as “expats” or not. For example, “expat” is often a word used by highly educated/well-paid professionals from rich countries but I see no reason to refuse questions from people interested in migrating that don't fit the stereotype.
    – Gala
    Mar 20, 2014 at 19:50
  • @GaëlLaurans I agree and didn't mean to imply that. I was trying to say that the overseas military people I know, and to an extent the missionaries, they don't immerse themselves in the culture. This could be my US centric view of military personnel.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 20, 2014 at 20:11
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    The experience of a Java programmer and a Lisp programmer is also quite different but they both fit perfectly on Stack Overflow. The same applies here. Expats is not a label, it's just the name of a website. You couldn't call it "expats and overseas servicepersons and missionaries" because it would be too unwieldy. It's all stuff that can be laid out in more text somewhere than the text in the site's name. Mar 27, 2014 at 21:34

I think en masse the life of a military personnel or people doing missionary work still qualifies as expat because they need to make a life in a different country. Granted that military personnel normally live on the base rather then in the general population but there is no avoidance of interaction with the local people and culture, so I would say that these questions should be on topic.

  • Aren't soldiers deployed to Afghanistan stricly forbidden to leave bases other than on missions?
    – vartec
    Mar 22, 2014 at 21:50
  • @vartec May be they are but Afganistan isn't the only overseas deployment spot available for US military personnel
    – Karlson
    Mar 22, 2014 at 21:52
  • Actually I wasn't referring only to US soldiers. For most European soldiers that's the only singificant overseas deployment.
    – vartec
    Mar 22, 2014 at 21:55
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…, while you are right about most countries some have presence outside their home base. And they are not the only ones that may be interested.
    – Karlson
    Mar 22, 2014 at 21:59

If you're stationed abroad and have to do things like drive to work, obey the laws, keep your visa current and everything else, I don't really see how it would be a distinguishing factor.

Off-topic versions of these would tend to evidence themselves pretty quickly like:

This question is really about Habitat For Humanity, not really an expat thing.

or perhaps

This is more of a question about military life, it's not complicated by where you're stationed.

Our general litmus test of the question author needing to show us how their question takes a twist because of their status as an expat should be all we need to spot the difference.

I also might not be interpreting your question correctly, forgive me if I'm not, I read it a few times and I think this is what you were getting at.


I don't buy the premise. Yes, people who live abroad as part of an organization sometimes have access to infrastructure the average person abroad does not have, but that doesn't mean they are insulated from contact with the culture.

I've known enough of both missionaries and military folk to know that their support system is less substantial than you may think it is (especially the missionaries, who are often utterly alone), and their contact with the culture is deeper than you might expect.

Moreover, no matter how strong their existing support system is, they may still have issues that are best explored outside that system. Consider the case of a woman who is on birth control not primarily for contraception but to regulate her hormonal cycle. Whether military or missionary, in either case it may be embarrassing or even professionally detrimental for her to ask questions within her organization about sourcing birth control in the new country. Colleagues gossip, rumors spread.

Are we supposed to turn her away saying "No, I'm sorry, your experience is too defined by your organizational role. You're not expat enough for us."?

I worry that this site has a risk of becoming, to coin a word, expatronizing.

I understand that it is important in the early days to try to define clearly what the site is and is not about, but I think there is a very simple guiding principle for that, which draws on the premise underlying every StackExchange site: Will this question connect the questioner with an expert who can help them, and the expert with a question they feel inspired to answer?

There are cases where someone will come to this site and ask a question that no one has the expertise to answer, such as "What are the medical facilities like at the Rammstein Air Base?" And in those cases, we will tell them we don't have the expertise, and a military families' forum may have the information they need. But if they're asking "Will I be able to buy a car in Japan without relicensing myself under a Japanese driver's license?" this is the place to find that expertise, regardless of what organization is ostensibly structuring and "defining" their experience.

This is very similar to the situation StackOverflow faced with homework questions. There was debate for some time over whether those questions should be answered, how they should be tagged, etc. In the end, the homework tag was deprecated because the source of the question is not as relevant as its content. If the question offers a legitimate problem to a community of experts who have legitimate expertise to solve it, then it's a good question whether the asker is a student or a professional.

Sort-of-but-not-exactly expats are going to be the "homework questions" of this site. I hope we will choose to answer them on the basis of the quality of the question itself, not the specifics of the asker.

p.s. Full disclosure: I am definitely a "homework question" variety of expat myself. I've bought groceries hundreds of times while working and living in a place, but I've never established a permanent new home. I'll be on this site as more of a questioner than an expert most of the time, so I certainly have a bias of personal investment in the arguments I make above. The expat lifestyle I aspire to is more of a "live one or two years in one place, then move to an another, freelancing along the way" one that lacks the kind of permanent intention some of you seem to see as essential to being an expat. I'd like to feel welcome here, and I'd like to see students and missionaries and oil company contractors and military people welcome here, too.

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    Makes good sense the way you put it - clear analogy to the homework issue on stackoverflow. My question didn't have personal intentions, I'm just trying to figure out how this Q&A format works. Mar 21, 2014 at 8:46
  • I understand, and it is absolutely not taken personally. We are both just participating in the necessary process of mapping out the site's boundaries. Totally healthy and normal! Mar 21, 2014 at 14:54

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