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An Expat's Thoughts on Freedom

Updated on December 22, 2018
Eastward profile image

Eastward is a US citizen that has enjoyed spending time working and living abroad in Thailand, Japan, China, and The Philippines.

Freedom by Carlos ZGZ via Flickr.com
Freedom by Carlos ZGZ via Flickr.com

Introduction

It's been over eight years since I left the United States and I've enjoyed spending time traveling, working, and living in Asia. I've had the chance to meet expats from just about everywhere you can imagine and have had countless conversations about the differences in living in Asia vs. our home countries. When discussing these differences with expats from the United States, the conversation often turns to the topic of freedom. In this article, I'll explore the concept of freedom by referring back to its basics as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

The Quality or State of Being Free

Merriam-Webster Dictionary's broadly defines freedom as the quality or state of being free. Narrowing things down slightly, the first example of freedom offered is, "the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action". Of course, no society on Earth allows citizens to act without restraints entirely. Therefore, when we are discussing freedom, I think it's important to realize there are no absolutes. The concept of freedom is a gray area that differs from person to person, and even more so from culture to culture.

Liberation from Slavery or Restraint or From the Power of Another

The next example of freedom Merriam-Webster offers is "liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another". While slavery is illegal in most countries in the modern world, including the US, far too many people still slip through the cracks. Jennifer Turner of the ACLU Human Rights Program writes about slavery in the forms of human trafficking and forced labor (and the US State Department's admission of such slavery) here. Beyond such blatant forms of slavery lie criticisms of the US criminal justice system, for-profit prisons, and the like.

According to prisonpolicy.org, the US has only 5% of the world's population, but 22% of the world's prisoners. This fact has been a common theme in my discussion experiences. One thing that most expats have pointed out is the vast difference in policing in Asia compared with the United States. The amount of proactive, I would argue often even predatory, policing in the US seems to be much higher than in Asia. In Asia, I find policing in Asia to be more reactionary, similar to how firefighters operate in the United States. The officers respond to problems more than they do pound the pavement, seeing if they can turn up any violations of law.

The contrasts can be rather extreme with US policing being far too aggressive and profit-driven while it's not uncommon to find police in Asia that do their best to avoid getting involved in situations where their assistance is needed. In the expat discourse, we've often come to the conclusion that good police policy likely lies somewhere much closer to the middle ground. However, I would give Asia the freedom award in this category as citizens seem much more free to go about their daily business unimpeded (thus being less restrained from the power of another).


The Quality or State of Being Exempt or Released Usually from Something Onerous

The next example of freedom Merriam-Webster offers is "the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous". Again, a fairly broad definition that is open for interpretation. We could consider this as freedom from slavery which Merriam-Webster defines as drudgery, toil, or submission to a dominating influence. There are plenty of other burdens we carry such as education expense, healthcare, and exploitative labor.

This is an area where US expats and those from other industrialized nations have the biggest divide. US citizens are commonly weighed down with student loan debt and lengthy academic schedules that insufficiently prepare one for the workplace.

According to studentloanhero.com, 44.2 million Americans share in $1.48 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt. I would, along with many of my peers, consider this to be a major impediment to freedom. That being said, I do find the strong point of the U.S. Education system to be accountability. There are far less second chances for students, forcing them to be well-prepared at all times. Of course, it is up to the individual to take this skill and translate it into success in terms of making a living.

While education debt in Asia pales in comparison to the US, students often have to make due with less resources. Libraries can be lacking and online information can be severely censored if not blocked outright, especially in China. I would award the US with the freedom award in terms of free Internet access, though government surveillance and corporate influence are putting this freedom at jeopardy.

In terms of healthcare, the US falls far short. While the system offers great expertise and technology to those who can afford it, those who cannot are left to desperate attempts to crowd-source money for surgeries and treatments. Most other developed nations seem to offer citizens greater freedom of healthcare with less ties to employment and the imposing pharmaceutical industry.

The Quality of Being Frank, Open, or Outspoken

I touched on unrestricted use, ease, and facility above, so it's a good time to move onto what Merriam-Webster defines as "the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken". This is an area where the US does fairly well, along with other developed countries. The freedom is speech is an important freedom that is ignored or suppressed in parts of Asia and elsewhere in the world.

US citizens are generally free to criticize the government which is a stark contrast with the lack of free speech in places like China. Although oligarchy and online censorship of anti-establishment content threatens free speech in the US, there is still vastly more room to be outspoken. Citizens in China criticizing the communist party will be shut down swiftly and with a vengeance. In Thailand, one certainly doesn't want to put the lese-majesty laws to the test either. While most countries have issues with the wealthy and powerful's voices drowning out those of the masses, the freedom award goes to the western world in this category.

Closing Thoughts

In the end, I am grateful to have the ability to move around the world relatively freely. I appreciate that the US passport allows me to do that. In fact, for me personally, the strength of the US passport and the flexibility it gives me is the most valuable aspect of my US citizenship. However, when it comes to daily life, I find Asia to be more relaxed and free. Should my family need me, I would consider returning to the US. Aside from that, my plans for life going forward are geared towards Asia. It's up to each of us to find the place that works the best for our particular preferences. If you haven't found yours, I hope these musings are helpful in your journey. Best of luck!

The Greatest Impediment to Freedom by Country from My Perspective

Country
Impediment to Freedom
 
 
Thailand
Delayed Democratic Elections
China
Inability to Criticize Government
Philippines
Policies Towards the Indigent
Japan
Self-Imposed Cultural Views
USA
Corporate Influence on Politics

© 2018 Eastward

Comments

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    • Eastward profile imageAUTHOR

      Eastward 

      7 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      That's exactly it.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      Yes save all year only to spend it all before the end of the fiscal year. This way the budget isn't cut.

    • Eastward profile imageAUTHOR

      Eastward 

      7 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Sounds like you had a good window into the waste, Robert. I remember being amazed at the waste during the rush to spend the year end budget at one of my first jobs in a government printing office. A lot of money but also a drop in the bucket in comparison to what happens on the federal level.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      When we had the "stimulus" package in 2009 I had to go through a database of over 600 programs that were getting funds. A few of them seemed to have some merit to them but many were a complete waste. My favorite was a grant to an Italian American Heritage Museum on Mulberry Street in New York.

    • Eastward profile imageAUTHOR

      Eastward 

      7 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Another good point, Robert! One can only imagine the amount of money that has gone to the wayside (at best) when you consider funds lost in inefficient contract dealings added to the missing or misdirected funds.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      There are other things that don't show up on anyone's radar. How the U.S. government selects who wins a contract is not designed to be the most efficient use of money.

    • Eastward profile imageAUTHOR

      Eastward 

      7 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Very true. The Pentagon audit results are a pretty disturbing example.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      This makes sense. Some things the U.S. government does is inevitably inefficient.

    • Eastward profile imageAUTHOR

      Eastward 

      7 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      That's a good question, Robert (and one with many variables). In the case of Japan, I'd say there is more efficiency in making sure tax policy translates into benefits for a wider range of citizens. I came across a speaking tour of healthcare professionals in the US working to promote the adoption of Japanese systems. The answer may be a bit more cloudy with other Asian countries but I still get the general feeling that they know how to stretch more out of every dollar they have available.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      That brings up another issue. Are Asian governments more efficient with the money they spend on various services?

    • Eastward profile imageAUTHOR

      Eastward 

      7 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Thanks for reading and for the question, Robert! Income taxes in most of Asia seem to be within the same ballpark as the USA. The concept of land ownership is a bit different by country (especially in China) but I still find my US property taxes to be pretty high when considering location of my property and services provided in turn. One thing that stands out to me is that with all the heaps of money I've paid into the various levels of government in the USA, there is still no reasonable access to healthcare. In the Philippines, my wife and I are at least eligible for a basic healthcare plan for $50 per year (that covers the both of us). That was quite an eye-opener. Last I looked into an individual plan in the US, when I was much younger and unmarried, it was over $400 per month with no pre-existing conditions.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      Thank you for the insights into various aspects of freedom and how U.S. fares against Asian countries. What about taxes?

    • Eastward profile imageAUTHOR

      Eastward 

      8 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      Thanks for the kind words, Liz! My lifestyle does suit me well. While it wouldn't be for everyone, I always try to encourage people to travel and find out what lifestyle suits them best!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      8 months ago from UK

      You give an interesting insight into your life from a fascinating perspective. You seem to have found the life style that suits you best.

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