Category Archives: Expatriates

Expatriate alphabet — the N, O, P that can make your expat experience better

by Margarita

Expatriate Alphabet: N is for NEGOTIATION

When I say negotiation I don’t mean the one that has to do with business deals Expatriate alphabet or peace accords. Neither am I using the word to indicate anything that has to do with dispute resolution. Instead, I am using the word to explain the delicate process of “negotiating the change” – and a journey of making lots of very new and difficult choices.

When you arrive to another country and emerge yourself into another culture, you begin to notice that certain things are done differently. People might be routinely late to appointments whereas you are used to always being on time. People may drop by your office unexpectedly whereas you are used to scheduling these impromptu meetings. People may expect you to spell their responsibilities out for them – when you are expecting a healthy dose of initiative.

All these changes may throw you for a loop – and worse, they may really wreck havoc in how you perceive yourself and your ability to succeed in the new environment. After all, if you are constantly frustrated and if you are struggling to understand why things are not working the way they should, you’ll find yourself arguing with your saboteur a lot longer than you ever want to.

And that’s where “negotiating across cultures” comes in. This negotiation process is actually very simple and consists of 5 steps:

(1)Determine which cultural variable is responsible for the behavior that drives you crazy

(2)Identify where you are for this cultural variable on a cultural continuum

(3)Identify where most of your host country nationals are

(4)Determine if you have a large gap – and, if you do, (a) are you willing to change your behavior or (b) will you prefer for people around you to adjust to your habits (this depends on the value structure and if the variable in question is the reflection of your values/identity or habits/behaviors)

(5)Create an action plan.

This 5-step process comes from Culture Mastery 4C’s Process™.

Expatriate Alphabet: O is for OPEN MIND

There exist many wonderful quotes about what an open mind is and what it comes to represent to different people. To start this section on an inspirational note, I thought I’d mention a couple of them – and I’ll mention especially those that resonate with me (apologies for not being sure who the authors are):

“An open mind is a mind of curiosity, wonder, learning, infinite possibilities and a beautiful desire for understanding.”

“A person open to all things and ideas is by default wiser than the one that is not.”

“When you are open to everything, nothing is impossible.”

And while these quotes are probably enough to confirm that open mind is one of things to have to be happy as an expat, I’d still like to explore a bit further. I’d like to explore what it is that closes our minds.

Making assumptions and passing judgments – these two attitudes are often to blame for keeping our mind closed rather than open. Let’s look at making assumptions first.

We live our lives by making assumptions. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are not. After living in a culture for a long time (or for our entire life) we are full of assumptions that have been created by our experience with that culture. When we move, we automatically assume the same about the new place. For instance, if in our “old home” colleagues didn’t bother me when I closed my office door, then I am going to assume that things should be the same in my “new home”. And why not? Should not people know what a closed door means?

You see how this idea about “what people know about closed doors” becomes an assumption based on previous experience? And if we take this assumption to be the truth (which is what we do most of the time), then we encounter a lot of frustration in dealing with the new situation. Instead of keeping an open mind and inquiring about the meaning of a closed door in the new culture, I may assume that it’s the lack of respect and the lack of manners that makes people come in freely when I have my door closed.

And now about passing judgments. The new country we’ve ended up in has been in existence long before our plane deposited us there. People here are used to being and doing things their way. No matter how much it may bother us and no matter how much we disagree, a judgmental attitude will get us nowhere. Remember we don’t own the absolute truth of how to be. There are many different truths and realities out there. And when we have an open mind – free of judgments and assumptions – we are more able to see the different truths and realities.

Where do you assume? Where may you judge? And how does that affect your learning and your life as an expatriate?

Expatriate Alphabet: P is for PEOPLE

When I was living in Argentina, one of my friends explained his constant tardiness the following way: “I’ve gone native.” In Russia, “going native” often meant using your elbows in public transports, and in Uzbekistan it meant haggling over 5 cents at a market. Whatever the country, many of us often find ourselves absorbing and engaging in the habits and behaviors of people who surround us.

This section, however, isn’t about going native. I am using the example to illustrate another human tendency – and that is, to repeat after people who surround us. In NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) it’s called modeling and there are techniques that are built upon this tendency. For instance, people are encouraged to succeed by repeating what successful people do – that is, by modeling them.

Specific NLP techniques aside, we can all benefit from repeating – and thus, benefit from surrounding ourselves with people who we would want to repeat after. At the same time, we don’t benefit by surrounding ourselves with people whose energies drag us down. So, if you want your expatriate experience to be happy and successful, consider who you hang out with. Do you spend a lot of time in the company of upbeat and open-minded people? Or do you find yourself dragged down by those who complain and judge?

Finding a circle of acquaintances and friends who offer positive energy is important everywhere – and it is especially important when you are living in another culture and need all the support you can get.

Who are you surrounding yourself with?

Thoughts, comments, additions?

These ABCs form part of the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ Guide and Workbook which is available as a free download on our main site. This Guide and Workbook doesn’t only discuss the expat alphabet but also offers activities and exercises you can do to improve your expat life. Sign up for Expat VIP list and get this free download here (right hand column).

 

Expatriate alphabet — the K, L, M that can make your expat experience better

Expatriate alphabetby Margarita

Expatriate Alphabet: K is for KINDNESS

Acts of kindness are something that we probably engage in on a daily basis. We are used to being kind to our family members, our friends, strangers in need, stray animals, the environment, etc, etc etc. Being kind towards others gives us a good feeling. Yet how often do we extend these acts of kindness towards ourselves?

I decided to dedicate the letter K in this Expatriate Aphabet to kindness to yourself precisely because very often we don’t know how to be kind to our own, sometimes fragile, selves. Especially as expats – when we go through more change and learning every time we move than most people do in their lifetimes – we tend to push ourselves really hard. We often expect to be fast and perfect in learning the culture and the language; in adjusting and bringing normalcy to our families in a completely different environment; in garnering that feeling of belonging; in excelling at work; in finding work; in creating relationships and friendships, in… this list can go on and on. And when we find ourselves to be less than perfect and less than fast (incidentally our saboteurs never let us think we are good enough), we embark on a journey of self-criticism, self-pity, and declining self-esteem.

When that happens, take a step back and think: Am I being kind to myself? What would be different now if I decided to swap criticism for kindness? How would that feel?

Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean giving up on whatever you’ve set your heart to do and be. It just means giving yourself some space, a supportive shoulder, and a lot of positive energy to continue your journey.

What have been your acts of kindness to yourself recently?

Expatriate Alphabet: L is for LISTENING and LANGUAGE

Ernest Hemingway once said: “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” And unfortunately he was (and he is still) right – most people don’t listen. They hear but they don’t really listen. Because usually this is what happens when someone is telling us a story: we engage in our own internal listening. We either remember that something similar has happened to us and we begin constructing an answer in our heads about our own story; or we find ourselves bored and thinking of something else; or we remember about something we need to do and begin to worry about it; or… etc etc etc. We are never really 100% there – focused on the words and the energy of what’s being spoken.

Listening fully is essential to understanding and establishing connections with people. And understanding and establishing connections with people are essential to creating a successful and fun experience as an expatriate. Next time you are engaged in a conversation, try this exercise: put your entire attention at another person and every time you notice your thoughts going elsewhere, bring them back. What do you hear? What do you observe? And what do you hear between the lines?

Listening fully means also listening to what’s not being said in words. It’s listening to what’s important to that person, to what makes them tick, to what upsets them. If you make an effort and really listen to someone next time, you’ll be surprised to find out how much you actually know about that person.

Knowing the language goes hand in hand with knowing how to listen. Each language brings with it a certain way of interacting – and, again, as you listen, you’ll be learning these ways and, in addition to connecting with a person, you’ll also be connecting with their language.

Expatriate Alphabet: M is for MEMORIES

Expatriates can consider themselves among the luckiest people on Earth because they get to generate the most exciting memories during their international assignments. Memories of new places, new people, stimulating challenges, exploration of the unknown, etc, etc, etc. And, if we are like the majority humans, for the most part we will remember the good parts and forget the not-so-good-ones.

Memories are important not only because they remind us of the fun we had, but also because they help us remember the journey we undertook to learn about and to adjust to every new place we’ve moved to. The journey is just as important as the destination (if not more sometimes), and so by collecting and preserving the memories of places and people, we also collect and preserve the memories of our learning and discoveries about ourselves.

So here is short exercise. Answer these two questions (and, please, share your answers in comments!):

(1)What do I most remember about my past assignments?

(2)What did I learn about that place and about myself in the process?

Thoughts, comments, additions?

These ABCs form part of the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ Guide and Workbook which is available as a free download on our main site. This Guide and Workbook doesn’t only discuss the expat alphabet but also offers activities and exercises you can do to improve your expat life. Sign up for Expat VIP list and get this free download here (right hand column).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expatriate alphabet — the G, H, I that can make your expat experience better

by Margarita

Expatriate Alphabet: G is for GRATITUDE

Put simply gratitude is just another perspective on life. Just like different color Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 5.39.26 PMlenses allow us to see the world in different ways, the perspectives we hold at any point of time influence our views and feelings. Dr. Wayne Dyer once said “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.”

Gratitude is the perspective that makes everything immediately better. Think about it: let’s say you lost your job or your business isn’t going as well as you had hoped or someone in your family is sick or… the list can go on and on. You can choose to bask in your sadness/frustration/anger/etc or you can turn around and think about what’s right with your life at that moment. What’s going well for you? What can you be grateful for?

You’d be amazed at how quickly the feelings of despair get replaced with feelings of hope when you employ gratitude.  And that’s why I think GRATITUDE takes the letter G in the Expatriate Alphabet.

What are you grateful for now?

Expatriate Alphabet: H is for HUMOR

When I think of the importance of humor while an expat, one story always pops up in my memory. When we were living in one country, we once went out to a restaurant with a group of friends. There were about six of us and, when a waiter brought only one menu to the table, we politely inquired after a few more copies. He looked at us as if we were crazy and said: “Why? They are all the same.”

We still laugh today when we remember this story.   Since then there have been many more stories and times when looking at things through the lens of humor was essential to staying sane. And that’s why I chose HUMOR for an H in the Expatriate Alphabet.

Humor makes frustrating and stressful situations a lot easier to handle. It almost creates an instant vacuum effect where all your anger and stress get sucked out of you and replaced with a feeling of lightness and a belief that it’ll all work out somehow. Since exasperating situations tend to happen a lot more often when we live in a foreign-to-us culture, humor can become a tool to use on a regular basis.

So next time you find yourself in a frustrating place, think of your favorite comedian/comedienne.   What would he/she laugh about here?

I conclude with another story told by a close friend – a story that still leaves tears in my eyes because I laugh so hard every time I hear it.

A friend of mine was living in another country and at one time desperately needed to buy a pair of sandals. She spent days looking around for a pair she’d like and finally she came across something that looked promising. As customary, the store only had one sandal on display, the one for her left foot. She tried it on, liked the way it looked on her, and asked the sales girl for the second one.

“We don’t have the second one. We only have this one,” said the sales girl.

My friend stared at her. “Come again? You don’t have the second one?”

The sales girl shook her head.

My friend, exhausted after several days of search and annoyed that this time it didn’t result in a purchase either, said “Why would you display it if it’s not a pair?!” She didn’t really expect an answer.

The sales girl stood there quiet for a moment and then said: “So, are you going to take it?”

What have been your stories when you were able to treat frustrating situations with humor? Share them please!  

Expatriate Alphabet: I is for IDENTITY

To quote the movie Fight Club (1999): “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. … “ … Who are you then?

Losing one’s identity is one of the premier worries expats have when they face a decision of moving abroad. Who am I going to be there? What am I going to do with my time (for those who accompany their working spouses)? What will I relate to… if anything? What relationships will I form with people? And what about financial independence? This list of concerns can go on and on and, if you look closely, you’ll see that a lot of these questions relate to who we see ourselves as – and to how we preserve that in unfamiliar environments.

So how do we keep our identity and how do we feel good about ourselves wherever we may end up? I believe the key here is our relationship with ourselves. All too often moves and transitions produce feelings of doubt in our own abilities; feelings of guilt, feelings of low self-esteem; and feelings of “not being good enough, smart enough, etc.” No matter what we call these feelings, they are all about the same thing — we stop liking and set out to criticize ourselves. What kind of relationship is that? How much do we damage this most important relationship in our lives — the relationship of us with us?

The regular criticisms and nagging also create the recurrent feelings of “I am losing myself”, “I am no longer who I was before”, “my identity is slipping away” and so on and so forth. The self-critical mode takes over and it’s no wonder that we feel that our identity is no more.

Your thoughts?

These ABCs form part of the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ Guide and Workbook which is available as a free download on our main site. This Guide and Workbook doesn’t only discuss the expat alphabet but also offers activities and exercises you can do to improve your expat life. Sign up for Expat VIP list and get this free download here (right hand column).

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating International Women’s Day by remembering important women around the world

by Margarita

I wanted to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day of the 8th of March International Womens Dayby remembering women’s contributions to humanity. Since I cannot know of every woman out there, I am simply going to start this list and I am asking you to contribute the names you want to in comments!

In no particular order:

Louisa May Alcott
1832–1888

Author of Little Women and many other works — and a favorite writer for many young women and girls.

Susan B. Anthony
1820–1906

The 19th century women’s movement’s most powerful organizer. Together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony fought for women’s right to vote.

Cleopatra
69–30 B.C.

Queen of Egypt and the last pharaoh. During her reign, Egypt became closely aligned with the Roman Empire.

Marie Curie:
1867–1934

The first woman to win a Nobel Prize (and she won it twice) and the first woman to earn a doctorate in Europe.

Indira Gandhi:
1917–1984

As the leader of India, Indira Gandhi was an influential figure for Indian women as well as for others around the world.

Frida Kahlo
1907–1954

A very successful Mexican artist who survived childhood polio and a bus accident that led to seven operations. 

Anne Frank
1929–1945

Author of The Diary of a Young Girl and one of the most known Jewish victims of Holocaust.

Valentina Timoshenko:
1937-
First woman in space, cosmonaut and engineer.

Add your contributions in comments and to celebrate women around the world, try to add names from your own country!

 

Expatriate alphabet — the D, E, Fs that can make your expat experience better

by Margarita

Expatriate Alphabet: D is for Discovery

Traveling always brings about discovery and for many of us one of the goals of Expatriate Alphabet becoming an expat is to discover something new.  We discover new cultures; new foods; new ways of dressing; new friendships; and new fun things to do.  The whole expatriate experience is about discovering – and while there are tons of things to discover around us, I want to focus on discoveries that we make within us when we move.

Moving to another place creates change in our lives and, as that change challenges us, we get to discover how we are around that change.  We get to discover and learn things about ourselves we may have never known.  And with it we may even discover new callings in life – a new career, a new line of education, a new business opportunity.

So the D in the A to Z of Successful Expatriation isn’t only about discovering the world outside of ourselves – but it’s also discovering and exploring our internal world.  Seeing for the first time things that we’ve had all along but never paid attention to is also a discovery.  Kind of like the discovery of things you’ve forgotten you had… those of you, who move frequently and take most of our household with you, may remember the giddy feelings of unpacking and seeing things you’ve forgotten about because they spent a few months in transit.

What have been your discoveries – external and internal?  And what other D’s are out there?

Expatriate Alphabet: E is for Exchange

When I was growing up, my friend and I used to exchange clothes.  Living in a closed society where travel abroad was rare, the most prized clothes were, of course, those that came from outside the country.  And it was not just the fashion statement that drew us towards those clothes; it was the ability to be part of something new, something unique, and something completely foreign.

Fast-forward many years ahead and I find myself equally fascinated by the different ideas and different ways of doing/being that I encounter whenever I live in another country.  And while ideas and experiences are not physical things and cannot be swamped one for another, they too can be exchanged.  It’s this fascinating EXCHANGE of what we know with what we don’t know but are willing to learn that makes expatriate life all the more attractive.  I mean, where else can you find a ready-made environment for such an exchange if not in expatriation?

What has been your experience with EXCHANGE –and how has that experience benefitted your life abroad?

Expatriate Alphabet: F is for Fun and Friendships

If I have to think back to all my expatriate assignments, a couple of things in particular always come up.  FUN and FRIENDSHIPS were really the two cornerstones that made each assignment worth it.  Most of my good memories revolve either around having fun or making new, amazing friends and having fun with them.

Let’s start with FUN.  I know that the word fun has a different meaning to all of us, but without having fun (whatever it means to you), our lives would be dull, uninteresting and boring.  What’s your definition of fun?  What do you like to do for fun?  What opportunities do you have for fun in a country where you live now?  Schedule them!

And now the FRIENDSHIPS.  The friends we make in distant lands support us, encourage us, laugh with us and cry with us (well, when we really need them to).  Thanks to the internet and Facebook in particular we can now keep in touch and continue to follow the lives of those friends who we leave behind as we move on to another destination.  I don’t want to speak for everyone, but the friendships I have developed during my overseas assignments have been among the most special in my life.

It’s not an easy task to always have to make friends and then leave them when you leave the country (a helpful article on “How to make friends again… and again … and again” here).  But it can be done and the effort is totally worth it.  What are your thoughts on this?  And what friendship moments do you remember?

These ABCs form part of the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ Guide and Workbook which is available as a free download on our main site. This Guide and Workbook doesn’t only discuss the expat alphabet but also offers activities and exercises you can do to improve your expat life. Sign up for Expat VIP list and get this free download here (right hand column).

Expatriate alphabet — the A, B, Cs that can make your expat experience better

by Margarita

Expatriate alphabet: A is for ATTENTION

How many kisses make a greeting?  Who gets to sit and who gets to stand in ABCs expat alphabetpublic transport?  What is a proper way to thank someone?

Sure you can find answers to these and other questions through reading about a country and taking a cross-cultural training.  But you can also find all this and more through simply paying attention to what’s happening around you.

We start our expat alphabet with a basic tip that can be useful anywhere, anytime.  You don’t even have to be an expat to benefit from you. Paying attention to what happens around you, observing it, and learning from it is an excellent way to get information about the culture you are living in.

What have you learned in the past by simply paying attention?

And what can you learn this week?

Expatriate alphabet: B is for BEGINNING

Someone once said that “life is always offering us new beginnings, it’s up to us whether to take them or not.”  And while for many people their new beginnings may not be apparent at first sight, for expatriates every move is a new beginning.

Every time we move, we find ourselves thrust into a different life – a life that offers discoveries, adventure, and learning.  And even though sometimes it’s scary and uncomfortable, it’s still a gift.  Like a toddler who looks at every new activity and every new toy as an exciting chance to explore, an expat can look at every move as a new beginning and a chance for something amazing.

What about you?  What beginnings do you remember and how do you take advantage of the ones offered to you?

Expatriate alphabet: C is for CONNECTION

C is quite simply the connection.

Connections you create when you live abroad make a huge difference in how happy and successful you are as an expat.  These connections can come from anywhere and can be with anyone and even anything.  Here is my list of who and what you can connect with:

  • Colleagues, clients and partners through networking for your job
  • New friends in the expatriate community
  • New friends in the local community
  • The culture itself (why not? Think of the culture as a breathing and living thing and you’ll create those connections in no time)

How do you create those connections?  You look for the places where you have something in common, something that create a bridge between you and that other person or between you and the new culture.

What and who else can you connect with?

These ABCs form part of the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ Guide and Workbook which is available as a free download on our main site. This Guide and Workbook doesn’t only discuss the expat alphabet but also offers activities and exercises you can do to improve your expat life. Sign up for Expat VIP list and get this free download here (right hand column).

 

 

 

 

How are change and happiness connected — and is there a place for each in 2014?

It’s no secret that the one thing, which unites us all, is our desire to be happy.  New Year 2014It’s also no secret that at the end of each year we look forward to the next and consider the ways in which we can become happier.  Perhaps a change of job, or a change in relationships, or a change in business-as-usual approach to life, or a change of a routine, etc.  Change is central to our pursuit of happiness – for without change there is no progress.

All this seems pretty straightforward but it turns out that when it comes to initiating and maintaining change, we really suck at it.  Just think of the New Years resolutions that come and go.  As much as we, humans, always want to grow and evolve, when it comes to this growth being propelled by change we stumble.  In their book, Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey give an example of a study that showed that if heart doctors tell their seriously at-risk heart patients they will literally die if they don’t change their lifestyle, only one in seven, on average, is actually able to make the changes…”

One in seven!  Imagine that.  At the risk of dying, only 1 in 7 people would change their ways of being in the world.  How is that for resisting change?

Kegan and Lahey go on to say that one of the reasons changing is so difficult for us is that by not changing we are honoring a “hidden commitment” – a commitment to something entirely different, something that conflicts with our desire for change.  It’s hidden because it’s so deep in our subconscious that it resides completely outside of our conscious awareness.

Because this commitment is hidden, we don’t get to examine it closely.  But if we do, we may discover a couple of things:

1.  The hidden commitment is based purely on fear and/or guilt.

“How can I take time away from kids to have a massage, take a photography class, or a history course in a local university?  I am already not working so it’s my job to always be with the kids.  What would my friends and family back home say if they find out that I regularly leave them with a nanny even though I have all this time I can spend with them?”

2.  The hidden commitment expresses the things that are truly important to us – and the change we want to initiate doesn’t agree with them at all. 

“I must look for work in the new year – I can easily get hired here.  We don’t really need the money but I’ve worked all my life and not working feels kind of weird.  My friends back home are making fun of me for all the time I am wasting on my hobbies.  Although I really like concentrating on them now …”

In scenario 1 digging deeper helps us see that at the root of this “hidden commitment” is our subconscious understanding of what makes us safe – on physical, emotional and social levels.  We come to realize, thus, that we live our lives the way we do because we are scared.  And more often than not – we are scared of things that are either not really valid for us or seem scarier than they actually are.   Staying at home with kids at all hours of the day and feeling guilty when leaving them to take time for yourself may be scary in the realm of social acceptance/safety — yet it does nothing for either your or their happiness.

In scenario 2 digging deeper helps us discover the values that we hold dear and makes us realize that only by living those values will we achieve happiness and fulfillment.  Working because you’ve always done so isn’t a good enough reason to give up on what’s important to you now and what makes you tick.

So what can help us to initiate and sustain change – the change that will bring us closer to being happier in the new year?  Try these three steps:

Step 1: Learn your hidden commitment – what’s really stopping you from going for that change?  This isn’t an easy exercise and requires a process that’s like peeling an onion – digging deep until you expose the fear or the values at stake.

Step 2: Make a choice.  Either consciously choose to continue as before or commit to change.  Make it your choice rather than an automatic behavior you’ve engaged in until now.

Step 3: Get a support network together.  Surround yourself with people who will help you through this process of adopting change.  This is difficult, so make sure your support network is 100% behind you, holds no judgement over your choice and the outcome, and doesn’t have any hidden agenda.  Family and friends are probably not the best people to enlist here – a buddy system or a coach is your best bet in sustaining a new behavior.

Good luck on your dreams, wishes and aspirations in the coming year!  Remember that if you are not feeling completely happy in any area of your life – you can choose to make a change there and begin moving towards greater happiness.  Why continue to settle when you can create an amazing life for yourself?