Monthly Archives: September 2009

How to be a successful expat?

Guest Post by Greg Satell

In an increasingly globalized world, it’s tough to build a career without crossing borders and more and more executives are spending at least a few years overseas.  I’ve worked in foreign countries for more than a decade and I thought it might be helpful to for me to share some of what I’ve learned about being an ex-pat manager.

  • Focus on technical expertise: Your local employees are going to question everything you do, even more so than in your own country.  They are usually a bit resentful that they have to work with an ex-pat and not someone who shares their nationality, culture and language.  So, at least for the beginning, you will need to emphasize your area of expertise in order to gain their respect.  Once they recognize you as an expert, they will begin to respect your opinion in other areas.
  • Try to learn the language, but don’t embarrass yourself: Many ex-pats get by without learning the local language at all, but I recommend that you at least make an effort.  Even if you never achieve a high level of proficiency, your local staff will appreciate the gesture and you will be much more aware of your environment.  However, avoid using the local language when you need to be seen in a position of strength.  Unless your proficiency is very high, you will appear childish and not particularly bright.
  • Don’t hide your cultural identity: Your presence in a foreign office is not just a cultural experience for you, but also for those  with whom you are working.  There’s no point in hiding who you are, nobody is going to confuse you for a local.
  • Double check your instincts: As an ex-pat, you will tend to use the information that is most easily available:  What you see in your daily life and the people who speak your language.  In both cases, you are being given a warped view of your environment.  In many cases, people will use the language barrier to manipulate you.  You won’t be able to trust your gut feelings as you do in your home country
  • Re-examine your assumptions: One of the most difficult and gratifying parts of working abroad is that you will be working with people who don’t share your assumptions.  Often, when you state what is for you an obvious truth, they will ask “why?”  If you think about it honestly you will find the answer is one of three things:
    1. There is a good reason that you can explain coherently
    2. Your statement was one of several valid options but the one that you expressed became standard for your market.
    3. Your statement was either completely wrong or was valid at some time but not anymore.

    It is probably this last point that makes working abroad such a valuable and enriching experience.

    I hope this has been helpful.  I’m sure others out there also have some tips.  I would love to hear them.


    Greg Satell is an expatriate media executive with over 10 years experience in board-level management roles. He’s developed and implemented winning online and offline strategies in Poland, Russia and Ukraine.  The original post can be found here.

    The homelessness of repatriation

    Lately I’ve noticed that there had been a lot of discussions in various expatriate forums (on LinkedIn, Twitter, and others) about  the difficulties of repatriation.   And, of course, I have also worked with clients who had repatriated or were facing repatriation. But not until my own recent return home have I felt the full “homelessness” of the experience.

    For me there are two kinds of “homelessness”. One has to do with feelings of not belonging — the feelings that come to many of us when we return home after a long expatriation. We find that not only have we changed, but also that our home country has changed. If we fit together before like pieces of a puzzle do, we don’t seem to fit together now. And so we begin the quest of trying to fit in, to belong, to make a “home” — a quest that for many ends up in an overseas stunt again.

    And then there is that second “homelessness”. This one is more logistical in nature although it’s no less frustrating. It presents a dilemma for those of us who don’t have a house to come back to and, upon repatriation, have to find a place to live. Having been used to the housing that often differs from what’s available at home — in both quality and character — we go through denial, disappointment, frustration, and finally feelings that “one has to compromise somewhere” all in a span of the first few weeks.

    This second “homelessness” is the one that has been affecting me. I’ve been looking for a house for a few weeks now and with each new place that I see I get more and more disillusioned. I try to think where to put the various mementos I’ve accumulated from my expatriate travels, I try to see myself in the new place and imagine it being my “home” for the next few years, and I try to predict if I am ever going to “love” it.

    The truth is that I really loved every one of my overseas houses. And I feel that loving the place were you live accounts for a good percentage of your happiness as an expatriate. For in every place you go you thrive to make a home for yourself and your family. A home that will be your sanctuary and support you when things get tough. The same remains true when you repatriate. “Loving” your new home in your old home, or your home country, is important.

    And so I am continuing my search for that one place that will speak to me, that one place that I will know I will come to love. What about you? What was your experience like in finding your “new home” in your own country?

    People who read this post also read:

    What makes repatriation difficult

    How to leave without regrets

    Moving again?  Need packing “know-how”?

    Copyright © 2009 by Global Coach Center.
    If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us!

    Should expatriates be writing?

    Before I became an expat I never thought of writing as something I can do on a regular basis and as something I can enjoy. In  fact, writing was never my strong point… well, according to my 6th grade Soviet teacher anyway.

    But then I moved to my first overseas posting. And even though English was officially my second language and I had to get comfortable writing in it, I started to experiment with the written word. First I wrote extensive letters about what I was experiencing; then I started writing short stories — my first one (the one about buying a car in Uzbekistan) actually made it onto the NPR’s Car Talk website; and later I began to base my fiction on what I saw around me. My writing really took off and I haven’t stopped since.

    Recently I read in one of the LinkedIn group discussions that, according to a recent study, expatriation does wonders to one’s creativity. When you move overseas you become more creative — and that increased creativity may express itself in off-the-wall business ideas and/or in nurturing your inner artist either through writing, painting, or any other art form. In my journey both things happened: I took up writing and I created a business.

    Reality is stranger than fiction. And who better know it than us — the expatriates — people who on a daily basis experience something new, something we can tell the world about?

    What about you? Do you have some short stories in you? Have you been writing about what you see and about what you experience? Someone out there would love to read it, I bet!

    People who read this post also read:

    Cross-Cultural Intelligence: Tip 6

    “What will I miss” list makes it easy to remember

    How to leave without regrets

    Copyright © 2009 by Global Coach Center.
    If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us!