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).

 

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