Tag Archives: expat women

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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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).

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Expat appreciation moment or five things I love about living in…

Summer has come and gone and for many expatriates in the Northern Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 1.00.02 PMhemisphere the summer is the time of shuttling between taking a vacation, going home to see family, and/or surviving heat/rain/major exodus at post while staying put. And with travel, either home or to another country, come comparisons. Sometimes these comparisons flatter our post countries—I longed to be in Madrid every time I prepared to cross a street in Rome this summer. And sometimes they don’t (in my humble opinion the food in Italy is much superior to what Spain has to offer).

If your case is the latter and your summer made it difficult for you come back because the place where you went on vacation felt/looked/seemed so much better than the place you currently call home, I have a suggestion. Find five things you love about living where you live now. Find at least five. And then be on the look out for more.

So, to start the ball rolling, here are my five for Madrid, Spain:

  1. The taxicabs are the best. The drivers are honest, courteous, and nice; taxis are easy to find, safe to get into, and are not outrageously expensive.
  2. The coffee and wine culture. I love it that it’s so easy to meet a friend for coffee or for a glass of wine. Neither will break the bank, both will taste exceptionally good, and either occasion will allow you to catch up with people for longer than the usual grab-your-Starbucks-cup-and-run moment.
  3. Public transport. When not on strike (!) it’s efficient, organized, clean, and extremely user-friendly.
  4. Barrio life. Even though Madrid is a large, cosmopolitan city, you still have the barrio life where you have a neighborhood place to buy your fruit, your fish, or your meat, fix your shoes, and meet your neighbors for a drink and some tapas.
  5. Climate. I know this is something we cannot control but it’s something I love anyway. I like the fact that even though it gets really hot in the summer and sometimes quite cold in the winter, it’s dry. And so the heat and the cold are much more tolerable.

So these are my five (inspired by a post in St Petersburg Times although not quite along the same lines).

What are yours? Share them in comments below!

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Expat Mothers in Transition or “Where do I go from here????”

In the expat world we talk a lot about transitions. Transitions from home to a TRavelforeign country, from one culture to another culture, from one school to the next, from headquarters to a country office… I can go on and on. Yet today I’d like to speak about another kind of transition – a transition that’s very specific to mothers, and more so to expat mothers.

I’ve been off the radar for the last few weeks because I was co-leading a workshop for expat women looking at their next steps. Most of them were mothers whose children have reached an age where they no longer needed their constant care and involvement (read – teenagers!). And after dedicating their lives to moving their families from country to country, settling everyone in, caring for adjusting kids and spouses, running the household, and in general being the backbone of the family during the turbulent expat years, these women were finding themselves with additional time on their hands. And a huge desire to begin something just for themselves – be it go back to work, re-invent themselves professionally, or re-discover parts of themselves they’ve ignored and start something entirely new.

Many mothers around the world who have had the luxury to take time off work to care for their kids find themselves in the same predicament. In addition to the sadness of “one-moment-I-am-needed-and-the-next-I-am-not”, there is a lot of confusion over “where I am going?” What does this transition have in store for me? Where CAN I go?

And, I think, expat mother have it tougher. We are away from friends, family members, and support networks. Our resume is devoid of part time jobs and professional development courses… unless we count the freelance jobs of packing, taxi service, and nurse. Our confidence is often low because we’ve had our share of glazed over eyes every time we answer the question “and what do you do?” And our opportunities may be limited precisely because we might be living in a country where we don’t speak the language; have no permission to work; or if we already know that we’d be leaving within a couple of years.

Sure we’ve had an amazing life and sure we’ve had access to learning things that others may not have. And we are as resilient as they come. Yet this transition can be tricky.

Especially if we don’t give it proper attention.

Have you – or has anyone you know – ever go through this transition?

Note: the program we ran for expat mothers in transition will now be available to women around the world via the web! Please check here for more information. 

Grateful or in debt – what does it feel like to you? An accompanying expat spouse’s dilemma.

by Margarita

Much has been said about the role of financial dependence in expat marriages. FeeCultureOne spouse gets the transfer to work abroad, the other decides to follow thereby giving up his/her job and with that — the ability to contribute monetarily to the household.

Although situations vary, most non-working accompanying spouses contribute to the family in many other ways: they organize households in the chaotic “before” and “after” of a move; they take care of children and pets; they figure how things work in a new environment and smoothen transition for everyone else; they run the house and errands; and they play a very important supportive part that allows the other partner to work.

We all know they contribute – and they know it too – however, concerns of being financially dependent and spending “not my own money” has always been high on the expat spouse’s list of feeling unhappy. So why is it that perfectly accomplished people with a large list of things they do for the family still feel like they don’t deserve the money they spend? Why do they feel guilty not to make a paycheck?

Thinking about it a little more after a conversation I recently had with some fellow expat women, I came up with three reasons:

(1) In today’s society (the Western kind), you are only as good as the size of your paycheck and the title on your business card. Money you make elicits more admiration than the impact you make as a parent, a partner, or simply a human being.

(2) The reason above contributes directly to how accompanying spouses feel about their self-worth. Many a client with whom I’ve worked told me how they cringe when asked “what do you do?” – one of the first questions that you get in a gathering of any kind. Or how they notice that people’s eyes glaze over as soon as they mention that they are not working.

(3) And then there is the third reason – the most poisonous of them all. There are actually spouses that will hint or point out that they are the ones bringing home the bacon – and that no amount of support, or of household chores, or of parenting impact, or of simply moving around on a whim of someone else will ever be as important as their paycheck. And unless you make the same amount or more while doing everything else you are already doing, you should stop feeling smug about yourself and your contribution and start feeling very grateful.

My question is: grateful or in debt?

The answer is, of course, your choice! We can always choose the way we feel about our surroundings and the way we react to them. And perhaps it’ll work the first, the second, and the third time around. But then the fourth time, it’ll be harder. And the fifth time – even harder. Why? Because if you live near the toxic plant, you won’t be healthy no matter how many vitamins you take and how many vegetables you juice. The plant has to stop emitting toxins or you have to move.

Your thoughts on this “grateful” or “in debt” dilemma?