Tag Archives: Foreign Service

An open mind is a terrible thing to waste or one cardinal expat rule to observe

“You are kidding me,” I was thinking to myself as we were taking a relaxation pose for the THIRD time during the last 30 minutes of a yoga class. “That’s what they call yoga?!?!?!”

This was the third yoga class I was trying in a desperate attempt to find the one I am going to love. Yoga was a big part of my life at my previous post – the part that kept me sane, healthy and fit – and so naturally finding a yoga class was essential.  Little did I know (or rather little did I expect!) that what they call yoga here and what I am used to calling yoga is not quite the same thing.

Three trials later I am still frustrated with yoga classes.  I still don’t have the one I absolutely love. I am also really missing Whole Foods and the abundance of organic produce.  And judging from how disconnected I felt during the last night’s Rosh Hashanah services, I am going to miss my reform congregation too.

But this post isn’t about the things I cannot find in the new place. This post is about the attitude I insist on assuming when looking for said things. When the feelings of disappointment surface, I notice them and decide that having those feelings isn’t going to change much.  Yoga is still going to be the same, there will still be no Whole Foods, and the services at the Conservative synagogue are never going to replace the spiritual journey I experience at the Reform.

And so I do what I did that time at yoga when I was having to endure yet another relaxation instead of a downward dog – I say to myself: “I am going to keep an open mind. This may still turn out better… or different somehow. And even if it doesn’t and ends up being disappointing, I can write it off as an experience from which I am going to learn.”

Keep an open mind, baby.  You never know what you are going to get.

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Home is not forever

It used to be easier.  The moving crew would come, box up everything we owned, and a few days later we would be gone.  Gone on our way to a new adventure, a new place to explore, a new home to build.  Sure we’d be sad but the excitement of things to come would overshadow the sadness in the same way a new infatuation makes people forget their past heartaches.

This time, however, I am finding it very difficult to let go.  Second day of the pack out and I am still fighting the urge to cry.  This isn’t like me especially considering that our next destination is on my top-ten-places-to-live-in list.

After careful examination of all the reasons that can be making me sad, I finally figure it out. I realize that I am in love.  In complete, total, and, alas, unrequited love with … my view.

And my apartment.

And my building.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve lived in some amazing places over the years.  I’ve lived in historical downtowns of some great cities, I’ve lived among fascinating civilizations, I’ve lived in centers of great culture, and I even once lived across from the zoo where we would wake up to the sound of monkeys playing catch. Yet this was the first time I can say that I lived in a dream.

  • I woke up every day to the sight and sound of the ocean from every window of my apartment.
  •  I never had to wear anything more than a light cotton sweater.
  • My skin, which isn’t prone to tan, became and remained the color of golden bronze.
  • My office faced the water.
  • My terrace was perfect for coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and dinner in the evening – not to mention reading and writing during any time of day.
  • Looking out through our windows always made me feel complete, no matter the weather.

And so as I leave our now empty apartment and as I say good-bye to every room and every angle of my view, I feel extremely grateful and inexplicably sad at the same time.  Grateful because I was fortunate to live with this beauty and sad because this dream home wasn’t forever.

But I also know dreams are never forever. Dreams come, go, and evolve. They grow and change – and we grow and change with them. My years in this dream home were not only full of breathtaking views but they were also filled with an intention to see, smell, feel, and taste the life around me every waking moment of my day. This intention was only a shadow when we moved in and, thanks to my home, it became the way of life.

So I guess in some ways a home can be forever.

Five tips for expat women to use during a move

Summer is upon us (well, at least in the northern hemisphere) and summer is the time when most expats move countries.  We pack our entire households, say good-byes, organize our arrival the best we can, and spend hours, if not days, wondering if we are forgetting something.  And since the vast majority of accompanying spouses are still women, it is the expat women that weather the brunt of each move.

And, boy, do we step up to the plate.  If a superwoman cape were given out to each expat woman at every move, all of us would have by now accumulated a closet-full of those capes.  Yet how useful are they, those capes? And how much do we actually lose by choosing to become super-women during each and every move?

Judging by my own experiences, we lose a lot of sleep. And a lot of smiles.  And quite a few laughs. We lose connections – connection with ourselves and connection with those at whom we snap.  We lose patience… a lot more often then usually. And we lose both a peace of mind – and piece of our mind.

So in service to ourselves and to those around us, I’d like to offer a few suggestions:

Quit thinking yourself a superwoman.  Yes, it is nice to know that you are smart enough and strong enough and resourceful enough to move your family across the world without a glitch. But you don’t have to do it alone. Delegate. Get others to pitch in and do their fair share.

Remember you are a mother/spouse/partner – not a saint. Don’t make it a habit to take upon other people’s responsibilities during the move. Don’t feel bad that they are working/studying/traveling/etc. You have to give yourself just as much credit as you give the others. Your time, energy and effort are very valuable.

Send your saboteur packing. Stop listening to that nonsense in your ear that you are not doing enough. Even if you are organizing a move, running a small business, taking care of homework, running a household, etc, your saboteur will tell you that it’s not enough.  According to your saboteur, everyone under the sun will always do more than you.  Ignore that voice and fully recognize your contribution.

Make time and space for being lazy.  Yes, you heard me right – be lazy.  There will certainly be times during your pack out period, when you’ll feel like you don’t want to do a thing. You’ll feel like your cup is overflowing – and has been for sometime – and there is not enough space in there to add anything else. So give yourself permission, perhaps for a couple of hours, for a day, for a few days, to do nothing at all.  Read a book. Watch a movie.  Re-charge.  And remember, if you give your body and mind the time to re-charge, you’ll feel the energy come back soon enough.

Stop blaming yourself and others. Be easy on yourself and those around you.  Relocating is a difficult undertaking. You can be assured that your move won’t happen with the precision of a Swiss train, so let go of the expectation that everything and everyone will be perfect. Allow for some screw-ups along the way and laugh at them.  That’s a lot more fun than assigning blame.

What other thinking would you suggest we do away with when we move?

Need some extra support during the difficult transition time?  Remember that the FREE Expat Support Day is on the last Friday of each month!  Get some inspiration through a free 15 minute laser coaching session — reserve your 15 minutes here.

How to help your kids get excited about a move in 10 minutes

If it’s difficult for us, adults, to move from place to place starting over and over again – it’s paramount for kids.  Especially the kids whose ages thrust them somewhere between “I’ll miss my grandparents!!!” and “I cannot live without my friends!!!” sentiments.

So what are we to do to help those kids? Sharing information about the impending destination and communicating throughout the process will, of course, help, but how do we get them really excited about the move?

Here is a fun exercise you can do with your children to help them move from sadness to excitement in about 10 minutes:

(1) Get a sheet of paper, write “Moving to _____ “ on top, and divide it into 2 columns.

(2) Title the left column “Bad things about moving to_____” and title the right column “Good things about moving to _____”.

(3) Ask them to come up with the “bad things” first.  Write down everything they say and make sure not to offer your own opinions.

(4) After they are done, ask them to come up with the “good things”.  Again, stay clear of imposing your “good things” on them and instead listen for their ideas and write each one of them down.  This part works really well if you have already spoken with your child about your destination and things you can all enjoy there.

(5) After both columns are done, rate each thing you wrote on a scale of 1 to 10: 10 being “how bad that thing is” for the left column and “how good that thing is” for the right column (and 1 being the reverse).

Example:

“Bad things” about moving to ______ “Good things” about moving to ______
Leave grandparents (10) New adventures (10)
Leave school (6) Learn a new language (7)
Leave local TV (3) See snow (8)

(6) Sum up the numbers.  If you did your sharing and communicating throughout the process, your child will come up with a lot more “good” things than “bad” things and you’ll be able to point out how high their satisfaction is with the move as opposed to their dissatisfaction using the numbers.

(7) Hang the list in your child’s room until the move and remind your child that they can always look at it when they feel particularly sad.

Leave a comment letting us know how it went for you!

For another kid-friendly exercise that can help your children adjust in a new country, download our Adjustment Guide E-course — on online self-taught course that provides tools on how best to manage the effects of adjusting to another culture.

Also, enrollment is now open for May 1 start of the Expat Women Academy. a one of a kind program that provides expat women with strategies to overcome expatriate challenges.  Join us for a FREE webinar to learn more about it here.

How do you know if expat life is for you?

Someone recently asked me this:

“When you were first offered an expat position, how did you know it was for you? How did you know that you’d be happy living away from home in another country and another culture?”

I had to think before I answered and even then I didn’t really know the answer.  Sure, I know the “how I know” now having been an expat many times over, but how did I know it then?  Was it a hunch?  A longing?  Hunger for an adventure?

Probably it was a combination of all the above coupled with a few other things yet the question made me think.  How can a person who grew up in a mono-cultural environment (if that exists nowadays, that is)  know if an expat position that’s being offered to him/her is their cup of tea?  How do they know it’s for them?

There are things out there in the world that are for us and there are those things that are not for us.  For instance, I know that bungee jumping is just not my thing no matter how excited many of my friends may be about it.  The same applies to life journeys –some journeys are for us and some are not.  But with journeys it may not be so easy to know especially if we have not tried.  So how would one know if an expat living is their thing before they embark on it?

Here are my thoughts and I’d love it if you can comment with yours below.

  • I think that for those people, who thrive on change, this desire for change may be a hint that expat life is definitely something to try out.
  • I think that those people who crave adventure are also lucky to know in advance that they will most likely enjoy it.

What are other ways to know?

NEW at the Global Coach Center: if you coach, train, or consult people who work across cultures, consider joining us for the Culture Mastery Certification and License Program.  We start September 21, 2011 and a discount is available to anyone who registers before September 7, 2011.

Introducing the UK

The United Kingdom is one of the countries that’s profiled in the Global Coach Center Academy within the course “Living and Working in the UK” In this post we interview one of the course’s co-trainers on some of the most interesting tidbits on the UK.

Louise Wiles is from England, thinks of herself as British but has been living abroad for much of the last fifteen years. Currently she lives in Lisbon with her husband and two daughters. From there she runs her business Success Abroad Coaching, providing support for accompanying partners during their relocation process; helping them to create successful portable lives and careers abroad.

Global Coach Center Blog (GCC Blog):  What would be 1 to 3 tips you’d give to someone who is moving to the UK?

Louise:

1.  Recognise the diversity:

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is made up of four distinct countries and it is important to remember this. People from Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are proud of their national identities and cultural origins which differ from those of the English. Remember, people who live in the UK are not all English!

In addition to this cultural mix two hundred different nationalities are represented in the UK with over ten percent of the population having been born outside of the UK. The extent to which visitors are exposed to this cultural mix will depend on where they are located in the UK. However once you move into the smaller cities, towns and rural areas you will find the population less diverse in its origin and more identifiably British.

2. Reserved but not unfriendly:

Generally people from the Southern England are said to be more reserved and less friendly than those from Northern England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. As a big “softie southerner myself” (softie because life is said to be easier in the south) I take exception to this but grudgingly admit it holds some truth.

As an individualistic culture, the British especially the English can seem very self orientated and not overly friendly. People often have a wide number of acquaintances and a small number of very close friends. Bear this in mind – people will be happy to chat, go out for drinks after work but beyond this it may take time for them to include you in their more immediate circle of friends and home life.

3.  Humour:

Ah yes, the great British sense of humour and it is hugely refreshing for us Brits, but often simply puzzling for foreigners. We are a nation that can and does enjoy laughing at ourselves. We take ourselves quite lightly and sarcasm is a regular work place feature. Intense situations may be lightened by a bit of humour, which can seem wholly inappropriate to the foreigner.

4.  Language:

The main language spoken in the UK is English, although sometimes you may be hard-pressed to recognise it as such! There are big regional differences from the perspective of accent and colloquial phrases. You will be challenged as you learn English especially if you travel the country widely. However, sadly Brits speak very few other languages fluently and so if you want to survive and thrive in the UK you must learn to speak English well.

GCC Blog:  What do you love about the UK?

Louise:  I love the beautiful UK countryside, the pubs, the friendliness (generally), the humour, the entertainment options, the shopping, the food (yes really!), the summer sporting events and sometimes the weather.

GCC Blog:  What do you dislike about living in the UK?

Louise:  Lets start with the obvious – the weather! Having just been in the UK for a week and having had three days of solid rain I have been reminded about how restricting and frustrating the UK weather can be. However the rain is what makes the UK countryside so green and beautiful, so of course there is an upside!

Traffic jams and congestion on the roads and railways making long and tedious commutes is one of the more unattractive aspects of life especially around London and other major cities. Expense is another life in the UK does not come cheaply. Be prepared, do your research carefully and plan for a high cost of living.

GCC Blog:  What’s the most popular proverb and why?

Louise:  I don’t know what the most popular proverb is statistically but a favourite one from my childhood:

“A Stitch in time saves nine”

Meaning that acting early can save a lot of time later on.

GCC blog: How can the “Living and Working in the UK” course can help expats?

Louise:  I am delighted to have worked together with the Global Coach Center to create this Living and Working in the UK programme. My expatriate experience, my background as a trainer and coach and my in-depth knowledge of the UK, together with Margarita’s unique system to crossing cultures has created a valuable guide to overcoming cross cultural challenges and building a successful life in the UK – please visit the course’s information page for more details!

Repatriation Pains

Some of frustrations we feel during repatriation are the direct result of the assumptions we have made and of the judgments we continue to make.  We assume that coming home will be easier than going to another country, we assume that our friends have been sitting around waiting for us to return, we assume that things run pretty much the same way they did when we left, and we assume that no matter how much we changed, we can still fit in, no problem.  After all, this is our home.

Then when we get there and our assumptions don’t come true, we find ourselves judging both our ability to adjust and the people/country we came back to.  We pass judgments on others that they are not curious enough about our experiences, that when we want to talk life overseas they want to discuss a new mall opening, that they all seem very close-minded when compared to people we met during our travels, and we judge that the country we came back to seems more like a prison to us now.

This judgmental perspective creates an atmosphere of bitterness, unwillingness to engage, and a strong desire to get on the plane as soon as possible.  We end up not really wanting to even give home a chance – and if the circumstances are such that we need to live in our home country, our adjustment becomes a lot harder than it needs to be.

In addition, these thoughts and judgments continue to swirl around in our brains and often have no place to go.  This gets us thinking the same thoughts over and over again, thus reinforcing the neurons that have already been created by those negative thoughts.  This leads to a set pathway in thinking and so we generate the same thoughts, engage in the same behavior, and create habitual thinking and patterns that are not useful for us.

Putting those thoughts on paper is a great way of disengaging from them and seeing them for what they are – a flurry of negativity that may have been invading our thinking.  When we write our thoughts and judgments down, we can clearly see them and then begin to edit, change, cross-out, and adjust where needed.

So try this exercise:

  • Write out every judgment you hold, every assumption you have made, and ever bitter thought that comes to you when you think of being back home.
  • Look over what you’ve written and think about how these thoughts are affecting you
  • Then decide which of those thoughts and judgments you are willing to let go off – and decide how you are going to do it.

This exercise (in a more detailed format) along with several others is included in our new Repatriation Guide E-course, now available online here.

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