Tag Archives: expat coach

Expat Life: Culture Shock May Be Inevitable But Pain Is Optional


At one point or another new expats will get a “lecture” about “Culture Shock” as it is explained in this video:

Not every expats experience that sequence of emotional reactions and saying this is “normal” is not removing the pain or discomfort. Often people who do not experience this “one size fits all” approach may feel “abnormal” or less competent than typical expats and sometimes think they are a failure not able to cope with their struggles while living abroad.

It is important to acknowledge first the feelings without judgement and then look at individual best coping strategies. You can’t change things you have no control about but you can change the way you think and from a new perspective make necessary changes to get the most of your expatriation.

Sometimes friends are not enough and it is important to allow yourself to find professional help.

If you need someone to deeply listen to you and help you solve issues you have as an expatriate, Please Send Me Your Message  for a complimentary coaching session

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Conversation Killers : What Do You Do ? Where Do You Come From ?


Picture: Huffington Post : Want To Kill A Conversation? Ask Someone What They Do

Imagine , you are at a networking event and you are new in town or never met anybody in the group before, you have butterflies in your stomach, when someone comes to you and ask :

What do you do ?  Like most people you might feel embarrassed to answer such a direct question, especially when you don’t have a “job”.

Is what someone does the most important information you need to engage a conversation anyway ?

Same apply to  ‘Where do you come from? ” If you want to avoid being stereotyped, what would you answer?

Tips: Try to answer and give information about you that encourage the other person to share their personal interests .

So here what works for me:

What Do You Do? I love living abroad, meet people from different backgrounds, explore new food, discover natural wonders, learning new stuff like languages. How about you ? What do you love to do when you are not at work?

Where Do You Come From? I am not sure if where I am from defines me anymore as I spent most of my adult life living abroad, I get inspired by my French mom for cooking dishes with a Provencal flavor like “ratatouille” but would die for having authentic “zaru soba”. I really like cosmopolitan urban style of living like I had in New York, or Tokyo and now in Moscow. How about you? What are your favorite places for vacation?

If you are like most people,  you probably have fears and anxiety to engage a conversation with people you don’t know, so:

How do you feel when you get those questions ?

In addition if you are an expat “trailing” spouse like me and freshly arrived in a  city or country you may be even more uncomfortable to answer as nobody is really interested by what you are really doing : unpacking cartons, helping children adjust to their new school or being lost in translation at the supermarket. On top, you might experience the emotional struggles of the “culture Shock”.

What are your typical answers ?

What are the most embarrassing questions you ever got at a networking event ?

Related articles:

International Commuters: Understanding the Benefits and Challenges | Expatriatus

See on Scoop.itGlobal Leaders

International assignments  are getting shorter and the number of international commuters is increasing. Do you think it is beneficial on the long run for both the employees and employers ?

Anne Egros‘s insight:

Not living in the same country with your family is detrimental for learning fully about the culture. Local employees may also treat you as an outsider, not really part of the team as you can’t share social events involving partners or children.

Each family situation is different but if you embrace expatriation as a great way to grow then I prefer to do it with the whole family. However I understand that sometimes other considerations such as schooling system or health care or dangerous locations may give no choice but commuting, I think this situation should be exceptional and not exceed 1 year.

I am not surprised that long-distance commuters have 40 percent higher risk of separation compared to other people who already have 50 percent chance to get divorced in most countries nowadays.

And yes the tax filing can become a nightmare and a costly exercise, especially for US residents and citizen

See on blog.iese.edu

How To Stay Focused When Your Life Is A Chaos

Spring is often a time of intense excitation for many people. For example I like to “de-cluterize”  my closets and my computer or re-evaluate my business strategy. Probably mother nature makes us feel that way, showing us so much exuberance with beautiful flowers and birds singing everywhere.

It is also a very chaotic time for most expatriates who are going to relocate to another country or going back “home”. If you are moving to an unknown place, you have probably spent a lot of time and energy already to search information, connect with people you don’t know who are living or has lived in your new country. Maybe you have also to make plans to sell your current house, cars, appliances(if you don’t have the same voltage), worried about your kids’ well-being and schools, started house hunting etc.

The number of things to think about when you plan a move is a Herculean task  and you better be well prepared and organized.

When you are in transition, no matter if it is for a new job, a new house or a new country, you have to deal with a lot of stress that will prevent you to focus and  get the right things done.

Here are some tips to help you achieve your goals while enjoying your life when you are in transition:

1-Dealing with uncertainty 

When we deal with any change we have many worries and many “what If” type of questions that trigger a lot of anxiety. What if I don’t like the people in my new job ?, What if I cannot sell my house ? What if I don’t like my new country ? it is hard to focus when we are constantly worrying.

What you can do:

    • Accept that the decision you have made is the right one and do not regret it as there is no turn back
    • Let go the obsession to control everything.The only certainty we have, is that life is unpredictable, no matter how prepared we are.
    • Try to notice when you get those worries kicking
    • Identify a coping strategy like taking a break and go walking outside or write down your feelings and thoughts in a journal, talk to your friends or simply do nothing and think about a good moment of your life.

2-Keeping  Your Routine

Everyday,  you have to keep your life as usual plus add on the top all the logistics and deal with unplanned events such as waiting for a visa or finalizing your new job contract. You will experienced periods of high excitation when you are into action followed by periods of uncertainty that are really testing your patience and your morale when things are not going the way you think.

What you can do: 

    • Having rituals or daily habits helps stay focused.
    • You can choose specific days of the week to do certain activities that you need to do anyway like picking the kids at school, grocery shopping, going to the gym etc. Put those activities at a fix time in your weekly calendar as much as you can so you don’t waste your time on planning.
    • Be realistic  and conservative about the time you need, adjust your pace like for a marathon you cannot be always in an emergency mode otherwise you will get burnout.
    • Take 2 daily breaks of 30 minutes minimum for unplugging and relaxing

3-Stay Motivated : Make a “done list”

Getting things done give you a sense of control and helps you manage your stress.

What you can do: 

    • Finish everyday by revising what you have accomplished during the last 24 hours or last week or since you started working on your project. You will realize you have done much more than you think, including things that were not planned!

Your Turn : What do you do to stay focused while in transition ?

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American Culture: The Non Vacation Nation

OECD Countries Blue

Who get the most paid vacation ? Check this list Minimum Employment Leave By Country

France is one extreme with minimum 5 weeks vacation up to 8 weeks when combined with various holidays and compensation time when you work more than 35 hours /week.

United States is the other extreme, being the only developed economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays. As a result, 1 in 4 U.S. workers do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays.

How does this translate in term of productivity ? You can see in this table compiled by the OECD on Labour productivity levels in the total economy  that France is very close to the US with GDP per hour worked as % of USA (USA=100) = 97.9

But does GDP a good indicator of well-being, quality of life and  happiness ?

What You Measure Affects What You Do-Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize in Economics

The OECD has developed a tool called the Better Life Index using various parameters such as housing, jobs or health. They have designed an interesting interactive map that you can use to select the parameters that are important to you and compare how various countries perform: http://oecdbetterlifeindex.org/

So if you just take one parameter such as “life satisfaction” , the results are better for the U.S. than for France:

For the United States, the self-reported life satisfaction has been rising over the last decade. In recent polling, 70% were satisfied with their life and 80% believe that their life will be satisfying five years later. 76% of people in the United States reported having more positive experiences in an average day(feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 72%.

For France, in recent polling, 51% were satisfied with their life and 64% believe that their life will be satisfying five years later. This is however a very low ranking when compared to other high-performing economies in the OECD. 73% of people in France reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is close to the OECD average of 72%.

The self-evaluation has some biases however as French are more critical and less prone to give positive feedback than the Americans.

You can also see the ranking of countries for work-life balance :  People in France people work 1554 hours a year, lower than the OECD average of 1739 hours. People in the United States work 1768 hours a year, higher than the OECD average of 1739 hours. In theory the less hours you work the better you can balance your life but this is not counting the fact that working more and getting paid more can help you buy some time and the United States has a great culture of services to individuals.

In Conclusion: Don’t rely on simple numbers to decide your next international assignment. There are so many cultural factors to include on top of economical data, that you better talk to people who have lived or are working in the country you are interested in to get some information. If your company does not provide pre-departure cultural training, you may need to hire an expat coach to help you make your decision. Here the link to the Expat Coaching Directory.

Personally I think the quality of life in the U.S. is better than France but lower than Japan

Real experience is what matters, can you tell your story about living abroad ?

Related Articles:

Invent Your Future Job: Be Unique, Be Social, Be Global

The fast-paced changes of our societies have affected all industries and is changing the nature of work for the next 10 to 15 years. There are three major challenges for the workforce of the future increasing pressures on organizations to become innovation centered, highly productive and a magnet for global talent :

1-Shifting demographic patterns: Over the next 10 years, the world population is expected to rise from the current 6.83 billion to approximately 7.7 billion, with most of the growth in emerging markets generating  high economic growth. We already see an aging and declining population in developed countries with slow economic growth.  U.S. and European businesses are dealing with the challenges of a multi-generational workforce with three distinct generations Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Employers will need to develop highly individualized solutions to accommodate the career needs of each generation. We will not see long careers of 10 or more years in one company but maybe 6 years with either functional or geographic changes every 2 years. The youngest  generation  will probably have 15 to 20 jobs during their career and multiple jobs at the same time because that is what they want to do.

2-Rapid technology changes: From nanotechnologies to neuroscience discoveries, many new technologies will be developed and globalization will continue to drive the utilization of advanced mobile technologies reshaping the workforce with increased telecommuting,  virtual  teams and overall more work flexibility.

3-Economic globalization  In our information overloaded global work environment, knowledge is not a competitive advantage anymore as it goes out of date extremely fast and anybody on earth with an internet connection has access to it in real-time. The critical skills to be successful in the new working environment are vision and  foresight.to anticipate or respond to change very quickly, make wise decisions and take action now to create a better future.

More than a year ago,  I had the chance to listen to Seth Godin “live” in a promotional event in Antwerp about the launch of his book “Linchpin”. I collected about 10 very interesting new ideas from his speech that I posted on a blog : “TOP 10 Seth Godin’s Quotes Made in Antwerp, Belgium. April 1, 2010”

Seth Godin is the bestselling author of more than seven books. He writes about marketing, the spread of ideas and managing both customers and employees with respect. His idea about our current economy is that the current recession is a “forever recession” because it’s the end of the industrial age, which also means The end of the average worker (Read more : article )

Nobody will ever be the only one on the market AND people have an infinite ways to access information. Humans evolved from Hunters, Farmers, Workers and now they have to be Artists-Seth Godin


1-You don’t need to become somebody you are not. Your uniqueness has to be authentic, you need to know who you really are, what is your dominant character, talent, personality, skills, strengths, what motivates you, what’s your passions in life ? How is your  business acumen and leadership style ? Can you summarize all those information in a compelling story for potential employers or clients?

2-You need to remove blocks that prevent you to excel at being truly you: fears, unmet needs, negative self-talk, lack of training and anything that is holding you back.

3-You need a vision, a purpose and a road map: No matter how old you are, how life has treated you in the past, how much money you have or how many debts, you need to give permission to yourself to have dreams, explore your possibilities and identify your options. We all have choices but we need to use our imagination to see them. You need to let your right brain expresses emotional intelligence and free the artist in you. Once you know where you want to be, then put your strategic thinking at work to identify your goals strategy and action plan to get you there.


You can’t stop globalization even if you close borders and build walls made with bricks and mortars ! The internet, and social media make the world smaller and smaller everyday. Maybe your company is based in the U.S. but  vendors might be in India, and customers in more than 40 countries. That’s why multinational companies need employees able to think globally but communicate locally with cultural sensitivity. I like to use the term “glocalization” to instill the idea that global products and services need to be designed in the early stages of research and development with cultural sensitivity too.

You cannot claim to be a global leader if you have visited many countries as a tourist. It is like learning swimming in a book, you need to get into the water and get wet .

If you are still in college, learn key languages maybe Mandarin, Spanish, Brazilian or Russian will be a good choice in today’s economy. Find an internship or a job abroad for minimum one year.

If you are already a manager employed in a multinational companies, become the first on the list to be picked-up for an international assignment by participating in global projects and working with multicultural teams.

Learning a new language should not depends on age, you don’t need to be fluent but it is important to understand how a language is structured to get some clues about cultural values and unspoken social rules or business etiquette. You can learn about the fundamental cultural dimensions from colleagues or local intercultural clubs and of course online through many specific forums and social media.

Continued learning in a large variety of topics every day will become mandatory.

Where do you see careers heading in 2012 and beyond ?

 Have you invented your future yet ?

Related articles:

5 Reasons Why Expat Women Make Such Great Networkers

There is no recipe to make an expatriation a great moment in your life but meeting new people from totally different backgrounds in term of culture, profession, religion, social status,  is one of the best things about living abroad. Of course for most people it is really hard to meet new people when moving to another location leaving behind close friends and family.

In general women are good at networking but expat women are particularly good to create brand new relationships with other expats, co-workers or other women.  I lived mainly in Europe, Japan and the United States and each country or region has its specificity but globally here the five main reasons why expat women makes friends with people they don’t know much quicker than people who live in the same place for long periods of time.

1-A sense of urgency: When you arrive in an unknown place the first thing you need is to set up a good medical support: Family physician, pediatrician, dentists, OB/GY, emergency room etc. Expat women usually either don’t know the language, don’t trust the local medical practices or won’t turn to the yellow pages and ads in local newspapers. In most cases it is easier to meet other expat women who can explain the healthcare system and recommend the doctors that speak your language or English. If you have children in  international schools you usually meet people coming from all over the world and feel included more rapidly than if your kids go to local public schools with very few foreigners living in your town. This motivates even the most shy person to ask for help and search the internet for local support groups. I have been doing that for 20 years and I am lucky to be French and lived in big cities like Tokyo or New York where the French expat communities are very active. Even in suburban New Jersey I found such a group of about 100 french speaking families organizing monthly networking events.

2-Expats never know how long they will stay: on average I have moved every three years for 20 years so I have to make friends quickly but this is the hardest part of being an expatriate. No matter how friendly or understanding people are in your local community, they have no idea what you are going through what is called “culture shock”. It can be really frustrating to be ignorant about what other people take for granted and don’t even think that you are not aware of local customs, unspoken rules and habits. It takes a good 6 months to one year even for the most seasoned expat to make really good friends and adopt a new culture. Hopefully for the last 5 years or so, the growing usage of social networking and the internet in general has helped expats tremendously to connect on a global scale. I have made many friends virtually on expat forums, through blogs,Twitter or Linkedin sometimes having virtual conversations for years before even knowing my next destination. I  am always amazed and  thrilled when I finally meet face to face the person with whom I feel emotionally connected already, it definitively helps feeling at home faster.

3-Women are better at nurturing relationships.   With men, when you buy something even a house, once the deal is done, you cannot really count on extras like recommendations for where to shop, a hair salon, gym, schools and children-related topics. For example for the last move I met great american women and good service providers through my local real estate agent who is not an expat but she is such a great listener and connector I can really call her a friend.

4-Great  listeners and communicators.  living abroad makes expat women great listeners and communicators. When you don’t know the culture and the language well, you need to make special efforts to understand what people are saying to you both verbally and with body language. You have to ask questions or rephrase to clarify the messages. You also have to be creative and test various strategies to get yourself heard and become assertive.

5-Natural collaborators: Expat women can be corporate managers, entrepreneurs or stay-at-home moms, the are successful at what they do because they love doing project together. As expats we search other like-minded people we enjoy to be with to accomplish something by combining our talents. A collaborative spirit reign among expats and if you search expat women resources you will see more collaboration than competition.\ even among entrepreneurs such as  expat coaches or cross-cultural trainers.

Being a great networker makes you a better leader, marketer or entrepreneur and an effective communicator to thrive in non-familiar, complex environments.

Are Expat Women Good Friends ?

What do you think ?

Related articles:

The Reward Is In The Goal: How Making Things Happen Makes You Happy

Post-it To-Do 2.0

Image by rintakumpu via Flickr

For expats like me moving to a new place this summer, they might think that it is already Christmas when they get  their stuff delivered in boxes of all shapes in their new home. Well, for me that feeling did not last long.  From 8:30am until 5pm from Monday to Friday I managed to unpack 659 boxes with 7 movers and two professional organizers specialized in helping people de-cluttering, downsizing while giving a brand new look to your home.

Some boxes were 20 year old, never opened, that went straight to the storage room with guilt in the back of my mind. Then like for New Year I made a new resolution for that move that I will take time to sort the good things from the sentimental crap such as old business cards, some books totally wrong like those predicting the supremacy of Japan over the U.S., old theater tickets or sets of unmatched  silverware.

I am a big fan of Steven Covey and I rely very much on his methods he described in his books: “First Thing First” and “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. However, like most people,

I can be lost in procrastination!

So the problem is not that we don’t know how to manage our time or what we need to do to become more efficient in our life and our work, the issue here is how to stay motivated on the long run, dealing with multitasking or time-consuming activities and losing momentum not focusing on the most important things.

The idea is to start first to identify one goal that you can achieve in one week that is not a “should” or a “have to”. Then  list the benefits for YOU, tangible or intangible but  it is very important that you do something that you have 100 % control (means: don’t try to change others) and you know that you can do it and will improve your life significantly. Then cut this goal into small steps you can achieve in one day and make a realistic “to do” list. It is also important that you identify resources that will help you stay committed like the organizers for me this week. For your daily action plan, better under-promise  and over-achieve than the opposite. So here is my philosophy about getting things done:

The reward is in the goal itself, you don’t need external motivators, carrots or sticks, to make you feel happy and proud of yourself when you overcome challenges and make things happen

My goal this week was to get rid of all the empty cartons. I succeeded and get a space I can already enjoy everyday with no more clutters and junk stuff. I have now the main level looking just perfect, making me really happy: the kitchen, the living room, the family room and the dinning room are all with decorative items artistically positioned, frames and pictures. This result cheers me up when I see other parts of my house such as the basement which is still a mess but actually less challenging than dealing with my extra kitchenware.

My goal for next week is to sort many unfitted clothes and organize my mew closets with some empty spaces, a real challenge for me but I know I will feel really good. The first step is getting rid of clothes that are too big now that I lost weight or simply too old like T-shirts I kept for sentimental reasons with name of places I went 20 or 15 years ago . I think it is very manageable for one week.

I am also thinking to hire an image consultant since my mother lives in France and I cannot get her opinion, for a total relooking.  I will probably need one day  to learn wich colors , shapes and fabrics are suitable for my lifestyle and body shape and eliminate more clothes. I will then go get a new hair cut and color to fit  the “new me”. Again the reward is in the goal, taking care of me to feel great about myself sounds much better than “getting my closet organized” .

What do you think ?

Can you switch your perception to see good outcome from the most daunting task?

Looking forward to get your comments here.

Related articles:

Expat Kids: Motivation, IQ Test Scores And Future Success ?

This is a picture of an IBD (International Bac...

Image via Wikipedia

ScienceDaily (2011-04-27) –New psychology research demonstrates a correlation between a test-taker’s motivation and performance on an IQ test and, more important, between that performance and a person’s future success. Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology in Penn’sSchool ofArts and Sciences, led the research.

“IQ scores are absolutely predictive of long-term outcomes. But what our study questions is whether that’s entirely because smarter people do better in life than other people or whether part of the predictive power coming from test motivation” Duckworth said

Duckworth and co-workers concluded that people who get high IQ scores, probably try hard and are intelligent. But for people who get low scores, it can be an absence of either or both of those traits.

This is a fundamental question for any parent and educator as well. But for expatriate parents there is an additional question : what means “intelligence” in a multicultural context ? Are those IQ tests standardized in all languages and cultures? Many researchers think that it is almost impossible to develop a test that measures innate intelligence without introducing cultural bias. Others have demonstrated that meaning of intelligence across cultures are very different (Intelligence across cultures)

So if we cannot measure innate intelligence in a multicultural context, can we really make a difference in our children future life?  In a previous post: Praise and Incentives: Are Carrots Worse Than Sticks? , I described a recent study demonstrating that too much incentives may be linked to poor motivation, so what is the right balance ?  Again is motivation a universal concept ? Can we get individualized learning plans at school ? can we move to a more diverse education integrating various cultural sensibilities?

Many parents of third culture kids have demonstrated the benefits and the down sides of raising multicultural and multilingual children but in the era of globalization and intense migration across borders what is the future of an affordable intercultural education ?

Since my son was 3, he has been to International schools following the IB program (see definition below). However, most IB schools are private and if the company is not paying for the  tuitions it might not be possible to spend between 15,000 to 30,000 US$ per child and per year. IB schools are also not available everywhere, I was surprised to find no IB school in the Northern part of New Jersey while the curriculum was available for free in some public schools in Atlanta.

Description of the  IB program  : founded in 1968 and currently adopted in approximately 2,250 schools in more than 140 countries. There are 750 IB schools in the United States. There are three levels to the IB – the PYP (Primary Years Program), the MYP (Middle Years Program), and the IB (International Baccalaureate program).

“With the development of a continuum of international education, it is intended that teachers, students and parents will be able to draw confidently on a recognizable common educational framework, a consistent structure of aims and values and an overarching concept of how to develop international-mindedness”

Effective Problem Solving In Multicultural Teams

The Edward de Bono‘s Six Thinking Hats method is a very practical approach to problem solving, making decisions and exploring new ideas.

Although it has not been specifically designed for multicultural teams, this tool is very effective for making the most of various thinking modes from people having different cultural backgrounds.

The Basics: There are six different imaginary hats that you can put on or take off. Each hat is a different color and represents a different type or mode of thinking. • Everybody wear the same hat (do the same type of thinking) at the same time. • When you change hats – you change our thinking.

The Benefits of Six Thinking Hats: 1. Provides a common language, 2. Allow diversity of thought , 3. Use more of our brains, 4. Removal of ego (reduce confrontation), 5. Focus (one thing at a time), 6. Save time, 7. Create, evaluate & implement action

The Coach Role : The coach or facilitator wears the Blue Hat. He defines the focus of the thinking, by asking questions like: Why we are here • What we are thinking about • Definition of the situation or problem • Alternative definitions • what we want to achieve • where we want to end up • What is the background to the thinking What we want to take away • What we want to achieve • Outcome • Conclusion • Design • Solution • Next steps •The coach plans the sequence and timing of the thinking • Ask for changes in the thinking • Handle requests from the group • Form periodic or final summaries of the thinking for consideration by the team

Participant’s Role • Follow the lead of the coach:• Stick to the hat (type of thinking) that is in current use • Try to work within the time limits • Contribute honestly & fully under each of the hats.

White Hat Thinking: 1. Neutral, objective information 2. Facts & figures 3. Questions: what do we know, what don’t we know, what do we need to know 4. Excludes opinions, judgments 5. Removes feelings & impressions

Green Hat Thinking :1. New ideas, 2.Concepts, 3.Perceptions 4.Deliberate creation of new ideas and Alternatives. 5. New approaches to problems • 6. Creative & lateral

Yellow Hat Thinking 1. Positive & speculative 2. Positive thinking, optimism, opportunity 3. Benefits 4. Best-case scenarios 5. Exploration

Black Hat Thinking: 1.Negative, critical judgement, 2.focus on errors, 3.Pessimistic view, 4. focus on why it won’t work

Red Hat Thinking :1. Emotions & feelings 2. Intuitions, impressions 3. Doesn’t have to be logical or consistent 4. No justifications, reasons or basis 5. All decisions are emotional in the end

Hats sequence in meetings: Hats can be used in different sequences depending on the expected outcome of the meeting. For example , you can use this sequence to explore a case:

1. Coach (Blue Hat) Open the discussion, Clarifying the problem •
2. Present the facts of the case (White Hat). •
3. Generate ideas, how the case could be handled (Green Hat). •
4. Evaluate the merits of the ideas, List benefits (Yellow Hat). •
5. List drawbacks (Black Hat). •
6. Get everybody gut feeling about the alternatives (Red Hat). •
7. Summaries, action plans, what’s next ?


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