Tag Archives: culture shock

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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Who Needs Cross-cultural Training ?

Scoop.itGlobal Leaders

This article posted in  www.expatica.ru is giving a great overview about cross-cultural training

Expatriate failure is defined in literature in a variety of ways, with intentions to leave listed prominently

Anne Egros‘s insight:

Tailoring cross-cultural training programmes to the individual’s situation

Cross-cultural trainings should start by the selection of the best candidate for a specific international assignment. Succesful international leaders share some personality traits such as:

-Active listening skills


-Emotional intellligence

-Global strategic thinking with understanding of local issues/market


-Life long learner



Expectations and goals should be clearly defined as well as the key performance indicators including both contribution to local and global performance with in mind long-term impacts of the decisions taken during a short-term (2-3 years) mission. Including colleagues of the host country in the decision process is also a good idea.

Ideally, the family should be assessed too or at least get pre-departure cross-cultural trainings and transition coaching

See on www.expatica.ru


7 Most Common Thinking Errors Expatriates Make

I am going to focus mainly on people moving abroad or expatriates going back home but the theory applies to anybody experiencing  emotional stress when moving to unknown environments.

During  big life changes, we experience stress, overload, or threat and often lose control of our emotions and make “thinking errors” or distortions about the reality. Our thinking process starts by interpretation and processing events that leads to our emotional and behavioural responses. Since a wrong thinking leads to a wrong behavior it is important to be aware of our thinking.

Many people heard about “culture shock” but most of the new expatriates are not aware of what that process means to them until they are really confronted to a succession of emotional ups and downs. Same with the grieving process, also called “reverse culture shock” that most expat families experience when they return to their home country.  In both cases our states of mind impact our well-being. Here a great video that explain the “repat grief “.

Professor Aaron T. Beck, first described the theory behind “thinking errors” or “cognitive distortions”  that  our brain make under stress that impair our judgement of a situation leading to poor decision-making, irrational behaviors or depression.

Here the 7 most common “thinking errors”,  or “cognitive distortions”, expatriates make when experiencing culture shock or reverse culture shock

1. Filtering-failure to consider a neutral, or balanced, point of view

Evidence that supports your bias is selected, favored, or weighted more heavily than evidence contrary to your bias. We take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For example you may conclude that everything was better before you moved abroad and you are constantly whining about your new life: the food is bad,  traffic is terrible, people are rude etc. You are so focused on the negative that it is hard for you to meet new people or learn about your new culture thinking your expat life is like being in jail.

2. Polarized Thinking –evaluating experiences on the basis of extremes

In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white.” It implies that something can only be one or the other, but not both. Consider the image on the left, an optical illusion, demonstrating the limitation of our visual perception system:  we can only see either the old lady or the young woman at any one time but not both. Taking sides polarizes opinions and hardens attitudes, creating conflict and separation between different cultures. So be careful if you are abroad and embarked in a political or religious debate,  people passionate at those topics typically have strong opinions about what is right or wrong and you may jeopardize good business deals by giving a polarized opinion, so be subtle.

3.Jumping to conclusions

The Ladder of Inference describes this type of  thinking process starting from our perception and interpretation of a fact to a decision or action (see right).

It is very easy to get into trouble when we don’t know the social rules and etiquette of a new culture and filter other people attitudes according to our own cultural rules. For example we might think that a certain group of people are not sincere because they don’t look straight in  the eyes when talking, while it is interpreted as rude by many Asian cultures.

For example :

  1. Fact :Julie is late at the meeting
  2. Interpretation: Julie does not care about this important meeting
  3. Assumption : Julie  is French and I know two other French people who are often late too
  4. Conclusion : French cannot be trusted

It is interesting to note that time has not the same value in different cultures, Latin cultures like the French see time as elastic, being 15 minutes late to a meeting is not considered impolite or showing lack of interest, while in North American, time is money and you are supposed to arrive just on time at meetings.

4. Overgeneralization.

In this cognitive distortion, we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we expect it to happen over and over again. For example we can have our wallet stolen and conclude that the all country is unsafe while in reality this event could have happen anywhere.

5. Blaming.

We hold other people responsible for our pain, or take the other track and blame ourselves for every problem. Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotions and emotional reactions. For example a frustrated accompanying spouse may feel resentful towards the working partner because she thinks she made all the efforts having left behind, friends, family and often a  rewarding career and gain nothing in return but struggles.

6. Shoulds.

We have a list of ironclad rules about how others and we should behave. People who break the rules make us angry, and we feel guilty when we violate these rules.  When a person directs should statements toward others, they often feel anger, frustration and resentment. For example “My colleagues should never speak their own language when I am meeting with them, that is really rude “

7. Always Being Right.

We are continually on trial to prove that our opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and we will go to any length to demonstrate our rightness. For example, “I don’t care how badly arguing with me makes you feel, I’m going to win this argument no matter what because I’m right.” In companies where there is a tendency to take all decisions at the Headquarters (ethnocentric culture), this attitude could encourage expatriate executives to patronize their local teams instead of favoring a dialogue and generating new ideas

If you are experiencing  those kind of  struggles, it won’t help if I tell you that almost all expatriates have been in your shoes, but talking to a professional coach, may make your life easier in only few sessions. Talk to me and check how I can help you.

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Graduation Day In America From An Expat Perspective

We have been living for just 11 months in an affluent small town in New Jersey too far from New York City to be international. If I want to go to the City it takes me a good 90 minutes by train one way, so I don’t go often there, although I loved living in  NYC  back in 2001.

Here we can see farms with cows, many deer and all sort of animals including bears. At first I really enjoyed the place. Imagine “Wisteria Lane” transposed in New Jersey and you have an idea why I enjoyed it : big house, kids playing in the street,  except that no desperate housewives were there to welcome us  with cookies or just “hello”

For the first time I was in a place with no expat around, my son going to a local public school in 4th grade. Families in my neighborhoods have been living there for more than 10 years and most kids have been going to the same school since they were 5 years old. The first day at school was not fun, my son came back crying that the teacher did not introduce him to the class as he was the only new comer and French in his class. What a trauma for him as he was used to have 20 students from almost 20 different nationalities in the class and plenty of new comers. For me it was hard too, nothing was organized for new parents and I was very disappointed when the parents were invited just to get a lecture from the teacher about the program and everybody was back home without having the opportunity to chat.

However at that time, from September to February, I  saw only the positive aspects of my new life such as having the school bus just in front of my house, the YMCA at walking distance to enjoy Zumba classes and other sports like hiking where I met other people but never found somebody to call a friend. Nevertheless I had enough work from clients I coached via Skype to have a balanced life and feel happy.

Then March arrived and my husband had an offer to relocate to a totally new country, for a very interesting position, while here in New Jersey, many big companies were keeping laying-off people massively. We had two choices: staying in the US where we are considered as local foreigners without the benefits of having an international community or jumping into a totally new adventure in a developing country. We took choice #2 and then my perception of my situation went from pink to grey.

I don’t know if many expatriates experiment this but it was like I was trying to justify the pain of leaving after less than one year by trying to focus on all the negatives. It is really true, you are what you think. Then I engaged in many interactions via social networks and phone calls to get information about the new country I felt understood by expats that kindly gave me great tips and share their stories.

So time to go back to the title of this post: Today my son was finishing grade 4 and having a graduation ceremony celebrating the end of the primary school to go in 5th grade in middle-school.

I felt lonely when I arrived in the auditorium with parents and family of the 150 4th graders. I recognized barely three families there. I felt like a total stranger when everybody sang the American anthem and made the pledge to the American flag. Yes, it is a shame, but actually I did not have the opportunity in my daily activities to learn  those things. I am wondering how many Americans who live in France know  “La Marseillaise ” ? Even me I don’t know all the words of the French anthem. We don’t have to do the pledge to the French flag every morning or any flag for kids in international schools like they do in America. ,

The 150 kids had their name called,  marched on the podium to receive the diploma and a concert of applause followed each kid except my son. My heart really hurt and I felt so sad, I never felt more stranger than today in 20 years of expatriation.

Transition Fitness For Expats: 5 Facts To Know For Embracing Healthy Eating

 Do you know how to lose weight and stay fit during transitions ?  

Are you confused by contradicting information about dieting versus healthy eating ?

Do you have difficulties to adapt to new foods when moving to a new country? 

Well, you are not alone and if you are an expat chances are high that you encounter even more difficulties to embrace healthy eating. In this article I will focus on developing healthy eating habits by introducing basic nutrition principles, other transition fitness tips such as effective exercises and how to stick to healthy habits for life will be shared in a series of specific articles about transition fitness.

 In a previous post I talk about causes of emotional eating during transitions such as an expatriation. In this post, I am going to give some tips on how to stay fit by eating wisely. There are plenty of conflicting information out there and when you move to a new country you don’t necessarily find the same types or quality of food that may result in weight gain. For example moving from Europe to the U.S. often leads to weight gain as Americans use more processed foods, full of hidden sugar, salt or fat.

For losing weight, staying fit, keeping positive energy while toning your body you need lifestyle modifications which include caloric reduction and regular exercise in combination with behavior modifications to keep life long healthy habits.  However during a transition period the time dedicated to settle down often conflicts with the establishment of healthy routines.

First you have to recognize that you need more time when you arrive in a new country to identify which stores are convenient in term of quality, diversity  and pricing. You also have to find best substitutes for healthy products you used in your previous location that is not available in your new country or are too expensive to be part of your daily diet. Same thing with physical activities, you need to try different classes, different locations and find time for socializing to find the best support group or friends to help you focus on your fitness goals.

 Tip for future expats: On average a fresh expat family needs minimum 6 months to one year to be in the routine mode. When planning for an expatriation, I recommend you negotiate with your employer a package that provides local relocation services for logistic support to shorten this discovery process so you can be more effective at work.

 1-What is a healthy weight ? Healthy weight is defined by the Body Mass Index BMI. It  is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. BMI can be used to indicate if you are overweight, obese, underweight or normal. A healthy BMI score is between 20 and 25. A score below 20 indicates that you may be underweight; a value above 25 indicates that you may be overweight. To find out yours, Use a  BMI Calculator

 2- Basal Metabolism Rate (BMR) and Basic Nutrition Principles.  The BMR is your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and it measures the number of calories you burn even when you sleep. BMR decreases as you age. You can use a simple BMR calculator but I recommend scales using your weight, age, height and body composition such as body water, fat, bone density and muscles. Most gym clubs are equipped with those scales so you can get a fitness checkup and discuss your weight loss goals with certified nutritionists and fitness trainers.

Nutrition Tip: A pound of body fat equates to approximately 3500 calories. So if you have a calorie deficit of 500 calories  per day (meaning eating less and burning more calories through physical activity) you would lose approximately one pound per week (7 days): 500 x 7 = 3,500 calories. (1 pound = 454 grams)

 3-Nutrition Information

  Foods are digested and processed by the body to create energy,  all energy that is not used id stocked as fat and a deficit in calories will burn fat to create energy. Highly restrictive calorie intake diets of all kinds are not working in a long run because restrictions are not sustainable and you put your body in starvation mode. Without enough calorie intake, you reduce your BMR and you lose muscular mass as the body use  the proteins in your muscles as source of energy. Diets that prohibit completely a class of products like no carbohydrate or not fat are not healthy as your body needs vitamins and minerals found in a variety of nutrients. For example you need oil, colored fruits and vegetables to get  vitamin E, vitamin A and many natural anti-aging substances.

 Not all calories are created equal

  • Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories
  • Alcohol: 1 gram = 7 calories
  • Proteins: 1 gram = 4 calories
  • Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories

Fats are very dense in calories per gram and it is easily digested and stocked in your body fat mass. Proteins have half the amount of calories and need more energy to be absorbed and assimilated by the body. So decreasing fat and increasing proteins will make you burn more fat and reduce hunger

Depending on individuals you need to adjust the amount of each category of nutrients,  but basically you need:

  • 20- percent calories from lean proteins,  so for 1500 calories = (1500x 0.2)/4=     75 grams of proteins
  • 60 percent calories from complex, low-glycemic carbohydrates= (1500x 0.6)/4= 225 grams of carbs
  • 20 percent calories from essential fats = (1500x.0.2)/9 = 33 grams of fats

To lose weight, cutting calories can be as simple as swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options. For example switching 1/2 pound of steak to chicken can help you decrease fat and make you save 400 calories. You can also decrease serving size like going from 2 Tbs (38g) of peanut butter at 200 calories to 1Tbs save 100 calories.

 If you have medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, thyroid problems or any other medical conditions, you should talk to your medical doctor first what is the appropriate foods and quantities. The problem for expats is finding the right specialists and it is not easy when you have specific medical issues that are not addressed by general practitioners. Medical practices and guidelines are often different from one country to another and when you have the language barrier on top of that it can be very stressful.  

Tip for future expats: Before you accept your assignment, it would be wise to get information about health standards and health risks you can expect to encounter in your country of expatriation. Gather health information via embassies or expat forums and blogs. I also recommend you check the book: ” Expat Women Confessions” 

 4- Glycemic Index 

 Plan your meals not only based on calories but look also for foods with low glycemic index.

 What is the Glycemic Index?

 Carbohydrates are absorbed and transformed into glucose in the blood triggering the release of insulin, the hormone that makes the glucose available to the cells and tissues that make your muscles, heart,  brain or adipose tissue. The glycemic index (GI) describes the blood glucose levels obtained after eating carbohydrates. Choosing low GI carbs – the ones that produce only small fluctuations in our blood glucose and insulin levels – is the secret to long-term health reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes and is the key to sustainable weight loss.

Carbohydrates made of simple sugars like fructose in fruit juices or starch in white pasta or rice are rapidly absorbed and produce a high peak of glucose and insulin increasing fat storage. Complex carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and are absorbed slowly giving energy for one hour or so, more when combined with high content of fibers, Fibers are not digested by the body and help to slow the absorption of sugars and fats and lower the glycemic index,  that is why it is better to eat an orange fruit than an orange juice

 Proteins are digested and produce amino acids that regulate the hunger signal sent to your brain so you will feel satisfied and less hungry for a longer period of time. Proteins are found in eggs, milk products, fish, lean meats or legumes (vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils).  Legumes can be a healthy substitute for meat.

 In the  graph above you can see that it is recommended to always eat high glycemic carbohydrates and fats with fibers to stabilize your blood sugar and combine with proteins for feeling full and satisfied longer between meals.

 Nutrition tip: Decrease the level of refined sugar. Women should aim for 100 calories (6½ teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar) per day.

5- Healthy Snacking

If possible divide your total daily calorie allowance for maintaining or losing weight into 3 meals and 2 snacks. Breakfasts and lunches should contain the most carbohydrates for providing energy for your daily activities. Do not skip breakfasts or lunches, otherwise you will feel hungry with low energy and have a tendency to overeat later..

Recipes for filling full with smart snacks= Fibers + Carbs +Proteins + Fat:

  • Apple+Skimmed Milk Mozzarella
  • Baby Carrots+Hummus
  • Peanut Butter+Whole wheat crackers

Your Opinion Counts, Did you Find This Article Useful ?  

Please Comment and Share Your Tips

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For Expats It’s Summertime but The Leaving Is Not That Easy!

♫.Summertime and the living is easy…

Yes it is time for the majority of expats to move to a new destination either as a first experience abroad or for veterans like me managing move # 12 from Brussels, Belgium to New Jersey, USA.

I have decided to take it easy this time. While I am sorting stuff to keep, to give, to sell or to trash.  I take my time looking at old pictures and videos. I realized how blessed I am for living such an extraordinary life. I would never had the chance to meet those great people with so different backgrounds and get exposed to very different life experiences by staying in the same city for 20 years.

Living abroad is often challenging especially when leaving a place you just started to really enjoy, in our case the Brussels experience was only 2 years and it was definitively too short!  I might be nostalgic to leave good friends behind but I have no regrets ! Each move has been carefully discussed with my husband. I was probably lucky to start my international career 20 years ago when the job market was not as tough as it is today. We manage our careers as buddies. Each time my husband had an offer to work abroad, we negotiated that the company help me get a job too.

Today I have my own portable career as an independent professional coach since 2008. It  allows me to take care of my 9-year-old son and satisfy my basic needs to meet new people, be creative and enjoy helping others.

For expats who have hard time to leave for an unknown place and overwhelmed by the moving task I invite you to take 5 minutes at the end of each day to write everything that pops up into your mind when you think about the words “unhappy” and “happy”. Try to organize your thoughts by grouping them under various positive and negative  emotions and feeling such as:

  1. Exciting, feeling good, curious, friendly, fun, enthusiast, high energy
  2. Painful, stressful, frustrating, annoying, boring, worried, low energy
  3. Neutral, comfortable, balance, joy, peace
  4. Anger, resentment, overaggressive, negative energy

Describe what you feel and explain exactly what happened or why you feel that way. Then  separate things you think you can change and things you are not in a position to change for now. Focus on what you can do to enjoy more your day, what you are grateful for and list some strategies to overcome blocks and barriers.

In any case be sure to be INCREDIBLY SELFISH. Take care of your well being first, if you need to choose between having a lunch with a friend or sorting more files, opt for the friend, you will always have time later to get read of stuff you don’t want.

Expat Women Confessions

When I first heard about the new book “Expat Women Confessions – 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad” launched today May 5, 2011 by the founder, and the director of  Expatwomen.com and book author Andrea Martins, I thought that the word “confession” was a very appropriate word to readjust the “glamorous” image of real expat women by sharing “the good, the bad and the ugly” of being an expat woman.

My own confession to you is that although I am very proud of my achievements as a professional, a wife, a mother and the woman I became today after 20 years of expatriation, I must admit I have a tendency to minimize and hide my personal struggles and over-emphasize my successes and the benefits of being a corporate international assignee or a local foreigner.

By becoming a career  and life coach with many expatriate women as clients, I realized that we do share similarities in our lives regardless of nationalities, countries, age and even social status.

I wrote two articles I want to share again with you to give you an idea of the importance and big impact of the role of women in the expatriation failure or success:

Those topics are very well-developed in “Expat Women Confessions

Still today I feel kind of “failure is not an option” trying to balance all my roles. I have also the perception that the self-imposed pressure to succeed as a mom, wife, business owner, coach and managing current relocation is partly due to my guilt of moving away again from family , friends, clients and sadness to leave behind my best kept secrets about Brussels:  my favorite restaurants, cafe, boutiques and many other nice places and people I enjoyed.

In addition this time we are moving back to the USA after two years in Belgium but we chose our own destiny: we are not following any company and we can only blame us if something goes wrong , right ?, well wrong! In all decision-making processes you have to deal with the loss of the other options. It takes time, there is no magic recipe. During this “in between” periods just after the final decisions have been made and when there is no turn back options, I feel the most vulnerable especially after all the excitement and adrenalin shots I had for the last two months !

Not only I encourage you to buy  the book (it is on Amazon.com), if you are an expat-to-be or a veteran expat woman or have a family member who is one of them, I also encourage you to participate in the $5,000 Book Launch Competition , you can win coaching sessions including those with me at  Zest and Zen international

For more resources visit: http://www.expatwomen.com/

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