Tag Archives: expat following spouse

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:

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.

Related articles:

Zest or Zen? How To Get A Balanced Expat Life ?

Do international workers really live a more stressful life today compared to the 20th Century ?

I think expat families are under higher pressure to perform than 10 or 20 years ago just because they cost 3 to 4 times more than locals in case of expat executives. In appearance at least, the should enjoy their new job, the following  spouse and kids must be happy because they stay connected with friends and family more easily than before thanks to the new mobile technologies.

However not acknowledging your true emotions and feelings such as fear, loneliness, guilt, sadness, pressure or  stress (positive or negative) can lead to international assignment failures, premature returns and various chronic diseases.

Which personality are you ?

1: Very active, feeling good when you agenda is full  of activities, self-confident, assertive, very proud of your achievements in life. You don’t worry too much about the future, want to show that you are successful  because you can control your life.

2-Anxious by nature, you want to control everything and get easily upset if things are not working the way you planned. You are worrying about the future very often and like to think about all the nice things you will do  next year or in 10 years after you retire, when kids will leave the house, or when you are back from your last international assignment.

3-An adept of the “letting go”, living in the here and now, taking time to discover and enjoy each moment of your life. Sometimes you look back at your past to search inspiration about solving today’s problems. People say about you that you are introvert, shy and getting easily emotional.

These are stereotypes and there are no good or bad personalities but you can identify the type of person you truly are, the one  you want people to see and the one you idealize or would like to change to.

“Letting Go” has become a ‘buzz word” and is synonym of cooling down or being “Zen”

On the contrary, having “Zest” in your life means you enjoy the excitement of discovering new cultures, new career, meeting new people and feeling truly alive when you are re-inventing your life every time you move abroad.

Identifying your true  needs and manage your expectations.

It is easy to stay on automatic pilot and follow the flow without thinking what is really good for you and your family. Perhaps 10 years ago when your children were still at home you wanted to spend more time with them but now that they study in college you may want to do something else, something more meaningful for you.

When a new year starts, many people feel obliged to start new resolutions like quitting smoking or drinking, being more relaxed or losing weight, being less stressed at work etc. A lot of them run to the gym, hire a sport coach or subscribe to a weight-loss  program  or attend a leadership training, but even if you are very motivated if your new resolutions are not the true goals you really want intrinsically, then you have few chances to reach your targets before the next year starts.

If you want to use a coach don’t hurry be ” Zen” . If a coach  pushes you, gives you quick tips to reach your goals  then it is probably not the coach you need for lasting results. Once you have reflected on what you want, you can add the necessary adrenalin or “Zest” you need to perform at the level that is not too challenging for you but not too boring as well.

Then you have found the right balance between Zest and Zen !

3 Steps To Reduce Relocation Stress

[tweetmeme source=”AnneEgros]

No matter how long you have been  living abroad or how many times you moved, you can expect a lot of stress each time you are heading to a new destination even in your own country.

How you respond to stress depends on your past experiences and  on your immediate  perception of  threat or danger. Stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol speed the heart rate, slow digestion, shunt blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other body functions.

Is it  possible to reduce the relocation stress by planning ahead and learning what to expect when you arrive in your new “home”. Learn to relax with various stress management techniques. You can make lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stress in the first place.

1-Take good care of your health :

  • Eat well,  Even when you are in transition, increase your intake of fruits and vegetable, use apples rather than highly refined junk food. Do not skip breakfast. Exercise: no time ? try to avoid using your car whenever possible, just 30 minutes per day of walking or using stairs is already beneficial for your health.
  • Sleep Enough, know what is the right number of hours you need usually between  6 and 8 hours and try to go to bed before 11pm, the quality of the sleep is better.
  • Use  stress-relief techniques : I share what works for me: breathing, meditation, essential oils, yoga, healing and new age music, hot shower a short 20 minute nap after lunch.

2-Handling the packing and unpacking softly: Before each move I always say to myself that I have to sort the junk, donate to charity or shred tons of old papers and each time I cannot choose what to keep and what to put in the garbage can. As a result, we have more and more junk stuff and unopened boxes.  When we moved from Tokyo to  Atlanta we hired Kim Cossette, a Certified Professional Organizer owner  at  http://theorganizedapproach.com/ . The work she did with her team really helped relieved a lot of stress.  We used her talent for packing from Atlanta to Brussels and she helped me sort my stuff as a result “less junk more funk” . I am not aware of any professional organizers in Europe, but try to enroll your best friends to help sorting things as soon as you know you will leave.

3-School and house hunting: These two are really difficult, especially if you are a serial expat.

For small children before primary schools it is not a real problem you can check locally with other moms.  From grade one it is challenging to keep consistency with the language and teaching method. In the US and in France, you cannot put your kids in a public  school if you don’t live in the school district. For private international schools you need to send application very early, usually March or April. Send to more than one. So my recommendation is to  look for the school first and select the house after. You can ask questions to people who are living there  by searching the internet for various support groups. For the house check the distance and traffic jam during weekdays for the trips to the school and to work.

I will add a last tip: be gentle on yourself,  expect  to have a messy house for at least 6 months to one year so making friends is your priority #1

Want to be an Expat ?

How Is Expatriate ROI Defined In Global Companies ?

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Because of the financial crisis, the C-suite executives’ salary, benefits and advantages have been on intense scrutiny lately.  For expatriate executives, the costs can be three to four times the costs of local employees.

From a HRM point of view it might be tempting to cut the expatriate’s benefits and hire local talent which might not be possible for some senior executive positions such as country managers in China, Brazil or Russia.

In fact more and more global companies are sending expatriates not only to share knowledge but also to build global teams with local understandings of market constraints or regulations to define competitive global and local strategies.

When the corporate culture is very strong like for Coca Cola, L’Oreal or GE,  it is important to have expatriates moving every 3 to 5 years with some returns to the HQs’ home in between for developing “third cultures”. ” Third cultures” means people who think and act “glocally” and share strong corporate values.

Even if more and more people work in  a “virtual” environment, the physical presence of a human is necessary to build such “third culture teams”. If you are familiar with expatiate topics then you know that it is the same for children of expatriates who are called the “Third Culture Kids” or TCKs.

Many HRM in global companies want  to measure the return on investment (ROI) from expatriates to define global HRM practices and measure performance. However they might be a disconnection with business managers who do not see the value of such indicator.

ROI can be defined as “value the employee brings”/ total costs (direct and indirect)

If costs are relatively easy do determine, value can be short-term or long-term and a part of it is subjective such as the impact of the executive ‘s network. and his/her personal reputation.

Yvonne McNulty from Department of Management, School of Business and Economics of
Monash University conducted in-depth interviews with 50 mobility managers in global firms over a 2-year period from 2004 to 2006.  I highlighted her main findings but you can find the full report at the end of this article.

Our findings suggest that firms do not have formal procedures in place to measure expatriate ROI and instead rely heavily on informal practices that are seldom aligned to a global strategy

This is not really surprising because of the diversity of expatriates profiles, roles and impacts on the entire organization vary greatly from one individual to another and change with countries.

International assignments are considered a necessary cost of doing business for global firms, how expatriates are managed in terms of the HR practices that support their activities and how the outcomes of those activities impact broader firm performance may be important concerns

Even if it is important for HRM to have standards and guidelines, if a company wants to attract global talent willing to relocate and make sacrifices both from family, spouse and career points of view, flexibility is required and even today with 10% unemployment rate in the USA it is still hard to find good executives willing to become expatriates.

Based on evidence that the nature of expatriation is rapidly changing, we conclude that expatriate ROI remains a challenging and complex process that managers in global firms are currently not well-equipped to address

Reference: http://www.thetrailingspouse.com/docs/Industry_Report_May_2010.pdf

Breakfast Seminar for HR Professionals October 5, 2010

Leo Verhoeven- Christine Van den Berghe- Karine Vandenplas

Kindly invite you to our free

Breakfast Seminar for HR Professionals

October 5, 2010-Brussels, Belgium

Expats and family—Coaching for a successful expatriation-Anne Egros

What does it take to be a succesful expatriate ?  How a company and its employee can maximize the benefits of an expatriation? With this aim in mind, we will guide you during this session through a number of supporting processes, such as expat coaching, spouse employment and managing intercultural differences.

Social Networking– Charlie Crouch

We have all heard about using social media for sharing with friends and family.  But what about your professional life ?  Can social media help you advance your career in these challenging times ?  Is using social media dangerous, will it prove embarrassing or worse ?  Isn’t social media just for young people ?

Master of Ceremonies:  Dirk Haesevoets, The House of Trust

How to register for the seminar :

You can register until September 16, 2010 via events@ackroyd.be

Note that the number of participants is limited.

Date : October 5, 2010 from 8:00 to 10:00

Location : KBC, Grote Markt 18, 1000 Brussels.

Free breakfast.

After registration you will receive a confirmation with plan for directions to the location-Parking will be available.

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