Tag Archives: Expatriation

Where are you really from ? An Expat Perspective On Racism


Womanblackman

I found the question in this article very interesting:   Is It Racist to Ask People Where They’re From?
As an expat, I am asked all the time where are you really from ?  and I usually have different answers for different audiences. However to many expats, they don’t feel comfortable with this question especially if they have been living in a foreign country for quite a long time and interpret the question as obviously you are not from there, you are different.
After 25 years of expatriation, I still have some mixed feelings about this question but sometimes it is good to feel different and not from “here”.  Being a French in France is actually harder for me than living abroad, I don’t know anything about popular TV shows or the secret lives of French politicians and I have often a very different view on sensitive questions as I am living on the “other side”.
When I lived in Japan in the 90s I obviously did not look Japanese and I have been asked frequently where I was from, but at that time, being French and saying I was from Paris, were magic words and I was very well treated both at work and with perfect strangers in the streets. I was kind of “exotic” there. However Caucasians were better treated than non-Japanese Asians, especially Chinese, Koreans or Filipinos.
In the US, when I lived in New York City and 8 months pregnant, strangers were giving me a “god bless you” very often, then we had the 9/11 dramatic events and my son was born 12 days later. However I got unpleasant remarks when I said I was French because at that time the French president and the government refused to send troops to Baghdad as if I had anything to do with this decision.
Altogether I had a very positive experience in NYC. I also lived in Atlanta and we were very well-integrated partly because of my son being at the Atlanta International School but generally speaking, Atlanta is a very international city. However I was shocked to see that nothing really changed since Martin Luther King Jr, I saw a lot of segregation between African-Americans and White Americans. Each community including Latin American people had their own neighborhood with very strict boundaries. I then realized that America was far from being a melting pot !
Then we spent one year in New Jersey and it was painful to have in the neighborhood listing “the French” instead of our family name.
Now we live in Russia, I don’t have any specific problems with racism, the “where are you from? ” is still there since my Russian is pretty basic but unlike the stereotypes, I find Russians very courteous with men giving their seats to women in the Metro for example. But here again even for wealthy expatriates,  it is better to be a Caucasian than having a dark skin color.

How do you feel about being asked : where are you really from ?

Related Article:  Encountering racism abroad — or why I sometimes wish I was white

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

The 5 Biggest Lies About Expats


ExpatMoving

It is amazing how much pressure is put on expats to comply to a certain image of the “ideal expat”.

The perfect expat does not exist and most recommendations I read on specialized blogs on how to become one are just lies !

Expats are ordinary people and accept or choose to live and work abroad for a multiple of reasons that are not good or bad. It is their lives, their choices and sometimes their mistakes when they face challenges they can’t overcome but I think no one should judge them and certainly not other expats.

In 20+ years of expatriation I have met plenty of expatriates of all kinds, some for short assignments of 2 to 3 years, others who got married and followed their spouse in their country and stayed there forever, students, executives, diplomats, adventurers, artists, stay at home moms or dads, career women, trailing spouses, TCKs etc. and they all had their own ways to deal with expatriation. Some fall in love with their new location and had a blast other hated it every single day but the majority had good and bad days just like ordinary people.

It is true that successful expats share some skills regardless of where they live, their age or social status but I don’t believe there is such thing as expat DNA implying that you are born with some innate abilities to live abroad and that you just need to follow the perfect expat model to enjoy your expat experience.

It is like asking the famous question : are leaders born or made ? My answer to this one is always “both”. You may have certain innate qualities such as emotional intelligence, curiosity, or being a good listener but you also need to experiment and make your own mistakes to learn what is the best communication or leadership style to apply when you face various situations.

Here my list of what I think are the biggest lies about expats and misleading advises on what you should or shouldn’t do while living abroad:

Lie #1: Expats are lucky managers sent by multinational companies, they have huge benefits and salary compared to locals. It may be still true in certain countries but we see more and more companies sending managers abroad with minimum relocation packages or applying local job market benefits (localized expats). People are also moving by themselves abroad to find a job without relocation support from a company. Most expatriates who find jobs abroad have usually unique qualifications or intercultural intelligence that make them in high demand in certain industries or countries. Nothing about luck here, you have to compete hard to get those jobs or go where others don’t want to.

Lie #2: Expats, especially accompanying partners, live a glamorous life, complain all the time and should live like “locals”. This one implies that “locals” are all the same and in majority less fortunate than the expats. Well, I am not sure who are the “typical local people” ? Lets take countries such as Russia for example: like most recently emerged economies, they have extremely rich people, many are young multimillionaire entrepreneurs and a relatively small middle class of young people too, concentrated in big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. The rest of the population is living in poor rural or industrial areas. Even if you are a very well paid expat you can’t even dream to have the same lifestyle of the so-called “oligarchs”. You certainly don’t want to drink as much Vodka as the average Russian men and I won’t recommend to try the local custom of bathing in icy rivers with an outside temperature of -25C .

In certain countries don’t play with your health by eating any kind of food or drinking tap water just to do like locals. I remember the story about expats in Africa getting serious diseases such as bilharzia because they did not want that local people carry them on their shoulders to cross rivers infested with bloodsucking worms.

In Dubai (UAE), March this year, a Norwegian woman was raped and jailed after reporting the crime to the local police. The case highlights the increasingly frequent tensions between the United Arab Emirates’ international atmosphere and its legal system according to Al Jazeera.

While I am a strong advocate for learning and complying as much as possible with local customs and social rules, I also encourage new comers to find a “mentor” who is either another expat or someone with extensive international experience because someone who never lived abroad or not culturally close to you don’t understand your challenges as an expat family. Even some long-term expats blame freshly arrived ones for not blending enough with people from their host country. In the later case I suspect poor empathy and maybe some kind of jealousy.

Lie #3: Expats should not seek the company of other expats, to have a successful expatriation. This injunction is directly the consequence of Lie #2. When you live in your own country nobody tells you that you spend too much time with like-minded people who share your interests, hobbies or lifestyle, so why expats should not have friends among other expats ? Maybe some scientists have evidences that link the number of expat friends with expat failure rate ? Should we apply a quota system like no more than 20% expat friends ? Here again I am advocating for the expat “trailing spouses” who usually are perceived as the ones who have all the responsibility regarding expat failures which is often the case. Unhappy partners are cause #1 for premature returns.

Not all expat families have the luxury to get an intensive language course and cultural awareness training before moving to their new country. So, to adapt quickly to a new location without too much unnecessary struggles, I recommend that you contact first thing first other expats living in your new home via local support groups or using social media. In 99.9% of the cases they will be more than happy to share their tips about neighborhoods, schools, doctors, public transportation etc. even before you say yes to moving abroad. You may even speed-up the process of meeting local friends among those who speak your language or love your original culture in such support groups.

Expats who volunteer to help new comers usually love the country and want to share mostly the good things about it but also inform them about risks such as the ones mentioned above.

Like everywhere you will meet negative people who are never happy and complain all the time but remember that you are free to be friend with whom ever you like.

Lie #4: Expats who don’t learn a foreign language are lazy and unable to adapt While learning the local language helps, it is not necessary a success factor. I know by experience that good communicators don’t use one channel and being fluent in a language does not imply you understand the culture. In addition with globalization more and more people speak English, at least in big cities.

If you can only learn few words and gestures of the local language because you don’t have enough time, don’t feel ashamed, be incredibly selfish for your sanity : find first emotionally and physically rewarding activities. For my personal balance beside working and taking care of my family, I spend my free time doing Zumba and socializing with my friends (foreign or local) rather than learning Russian intensively. As a result I may speak a broken Russian to survive but certainly be a much happier, relaxed spouse and mom.

Lie #5 Homesickness is not for serious expats This is probably the biggest lie. Almost everyone gets homesickness at some point or another. Some because they have left their aging parents behind or got frustrated not to find some specific products or fed up with the local weather or being treated as a stranger. Again, this is perfectly normal to feel homesickness even when you just move from New York to Atlanta. It is usually a cyclic pattern: you have nostalgia, want to go back home, you spend few weeks there and then you start missing your “new home” because the experience is not what you expected in your dreams. During those mini-repatriations you get a taste of what is called “reverse culture shock“: nobody is interested by your experience abroad, old friends, colleagues and family have strong opinions about the country you left and no matter what you say, they won’t change their views. At the end, you have reverse homesickness: You miss your foreign home and friends…a vicious circle, serial expats know well.

I maybe took extreme cases to illustrate my point against the “perfect expat”, but I hope I can help some expats who feel guilty and ashamed of not enjoying their “glamorous life”,  to talk about it without being afraid of being labelled as “ugly expat” and seek eventually professional support.

 

Should We Let Our Children Cry ?


Today is last day of school !

My son had pain and tears this morning, he said he will never see his friends again as we are moving  to another country this summer. He showed me the school yearbook and I saw many kind words from friends  like “thank you for being nice to me” and I know it was sincere.

Yesterday when I came back home, the kids in the street had written on the driveway with colored chalk: NICK Your Are Great, We Will  Miss You ! that brings tears to my eyes too.

So what should have said to my crying son  this morning  ?

At first I said he is going to have even more friends next year, but why should he believe me ? He already went to 4 different schools in 3 different countries and even worse he had pain NOW so why should he cares about the future ?

Then, I just hug him very strongly and told him that I understood his pain and that we are going to invite his best friends home today or tomorrow and have fun with water guns.

I am sure more tears will come but I think we should let our kids cry , it is a healthy emotional reaction and that is part of the transition process, especially for expats.

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 ?

Related articles

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:

Guess What Posts Were Most Read In 2011 ?


If you have a blog:

  1. What were your 11 most read posts in 2011 ? See table 
  2. Do you think those most read posts reflect your expertise or interests? I think I do 
  3. Do you write for your audience or for yourself first and then see what sticks ? Both
  4. Do you have a content strategy ? Yes but need more interactive content

Please share your own comments 

Here my top 11 Most Read Posts in 2011(click on the link to read the article)

5 Tips on How to Connect With People You Don’t Know (Part II)
Stay-At-Home Dads: A Recession Effect or Positive Choice?
Cross-Cultural Non Verbal Communication
Expat Life: Returning Home and the Grief Cycle
Social Media Usage Across Cultures
Desperate Ex-Career Expat Wives: Do Not Patronize Them!
Klout Score: Content Is Key !
How to Develop Cultural Intelligence? Intercultural Dimensions
What Leaders Can Learn From Japan’s Earthquake ?
How Is Expatriate ROI Defined In Global Companies ?
Does Raising Bilingual Children Make Them Smarter ?

Most Commented

Desperate Ex-Career Expat Wives: Do Not Patronize Them!
Lady Gaga: Are Leaders Born That Way ?
Klout Score: Content Is Key !
What Can We Learn About American Culture From Captain America ?
The Secret Powers of Time and Cultural Differences
3 Sure Ways To Never Be Happy
Resilience During Disasters: Are Expats Better Prepared ?
Is It The End Of Expat Executives ?
How to Manage Anger, It Can Be Very Positive And Incredibly Destructive
Do You Work Too Hard ? Some Cultural Perspectives
Social Media Usage Across Cultures                   

Why don’t you make a similar compilation in your blog and post the link here in the comment section? It is shameless promotion for your blog and we can cross-post feedback about the posts-thank you,

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