Tag Archives: International Assignments

Global Leadership: Fitting in, without giving in

Adapting your leadership style to a different cultural setting can be tough, especially when the new setting demands a style different from how you would normally and comfortably behave at home. So how do you adapt your leadership behavior across cultures without losing yourself in the process?

Great article: Source: di.dk

It is not always wise to follow the advice : “In Rome do like Romans do ” because you are not a Roman and therefore the expectations people have about you are conditioned by their own bias and stereotypes and what they think about your culture.

Global dexterity is the capacity to adapt your behavior, when necessary, in a foreign cultural environment to accommodate new and different expectations that vary from those of your native cultural setting.

Watch also the interview of Andy Molinsky, Author of “Global Dexterity” :https://hbr.org/video/2363497345001/reaching-across-cultures-without-losing-yourself

See on Scoop.itGlobal Leaders

10 Tips For Expat Executives and Their Families Returning Home


It is not a secret, It is very hard for expatriates, especially successful ones, to go back “home”.  I already described the emotional phases and grieving process most expat families experience when they return to their home country: Expat Life: Returning Home and the Grief Cycle

Here 10 tips on how to make your transition process as smooth as possible for you , your spouse and your children:

1. Reinforce that family core beliefs, values and principles are not built on geographic location and will be the same even if you your family members feel they became different persons after their experience abroad.

2. Don’t deny the pain of leaving and acknowledge emotions, understand that your spouse or your children might not have the same feelings than you about the move: they left friends behind, unfinished business, a mix of excitement and sadness, loss of routines and support systems, loss of self-esteem. Communicate often and give time to mourn.

3. Once back “home”, avoid speaking about your overseas experience : nobody cares and you can even get hostile responses to what is perceived  as “showing off” and bragging. This is true for adults and children when they meet with extended family members, people at work and other kids at school.

4. Meet other ex-expats families not only for you and your spouse but often third culture kids need to meet other children who share same expat experience regardless in which countries they lived.

5. Expatriation changed the way you think and behave, expect others to have changed too. Be open-minded and curious about their experiences.

6. Recognize that you need new routines and a new support network.

7. Balance family time, work time and respect individual needs. Each family member copes with transition at their own pace and need some space and time alone too.

8. Make an effort to reconnect with people in your organisation. You may have extended your international professional network while living abroad but try to meet more people locally, ask questions, look for people who share same interests. Network as if it would be a new country, especially if you have been expatriated for a long time.

9. Recognize that your interests and professional career changed  and will not necessarily evolve in the direction you thought before the expatriation. Find a good mentor or an executive coach to help you redefine your new career vision and goals and a solid action plan to reach your objectives. With a coach it is much easier to get motivated, keep looking forward, move on, be accountable and open your vision to new possibilities.

10. Focus more on the present, accept your new role, enjoy the positive of your new situation. Stop longing for the past.

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/

How To Select A School Before Moving Abroad ?

In my previous article “How To Meet People You Don’t Know” I was talking how to overcome your  fears about networking with strangers and strategies to meet new friends in general.

In this article, I would like to be more specific and give some tips on meeting people before you move abroad focusing on getting information about schools . In many cases expats don’t have time to visit the schools physically, so my message to new expats is:  educate yourself as much as possible before putting your destiny in the hands of relocation companies or real estate agents who do not necessarily understand what is best for you as a foreigner.

If you Google : Living in or  moving to your “destination” you will get tons of general information from history, population, climate, visas, school systems, real estate, studying  and so on which is great but easily overwhelming and sometimes very subjective.

I know the feeling : you have everything you need right in front of you on the internet but you don’t know what fits YOUR NEEDS !  So you want to talk to real people and make personal contacts living in the places of your choice.

How To Choose A Place To Live  With Children? Searching criteria about schools and neighborhoods that match your needs  is the first thing you will need.

Here  some questions you may ask yourself:

  • Do you want a public or a private school ?
  • Looking for International Baccalaureate programs PYP, MYP or IB  ?Those programs are recognized around the world and ensure adaptability and mobility for IB students.
  • Are you looking for a competitive or caring environment?
  • Do you have kids with learning disability or ADHD ?
  • Is the ratio student teacher important for you? for example in France 30 kids for 1 teacher is the norm
  • What about the languages ?
  • Do you want a religious school ?
  • Do you need extended day care if you work ?
  • Can you find your  children’s favorite sports and  after-school activities nearby ?
  • Do you need school bus?
  • What is the maximum time you want to spend on commute ?
  • Do you need public transportation?
  • How close is the nearest International airport?
  • How long do you plan to stay ?
  • Do you want to buy or rent a house or apartment?
  • What is the  average home sale prices ? Even if you don’t buy you will pay local taxes and living in a $1 million  average sale district will cost you more than a 400,00 but may have better schools.
  • How much are the local taxes ?

Before contacting anybody I suggest you put everything that you want and  that you don’t want  as well as an “I don’t know” in specific  lists.

Even if you want your children in private international schools, learn about the public school systems as in most cases your address will determine which schools you can go . This is the case in France and US for example. It is wise to live in a sector that has best rating public schools in case you need to become locals and cannot afford the high fee of an international school. On top of that, you want your kids to play with local kids and make sure you have a nice environment that suits your lifestyle

Once you have located the school districts look at homes that you can afford and are available for rent or to buy so you have your list ready to contact people living in the towns you think are a good fit for you.

You can get information directly from people living in your destination by posting questions on expat forums. I suggest you visit “expat expert” , Robin Pascoe’s website and look at her list of Links : http://www.expatexpert.com/ . Do not hesitate to engage  in personal conversations from people living in your target area who write a blog, post on Twitter, Facebook ,  Linkedin, Viadeo or Internations.org.

Here some information about school systems I have experimented with my son now in 3rd grade (CE2):

Schools In France: http://www.french-school-expat-guide.com

Schools In  Japan: Since most people who are first moving with family do not speak the local language, putting your child in a local Japanese school might not be possible. For young children however, if you cannot afford international schools and if you are working, I know a lot of  foreigners who put their children in local Japanese public daycare/preschools called  Hoikuen.  If you are students with kids, some universities have on campus nursery schools. You also need to check the enrollment procedures in your district(Ward). For older kids starting elementary schools and above,  you might check with your embassy resources about education.

Schools and neighborhoods in the USA: It is amazing how much information is available as free public statistics: you can compare schools and towns based on People, Cost of Living, Economy, Ethnicity, Housing, Health, Crime, Climate,
Education, Transportation, Religion, Voting etc.

Compare places to live:

How To Deal With Emotional Eating While In Transition?


I am not talking about the  few pounds or kilos you usually gain after overeating for one or two feast meals at Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

"Emotional eating junk food"

What I am talking about is a long-term approach to both weight gain and weight loss that many people struggle with during major transitions in response to stress and negative emotions. When people are stressed, their brain send wrong signals to their body and they are looking  at food, especially highly refined, sugary and fatty junk food, to stimulate the pleasure center and calm them down.

No diet, no exercise program, no surgery will relieve you of your addiction to food. Why?  Because they do not address the profound reasons for your bad eating habits.

For many expatriates there are many obvious and not so obvious reasons to compensate negative emotions with junk  food or overeating:

  1. Moving every 2 to 5 years
  2. Stress of packing and unpacking stuff,
  3. Not able to cook healthy food in your own kitchen while  in transit
  4. No time for exercising
  5. Cross-cultural issues
  6. Being isolated and  bored alone at home
  7. Being pregnant and having a baby abroad
  8. Working spouse travelling much more than previous situation
  9. Chaos and unstructured environment
  10. Loss of  support network of fiends and family or colleagues
  11. Frustration, anger and resentment of not liking your new environment
  12. Loss of status
  13. Poor self-esteem
  14. Feeling insecure
  15. No access to health care and therapists in your own language

The more you eat and gain weight the more frustrated you get and the more you eat. This is a vicious circle that becomes a habit. The first year of an expatriation you recognize that the 10 pounds or 6 kilos you gained are related to few or all of  the reasons listed above and once you are ready,  you know you can get read of the extra weight by having a healthier diet and resume your physical activities. This is fine except that having your weight up and down like a yo-yo can trigger more serious health problems such as diabetes , hypertension and heart attacks if it becomes a habit. In addition as you get older it becomes more difficult to lose this extra weight.

Of course this is not an issue for expatriates only,  most overweight and obese people experience the same negative emotional eating pattern. The problem when you are living abroad is the lack of appropriate care and specific support because of cultural barriers or a drastic change in  lifestyle.

Here some tips :

1-  Look for professional help such as cognitive therapy to change your response to stress and negative emotions : Robin Pascoe has written a very good article about : Finding a therapist while living abroad.

2-If boredom is the reason for overeating, think about a project you always wanted to do or something you wanted to learn but you never had time for:  ask people who share same interests to help you find the resources. If you don’t understand the local language look for local publications in English, networking and support groups in English

3-Volunteer at school, be involved in your local community, teach your language or other things you are good at. Giving without expecting anything in return and helping others usually trigger the production of pleasure hormones in your brain so you are less tempted to eat to get the same good feeling.

4-Exercising is good but try to find outdoor physical activities with possibilities to socialize by joining a group such a walking, hiking, biking or even visiting local attractions. I love doing aerobic or dance classes but usually people don’t really have time to socialize at the gym.

5-Be kind to yourself : accept emotional eating as a legitimate coping choice and tolerate some craving. Organize regularly a dinner or a lunch with your spouse or friends and eat what you like. Get back on track the next couple of days by eating fish, lean meats and vegetables, do one more hour of exercise  during the week.

6-Do not multi-task while eating: Make a conscious choice of what you are eating sit down and concentrate on eating only. Eat slowly, pause often, use small plates.

3 Steps To Reduce Relocation Stress

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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

Developing Global Executives: Failure Is Not An Option

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How do you define expatriate failure ? What are the main causes ? How do you select your candidates for expatriation ? Do your expatriate  talent going over to the competition? What types of  training and support are the most useful ?


With globalization, companies are required to manage an increasingly diverse workforce with expatriation being just a subset of this challenge. With increasing GDP-figures, a growing number of expatriates are sought to fill managerial positions in developing economies. Within BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), China has become the world’s second biggest economy before Japan with a growth rate of 9.8%.

“There is just not enough talent to go around for the foreseeable future, so emerging markets will take talent from developed economies”said Peter Felix, president of the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC)-Stephenie Overman (SHRM  2010)

Compared to USA and Europe, the BRICs  are recovering much quicker but despite a younger and bigger populations, they face great shortage of talent especially at executive and senior management levels. Despite the increased demand for executive expatiates employment, still many companies do not know how to define and prevent expatriate failure. The direct financial costs of failed expatriates are associated with relocation, compensation, executive search and retraining of the replacement. The indirect costs are the most damaging and include loss of  market share and business opportunities, bad corporate image, high employee turnover and reduced productivity.

What are the major reasons for expatriate failure ?

1- Wrong candidate selection process

2-Poor job satisfaction including relationships with coworkers and disconnection from the company’s head offices.

3- Ethnocentric Global HR  Management: The organization thinks that the way of doing things in the home country is the best way, no matter where business is done.

4-Family issues including health care, children education and work-life balance, failure to recognize specific support to enhance local  job and family satisfaction

5-Spouse isolation,  career loss

Preparing the employees and their families for a foreign assignment is mutually beneficial to the organization and the employee. Many corporations still focus on the technical competencies required in the international assignment and overlook the significance of cross-cultural knowledge and the important function that the expatriate’s family plays.

What are the  top traits shared by  successful expatriates

 1-Happy, supportive  trailing spouse and family

2-Flexibility and adaptability

3-Creativity, open mind and complex problem solving skills

4-Great interpersonal and intercultural communication skills

5-Constantly developing a strong professional and social network with colleagues,  external peers and partners (in person, on the phone, online)

Financial incentives are not considered as a key success factor by most executives but generally “happiness” and a rewarding personal and  fruitful professional experiences with other cultures are intrinsically rewarding.

What types of  training and support are the most useful ?

 1-Cross-Cultural Trainings

Before expatriation, cultural preparation should include an explanation of what  is” culture shock”, learning about the host country’ history, main cultural traits, customs, and etiquette. In many cases learning the local languages help the family both at work and in life. The pre-assignment package should also include job search support for the trailing spouse if this is an issue, including help to get a working visa.  It is important that the executives and their families focus on discovering the positive aspects of their host country and learn to avoid comparing  things that are better in their home country. 

The executive and family need to assimilate  the local culture as much as possible to be happy and successful but the family should also be connected with other expatriates. Expatriate families need to network with other expat communities because in most cases “locals” have great difficulties to understand the challenges faced by international assignees, especially the trailing spouses.

For me becoming pregnant in Japan and giving birth in the USA was the most stressful events  in my expat life together with staying four weeks  in a Japanese hospital for surgery. In both cases I received most support from my French expat  friends.

2-Expatriate Career Management

Most expatriate executives come from the company’s home country. Before accepting a foreign assignment, an executive should ask questions regarding future career plans with the company. Although expatriation can increase the executive value in global organizations, it can also lead to a dead-end career.  Going abroad requires that people strategically manage their career by making sure to be visible from the head office. Assigning a mentor in the head office might be a good idea as well as executive coaching before the repatriation.  Career and personal coaching  can also be offered to the following spouses to support them in the repatriation process that can sometimes be harder than the expatriation phase See previous post : Expat Life: Returning Home and the Grief Cycle “


 It is critical that there is clear agreement and understanding between the assignee and management as to why the assignee is going, what the definition of a successful assignment is, and how this will be measured,” says Scott Sullivan, senior vice-president at GMAC Global Relocation Services, Inc.

3-Networking skills and social media training

It can be useful to offer trainings on networking skills with cultural sensitivity both off-line and online. The company should have a  social media policy and code of conduct on the internet  for employees and their families worldwide. Imagine the damages that can cause an angry and  frustrated trailing spouses venting on Facebook or Twitter? Trainings on how to use main platforms such as Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter to increase the chance of meeting in person both  locals and other expatriates  are not expensive and most great advises are available for free on forums or online seminars, what company have to do is hiring a social media coach like George KAO


A happy family  contributes a lot in the success of an expatriation.

Avoid one size fits all training programs

It might be useful to conduct an assessment for selecting an ideal profile for the job abroad and check the candidates natural behavior, strengths and weaknesses to see if there is a match and which skills need to be  developed. Check that the family and the spouse are also aware of the pros and cons of the expatriation. If possible allow the following spouse to make a trip in the host country before the decision is made.

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