Tag Archives: relocation

How To Move On After Moving In ?

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

Any move to a new home, either next door, next state or across continents is a “moving” experience in more than one way.

No matter how often you changed residence before, moving brings a variety of emotions. I have been moving 12 times and still no matter what, I experience the same emotional pattern starting from excitement about discovering new places, new friends, new school and neighbors to discouragement when you start being frustrated that after about three months you still have cartons non-open, you start to lose confidence in your ability to start a new life, find a best friend, re-start a business and fit in your new community.

The good news is that in most families the new experience usually brings member closer as they cannot rely on external support yet. However when the trailing spouse realizes how hard it is to lose a career, a purpose and  trade a glamorous status for SAHMs or SAHDs things get more complicated. Children often mirror their parents’ emotional status so if the couple is happy, usually kids are fine too.

In his book “The First 90 Days”,  Michael Watkins explains that you basically have three months to take visible actions that have immediate results so people turn from skeptical observers to enthusiast supporters. This may work in corporations, but 90 days for expats or new comers are really nothing. You cannot re-build a life, a social network and a safety net in such short time. High achievers are more likely than others to suffer from too much pressure and stress they put on themselves to prove they are highly adaptable.

There is also an element of grief. No matter how eager you are to move, there will be places, things, and people you will miss.  Many family members experience emotional ups and downs.

Moving is a challenging and difficult experience for a family, especially for children. It is natural, therefore, for parents to be concerned about the effect of the move. When faced with a move, it is important to remember that reactions from children will vary depending on their personality and developmental age. The personality of the child is important because it influences the time a child may take to adjust to the move. Some children are naturally outgoing and will be able to make friends immediately while some other children may take months.

To summarize in a nutshell the concept of “moving on” after “moving in” follow these three steps:

1-Recognize you need time to adjust and that the speed of adaptation varies greatly depending on the age, the status and the personality of the family members

2-Acknowledge any loss you had by leaving your previous home but consciously decide to look to the positive aspects of your new situation and what you can gain by discovering your new place and avoid comparing “before ” and “after” the move.

3-Use the transition period to clarify your values, your vision and purpose in life. Think out of the box and have a personal project that brings you joy and happiness such as going back to school, volunteering, starting a business or improve your fitness level, Choose something specific that is aligned with your values,  who you truly are and what you really enjoy to do, do not chose a project because you have to. Find partners and friends to help find resources and keep your motivation high.

5 Most Critical Questions You Should Ask Before Moving Abroad

Here Five  questions you have to ask before saying yes to expatriation:

Q #1:  What are my personal motives?: Most people think that by accepting an international position they will get a short cut to the top of the corporate ladder: Wrong! Nowadays, very few companies have long-term talent management especially for expatriates: “out of sight , out of mind”. So you should collect as many data as you can and weight the pros and cons on all aspects of your life: career, financial,quality of life, opportunities to travel and learn new languages/cultures, spouse ‘s job options, children education etc. Be prepared to make your final decision without knowing everything and choose the expatriation adventure based on your intuition.

Q #2-: Should I plan my repatriation before leaving ? This seems obvious but it depends on your character, you age, the economy and family situation. For example my husband and I never really thought about the “what’s next” before jumping into expatriation opportunities as long as I could have an international career too. So for 20 years we kept moving back and forth between Japan (three times, three companies for a total of almost 10 years) and the US ( Three times for a total of 6 year) with few European countries in between with an average of 3 years for each job. If you’re lucky and your company do have a talent management program for their expatriates then  it is wise to discuss with your boss about his expectations and options you have after the expatriation and keep frequent contacts with the people you are leaving behind. It is important to notice that once you start getting some expertise in specific cultures then you get more opportunities in those countries.

Q #3- How much money should I save ? When you are 25 you don’t necessarily think about how much money you will need at different stages of your life, yet your early choices make a huge difference. For example children education can cost a fortune like in the US Universities. For your pension plan, how much will you get when you retire? Usually it depends on both the state pension plan and the private ones. In most European countries there is a legal age for retirement depending on how many years you  and your employers have paid the social security taxes. For example in France the legal age has just been changed from 60 year old to 62 year old.  Usually you cannot get your private pension if you are not legally retired. When you are  hired as a local and you did not pay from your own pocket the social taxes in your country then you cannot get your pension there. So be sure to check that point especially if you are the “trailing spouse” you are very likely to be hired locally.

Q #4- Should I buy or should I rent? If the company is paying the housing, then it is a no-brainer especially in cities like Tokyo , New York or London to name a few of the most expensive cities in the world. If you don’t have a housing allowance you have to consider various factors: If you know you will leave after 3-4 years usually buying is not an option. If you use the public school system you might consider buying even for a short stay to be able for your children to go to the schools of your choice and avoid the risk that the owner sell the house and put you out, this might be the case in the US for example.

Q#5: What are my options for health care ? The system you are in will depend on your employer. Usually most multinational companies have a private insurance that cover almost 100% of the costs except few exceptions. If you have chronic and expensive health problem  and move to the US for example then some managed  care plans  will refuse to take you. In Europe you should be able to get access to social security health care but you should ask your company for complementary private insurance especially for glasses, prosthetic dental work and other procedures. Ask if you have an emergency repatriation plan in case you could not be treated locally.

I just gave some ideas of the complexity of preparing an expatriation. For the first question you can gather a lot of information through forums, magazines, social networks, blogs etc. You can hire an expat coach to clarify your motivation and help you and your family make the most informed decision that is right for you.

For the other questions you should consult your embassies or consulates in you target countries, get everything on a written agreement by your company’s HR  department. Don’t forget to ask if relocation services are provided as it is usually helpful to deal with all the various local  regulations and laws as well as practical details like movers, utilities. other important questions to ask is : does your company provide language training for you and your spouse, expat coaching sessions or pay for international school fees.

For other tips and question about living abroad, check this book launched by Andrea Martins, the http://expatwomen.com founder director and book author of “Expat Women: Confessions-50 Questions to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad”

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/

Expat Life: Finding Home Abroad

Greater Tokyo Area is the world's most populou...

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My definition of a home as an expatriate includes: the architecture, the layout, the light and energy vibes of the house, the neighborhood with its schools , the sport facilities. the shopping, the recreation zones, restaurants, support groups and communities, possibility to work as a spouse, public transportation, commutation time.

Choosing the right home is a crucial piece in the success of an expatriation, yet most of the time expats learn at the last-minute they will relocate to another place, usually they only have one week maybe two to find a home with a relocation company hired by the company. If the new country is too far, like Japan from France, it is rare to have a pre-visit paid by the company so expats usually stay in a business hotel or furnished apartment until they find a suitable home.

All my expat life (20+years) I have followed that pattern every three years on average. Of course the definition of my home changed along the years starting as a young student couple followed by an international double career with no kid (or DINKs), then we became a family of three with my son and I quit the corporate ladder for becoming an entrepreneur  while my husband is still climbing at it.

I am going to share some of my experiences about what it means to make “home” abroad for me.

In Japan we have lived in 4 houses at different periods of our lives between 1990 and 2006. Our first expatriation to Japan was in 1990-1991, we were post-Doc students and around 25-year-old. We were outside the “yamanote line” ( the train line in a circle that marks the limits of the center of Tokyo), in a small town called Oimachi. We had a pretty new apartment but with a traditional Japanese room with new tatami mats and futons(beddings used at night but put in closets during the day to make a living room). I still remember the smell of rice straw and reeds,  the natural and biodegradable materials that make a tatami.

At that time outside the Yamanote line no English or roman letters were used in the trains or in stores, so we learned survival Japanese pretty fast as it was not an expat area or even a place for international college students. I fall in love with Japan and this tatami smell is part of what made me at home in Japan. This first experience had a tremendous impact on the choices of our other homes in Japan.

Because this first experience was linked with wonderful experiences both about the culture and the Japanese people, we always felt at home in all of our houses and apartments in Tokyo in very different neighborhood such as the vibrant Shibuya or the very calm Komazawa-Daigaku and Shirogane

What we experienced in the USA was very different but still what made me most at home were places where I had strong emotional bonds and feeling good with people around me.

In NYC we had a relatively “big” apartment for Manhattan (3 bedrooms) on 38th street an 1st Avenue. with a tiny kitchen with no table or sun light. It was very noisy all day and night long with car horns, police and ambulance sirens. The fruits and veggies were not very fresh compared to Japan and more expensive. Yet I adored NYC ! I could walk like in Tokyo, no need for car, I was feeling free, arriving in July 2001 expecting my son to be born 1st week of October. I was just enjoying the relocation process without the usual rush to be settled quickly. For some women having a baby makes them seeing everything in pink and I was one of them and even if our apartment was far from being the ideal home, it was my home and I liked it. My baby was delivered in the NYU hospital with great doctors and nurses although it was only 12 days after 9/11. I was blessed to become a mom as that time and felt strongly connected with New Yorkers and other people during this dramatic event.

The second time that we came back to the USA was in Atlanta. At first I hated this place that was not a real city for me where you have to take your car for everything: drive in pharmacy, drive in Starbucks and Mac Donald. It was the first time I did not have time to explore and do my homework to find a house and I regretted it. It was a true culture shock as I thought I already knew how to live in America because I spent 3 years in NYC. I did not like the house I chose although I had one week to find  it with a relocation agent. I did not feel safe in this house because I had a wooden backyard, and my husband was travelling often. The heating system broke in the winter and we could not find a good handyman to fix some other stuff that were not working. I look at my new house in Atlanta with all negative filters, it was a big one but with an empty heart !

Hopefully we had a happy end like in most American movies. After 6 months, we moved to a small community of 30 houses with very nice people in Buckhead and I really loved it. It felt home because it was only 15 min drive to the school, the sport club, 5 minutes to shopping mall. I had time to make friends at the International school and I started studying how to become a professional coach and registered my coaching business Zest and Zen International there  and  got some clients before moving to Brussels.

Reference: At Home Abroad:How Design and Architecture Influence Overseas Living: http://www.interchangeinstitute.org/files/At_Home_Abroad_final.pdf

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

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

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