Tag Archives: cultural orientation

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

The Secret to Expat Success… And Why.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

 

 

I knew it. Finally, the insanity that is my expat life – and most of the website – has been vindicated, and it’s all thanks to Ellen Mahoney over at Sea Change Mentoring. She introduced me to the groundbreaking advice given by a tech start-up entrepreneur, as a recipe for global success and world domination…

 

Make your mistakes quickly

 

As a person whose family motto is “Disaster soon follows”, I have long been a proponent of this approach, with no idea that I was such thought leader. I had just assumed I was incompetent and (in a rare moment of self-acceptance) decided not to fight it. It’s a phrase that could be part of every expat mission statement, and should probably replace a lot of the well intentioned advice given in the all-too-brief briefing sessions; “learn the language”, “ get out and make friends” and my personal favorite “ join a gym”… Hmmm. Instead, the secret to expat success is familiar and effortlessly achievable – the global gaffe. And here’s why.

 

1. It reminds us that we will make mistakes.

In the assignment planning stage, it’s important to focus on the positive, but in doing so we often forget that expat life is still life. Mistakes happen, and when you are in an environment with unfamiliar language, culture, rules and expectations, they happen a lot. Making your mistakes quickly reminds us to expect – and even plan – for those mistakes. Whether that means working with a destination service provider or an expat coach, doing your own exhaustive research or simply being patient with yourself while you transition (or all of the above), it’s vital to acknowledge that perfection is impossible, and good enough is, well, good enough.

 

2. We focus on ‘right’ as a victory, rather than ‘wrong’ as a failure.

I once did a stint as a sales consultant and one of the job requirements was calling customers to set appointments. It was (and no doubt, still is) a miserable task –  you knew that your cheerful introduction could be greeted with anything from interest, to polite refusal, to a torrent of abuse and a dial tone. Thankfully, I was armed with a secret weapon; the company set targets for calls made, and let the actual results take care of themselves. So every call made was a relief – one less to do, one step closer to reaching the goal. Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable (and in the early days, we are more likely to get it wrong than get it right) is incredibly freeing. It gives us permission to focus on the actions and let the outcomes take care of themselves. It prepares us for failure, and when things do go right, we get to stop, acknowledge it for the triumph that it is, and celebrate.

 

 3. It gets you out there.

Having taken away the fear of failure, there’s nothing like the element of competition to spur us on. Experienced expats (i.e. those who have been comprehensive in their cock-ups) can entertain for hours with hilarious stories of endless mishaps, miscommunications or general disasters; just visit the bar at any FIGT conference and listen for the raucous laughter if you don’t believe me. It’s the expat version of the Olympic Decathlon, with extra points for speed, style and variety. All that’s missing is the opening ceremony, the national uniforms and the lycra. But don’t let us stop you…

 

4. It helps you to bond.

If there’s one thing that unites the expat world, it’s our inability to watch people struggle without feeling some serious empathy. It’s one of the unwritten laws of expat life; we’re all in this together, and in my mind, there is a special place in Hell for expats who don’t help each other. Putting yourself out there and making mistakes publicly transports us all back to our early days and disasters, and gives us something in common that transcends language, culture or belief. It reminds us that we are human, and we love you for it.

 

5. It makes you brave.

Fear of failure is crippling, and stops us doing so many things that would take ordinary life and make it extraordinary. By contrast, being forced into situations where mistakes are inevitable and accepting them as a mere part of life’s journey gives us the motivation to be creative, to take risks and to try new things constantly. We dream big, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we don’t go home. We learn that it hasn’t killed us, and we are really are stronger.

 

So there you have it – official permission to create chaos and have fun doing it. Providing of course, you follow our lead and share all your finer moments. Now we just need merit badges and an awards ceremony…

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.

Coping with Expat Homelessness – My Family in Global Transition.

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.It’s the latest expat dilemma in the Defining Moves household, and in answer to our newly homeless state, I’m moving in with my sister. She may be currently unaware of her impending fate, but I’m guessing that she will be the recipient of quite a few panicked phone calls to inform her within minutes of this post being published.

It’s been a tricky few weeks in our family life; a combination of relief/grief that our home (albeit not one we have lived in for the last 7 years) has finally sold. It’s the first home that the OH and I bought together, the one we spent 8 years of blood, sweat and tears (and near financial ruin) renovating, and is the place where Feisty entered the world, prophetically at high speed and interrupting a particularly good Royal Variety Performance.

It’s hosted Millennium parties, expat students, copious numbers of chickens and too many renovation weekend projects to count. Friends and family have been coerced into everything from installing septic tanks, tiling bathrooms and ripping up floorboards, regardless of ability, stage of pregnancy or copious quantities of small children. Ask most of my Facebook friends for their memories of the house and they will cite brambles, dust, chaos, dodgy alcohol, and hopefully, laughter.  But for the last eight years, it’s been rented by a number of tenants ranging from the delightful to the dire, and is beginning to show the strain.

Throughout our expat travels, it’s what we have always called home, so ten days to pack up a household and fifteen years of memories, friendships and roots were all too short. We saw so many friends that we have missed, and missed seeing too many more. All the while, we worried that we would lose our roots, our stability, and our sense of home.

But a funny thing happened as we drove away, en route to my sister’s house. As the house disappeared from the rear view mirror, we didn’t feel sad anymore. We had had a brilliant ten days, surrounded by people who we only get to see every few years, and yet we picked up the threads as if it were only yesterday. We blended back into life without so much as a ripple, and when answering questions about when we would be returning, it was clear that not only would we be coming back, but that we knew how, when and what adventures we are going to have. This particular chapter may be over, but the story is far from finished.

I had imagined that the kids would be sad, saying goodbye to the only home that they had ever known, but I had missed the obvious point. It has not been their only home, and everywhere they have lived, they have been surrounded by people who care for them, whether blood relations or friends. The people at ‘home’ have taught them about friendship, strength of character and what is really important, and those values are what the rest of our gathered global family have in common.

We have gained so much more than we have lost, and it took selling the house to realize it. We were so focused on the safety net below, we had forgotten to look at the view. Somehow, having no house to call our own meant absolutely.. nothing. We still had the laughs, the stories, the catching up and the paintball bruises. We still have friends who find time to spend with us, who tolerate the months of silence followed by hours of chaos and who understand that if we didn’t catch them this time, we will definitely see them next visit. The memories of good times didn’t disappear once the pictures were packed, and we don’t need to be in the same room to share a common ground.

As the miles began to build up between ourselves and our former home, the Wiggy One made a observation, in rather less sombre tones than you might expect.

“Auntie Sarah’s is our home now”. He was smiling when he said it.

I had been thinking the same thing only that morning, when I woke up in her house, on a makeshift Ikea bed, amid the accumulated debris of my (temporarily displaced) nephew’s bedroom. In under two weeks, my physical residence in my home nation has gone from 6000 to 3 square feet. The only things I owned were in the suitcase on the floor and in a top drawer of the dresser – my drawer.

It represented permanence, the expectation that you are returning, and when you do, you will always have a place here. It’s all the things that we treasure about ‘home’, acceptance, love, laughter and a profound sense of stability. What we didn’t realize before was that it was held in bonds not bricks, hearts and not houses and people, rather than simply places.

It’s funny what having your own drawer can do. And a wonderful, kind and incredibly generous global family, who welcome us home; wherever, whenever.

 

 

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Checklist. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Service. You.

Expat or not, this is important.. The Relocating Expat Information Checklist. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful RelocationI have two distinct groups of readers; those who enjoy watching and hearing about my expat disasters from a safe distance, and those who are listening carefully, trying to avoid making the same ones themselves. Some are happy to stay exactly where they are and enjoy the fun, and some of you have a thirst, a career or a spouse leading you to life as a global nomad.

You all fall into one of two categories: those who hold the information, and those who desperately need it. I mentally think of you as The Knowers, and the Growers.

The Knowers (aka Locals & Expert Expats) are those of you who have lived in a place for long enough that you know where everything lives, know how to get the information and help you need, and understand the unspoken rules that make every community unique. You know which teachers inspire children, how much to spend on birthday gifts and which children have nut allergies. You know where to go to get your legs waxed, where to get your car serviced, and where to get the best deals on everything from food to children’s shoes to carpets.

And then there are the Growers (aka The Recently Relocated, the Inexperienced, Inept or Just Plain Overwhelmed).We can be easily spotted by our bewildered expression, the vast number of forms were are incessantly clutching, and by the GPS unit permanently fixed to the dashboard of our hire car. We arrive either half an hour early or ten minutes late, depending on how many times we had to stop to check your address. Our children are always under or overdressed and have Tshirts with unfamiliar writing and logos. If you happen to stop for a chat, we will either be lost for words, a little misty-eyed at your kindness or will talk your ears off for the next 45 minutes. And if you happen to suggest meeting up for coffee, our faces will light up with joy as we shout “Yes Please – Now??!!”

I spent most of my life as a Knower, rooted in the same community for the first 30 years, leaving only for college and returning faithfully each holiday. Living in the town was as easy as breathing – I knew where everything important could be found, and when a gap in my knowledge appeared, family and lifelong friends quickly filled the breach. It was a fabulous upbringing – secure, stable and even now, very little changes. It had roots.

At 30, it all changed, and I became a Grower. I had to nurture a new life, a new network and a new identity. I lost my career, my sense of self and my instruction book, and I made many expensive and painful mistakes. So many, in fact, that I have filled a website full of them. It was only thanks to the intervention of some very kind Knowers that I didn’t run screaming back home.

Which is why, following on from the last post, I’m putting together the Defining Moves version of two tins cans and a piece of string, to connect you all in the most basic of ways. No-one should have to make this many mistakes, or hit the low points that so many do, and we can at least try to do something about it. S, linked at the bottom of the page are two lists of all the questions we desperately want to ask those of you in the know, but are too shy / afraid / overwhelmed to ask.

Whether you are a Knower, a Grower or anything in between,  download it, print it, add to it and share it with schools, friends and newcomers alike. Comment if you think I have forgotten something, but whatever you do, please fill in whatever you can. It doesn’t have to be complete – one simple recommendation is enough to tell us that you have noticed us, and you do care. We need you.

We who are about to arrive, salute you.

Stuff We Really Need to Know: The Newcomer’s Checklist

What Every Parent Needs to Know

Photo courtesy of the US National Archives.

This is how a heart breaks. Expat parenting

Expat parenting - this is how a heart breaks. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation

You think when you have left school, taken exams, graduated from college and reached adulthood that the slings and arrows of the school playground can never hurt you again.

And then you have children of your own, and you realize that you were wrong. Only this time, it is magnified through the lens of their pain, your sense of powerlessness and the weight of parental expectations. I sometimes think that I should just have ‘Bad Mother’ tattooed on my forehead and be done with the pretense. It’s one of the harder realities of parenting.

A wonderful, heartbreaking post by Anne Egros at Zest and Zen International reminded me of the pain of middle school all over again – not my own (the UK doesn’t have a ‘middle school’, just primary and secondary) but instead the joy of experiencing it in all it’s misery; the challenge of expat parenting.

Middle school is widely acknowledged in the US as the tricky one. It serves the 11-14 year olds; that explosive mix of puberty, hormones and identity crises. It’s when the differences between girls and boys are no longer about sports and hobbies, and all about body shapes, gender expectations and the excruciating embarrassment of sex education.

Ironically, my son nearly made it through unscathed. He had a solid group of friends who played football in the park, consumed junk food in gigantic quantities and who had a healthy respect for parental sanctions. We heard of bullying, shoplifting and alcohol consumption, but they seemed either too lazy, too disinterested or too involved in the destruction of opposing medieval forces to be affected by it. His grades were decent, his self esteem was intact and when graduation came around, it should have been a very happy event.

It was awful.

In Britain, the only place you graduate from is college. Everywhere else, you just leave, mostly with only a modest school dance to mark the occasion. And although I knew the parents of my son’s school friends by sight, they didn’t know me well enough to know how uninformed I was. So when we turned up to the Middle School graduation ceremony, I expected a general gathering with a bit of applause, the acknowledgement of the star pupils and very little else.

The first clue I had of impending parental humiliation was the distant sea of undulating teal. It was the massed forces of the graduating 8th grade, all wearing robes. Despite many opportunities over the course of my former life to wear a cap and gown, I had managed to repeatedly avoid it, and yet here all 300 were, at the grand old age of 14, already donning the robes of academic advancement.

It got worse. They were also all in formal wear; shirts and ties, prom dresses and heels. Unlike my son who had dressed himself – in his own personal uniform of shorts and a t shirt. Yet again we had got it wrong, but never so publicly. We were all completely unprepared, and at that moment, I truly hated the fact that I was an expat.

We have faced floods, earthquakes, angry mobs, police questioning and personal injury, but there have been very few moments in my expat life that have brought me to tears. And yet, sitting in that auditorium, surrounded by parents I didn’t know all whispering about the ‘parents who had let their son come so inappropriately dressed’ was by far my lowest moment. It was humiliating, frustrating and unfair, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.

Which is why, when Anne wrote her article yesterday, I was reminded just how important an expat support network is, no matter how many global transitions you have been through. You get better, smarter and more practiced at the art of relocation, but there is always something waiting in the wings to trip you when you least expect it.

The good news? We’ve all been there too, and if we can’t warn you about every challenge you will face, we will at least hold your hand while you pick yourself up.

Welcome to our world.

 

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Really Useful Cultural Orientation – How to Make Friends and Introduce People..

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve spent the first half of your life learning acceptable social behaviour, the last ten years telling your kids not to care what people think, and then wham! Relocation. Suddenly you’re stuck right back where you were on the first day of high school, having to walk into places you really would rather run screaming from, and make nice with a sea of people who have no idea who you are. Welcome to our world.

If your cultural orientation training was anything like mine, it revolves around the country currency, demographics and religious practices. What it might not tell you is how to find the people with whom you can laugh, cry, and everything in between with. So here’s my best advice, based on years of social gaffes, awkward situations and offending people.

 It does get easier. Just as the first day of school was the worst for most of us (apart from the boy who had diarrhea in assembly in 9th grade – that’s a tricky one to beat), the first few weeks of any move are the hardest. The quicker you get out there and start circulating, the quicker you will find your first friend.

It’s a numbers game. You didn’t expect to like everyone in high school, and nor will you like everyone you meet, but you have to go through the numbers to get to one who will become lifelong friends. Go to as many gatherings as possible, safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there is someone who is doing the same thing and hating it every bit as much as you do..

Talk to a cherished friend beforehand, so that you are

  1.  more confident about yourself and will present yourself in a more relaxed way
  2. have vented all your relocation angst so that your new acquaintances don’t think you are a moany old whingebag and hereafter avoid you and,
  3. so you have someone impartial waiting to hear all the gory details. Knowing that you have someone far, far away who relish all the post party gossip and can never tell makes putting up with the fifteenth “what does your husband do?” far more palatable.

Go to where people gather to be social. This issue cropped up the other day – in Europe there are higher numbers of dual income families, so there are fewer opportunities to meet socially through school, and so a friend with school age children is struggling to meet new people.  Instead, take a class, or do something that people go to alone. And no, I don’t mean bars.

Be prepared to watch, learn and smile. There will be new social rules (cute does not have the same implicit meaning in the UK and the US), a new dress codes, language differences. You may be an avid taxidermist, but that’s probably not going to be your best icebreaker at the school social. And if you are anything like me, try to avoid sarcastic, flippant or hilarious remarks, such as “Will there be alcohol served?” at the new parent breakfast. My strategy is to seek out the person that sparks the most antipathy, and watch for who else in the crowd is wincing. Instant friend, right there.

Don’t undervalue yourself. Most relocation advice suggests voluntary work as a great way to develop a social network, and while this may be true, I have seen more people than I care to count take on the first volunteer opportunity that comes their way, only to end up in glorious isolation doing the photocopying for the PTA. (Actually, I met one of my favorite people doing exactly that, but I just got very lucky..). Find something that both gives you a sense of fulfillment and attracts like-minded people, and feel free to test drive opportunities before you commit. Tell them I said so.

Talk to anyone. My mother does this, and it drives me nuts, but she can find a friend faster than anyone I know. Her favorite targets are anyone with a British accent, anyone in a book store, anyone wearing Marks and Spencer clothing, and anyone with grey hair. And if you happen to have a baby, your chances of escaping uninterrupted are nil.

At all costs, avoid asking “What does your husband do?”. A little piece of my soul dies every time that question is asked in social circles, as if the person being spoken to is unworthy of interest. Add in the fact that you are assuming that they are a) married, and b) they don’t instead have a wife. My personal answer when asked is “Put a gun to my head and I still couldn’t tell you”; it conveys accurately both my knowledge of what he does, and my interest in finding out. As yet, no-one has taken me up on it, but feel free to find your own, less dramatic response.

In the interest of fulfilling the entire title, when you do finally get out and meet people to talk to, the basic etiquette rules of introduction are as follows:
Self Introduction:
“Hi /Hello / Nice to meet you”, “I am XXX”;  and then a single descriptor (e.g. “friend of the host”, “so and so’s colleague”, etc.)
Introducing Others: Generally, men are introduced to women, younger people to older people, and lower-ranking individuals to more senior – think of it as presenting a subject to the queen. So it would go: “Your majesty, this is my husband, the Other Half.” In a social setting, it is considered good form to give the newly introduced couple something to talk about. And no, that does not include politics, religion or embarrassing facts about each other..
I would like to pretend that I know these facts from early presentation to the Queen and life in elevated circles. Alas not.

Now it’s your turn – any suggestions?

Cross cultural communication and the International Dinner Lads. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Duck and Cover – Cross Cultural Communication and the International Dinner Lads

Cross cultural communication and the International Dinner Lads. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve got to love teenage boys. When faced with a challenge, they take a long hard look at the problem, assess what needs to be done, and then choose the most complicated, messy and stressful way to achieve their goals. And then call in their mothers.

The problem of the moment was the latest Mandarin Project. The Wiggy One is lucky enough to have a fabulous Mandarin teacher who rises to the challenge of teaching a mob of reluctant teenagers a seemingly incomprehensible language with a serene smile and an endless supply of engaging teaching strategies. And while I am pitifully grateful to her skill in instilling a formidable array of Chinese words and characters into Wiggy’s somewhat distracted brain, the resultant enthusiasm sometimes backfires.

The latest project was the preparation, filming and sharing of a traditional Chinese dish with the rest of his class. As Wiggy is rather an expert at stir fries,  I was gently relieved. And then the teenage talent for self sabotage and grade suicide kicked in as his group opted for a more challenging culinary route. Peking Duck. From scratch. For 30.

The Other Half may have DIY limitations, but he has the patience of a saint. His after-work activities for the next three days involved sourcing ingredients from obscure locations, scouring the neighborhood for a duck of appropriate lineage and 3 hours spent in a Chinese supermarket desperately trying to decipher the Mandarin character for pancakes wraps.

I was left with the task of transporting three bodies (human), a bicycle and copious amounts of video equipment home from school, whereupon my Mother, the Feisty One and I spent the rest of the evening locked outside in the yard while teenage boys laid waste to the kitchen.

It didn’t get off to a great start. It took them 30 minutes just to remove the plastic bag that the duck was packaged in, a further 10 to recover the giblets, and another 20 to clean up the resultant blood now dripping down the counters and spattering the walls. For a dead duck, it put up a hell of a fight.

Having finally freed the bird, they now turned to YouTube for guidance on further preparation, at which point the strident English tones of Delia Smith filled the kitchen. I was a fan of Delia before, but had never fully appreciated her commanding presence and the power of her teaching skills. Across time, space, cultures and the internet, she successfully instructed Mandarin II’s version of the Three Stooges in the lost art of spatchcocking a duck. The woman is a genius, and should be put in charge of fixing the global economy immediately.

We watched transfixed from our chilly vantage point outside the window as they poked, prodded and skewered, then attached some of Feisty’s lilac knitting wool under it’s now alarmingly protruding wings wings and suspended it from the saucepan rack to dry. The strategy was partly successful; the draughts of air set off a dynamic swinging movement and relocated the moisture from the skin of the duck to the doors of the kitchen cabinets.

It also relocated the previously forgotten giblets from inside the carcass to the conveniently located frying pan below, causing hyperventilation in the surrounding males, and me to sourly suggest they avoid viewing childbirth videos any time soon.

Watching duck skin dry is second only to watching paint in terms of boredom, so after a brisk steaming, the unfortunate bird was slapped onto a roasting tray and stuffed into the oven, along with a pan of glutinous, faintly brown liquid, whose purpose was never fully explained, but was, apparently, vital to authenticity.

Up until now, all the videoing had focused on the action, rather than the words, and so the running commentary from Grandma (still shivering out on the decking) were able to be ignored. Now, however, there were orders for silence and stillness while the serious on camera presentation began.

The thing about Grandmas is that they have learned to ignore the raised voices of children and to carry on regardless. This served us well through the teething, tantrums and tale-telling years, but in the face of videography, it is rather a handicap. No sooner had they got to the final sentence of their monologue, than a face would appear at the window and ask “Have you really learned all those words in class?” or “Are you sure the duck is alright?”, quickly followed by “ooh, ooohh, I am sorry”, and a Fawlty Towers-esque comedy tiptoe out of shot. It was funny the first time; by the fifth the Wiggy One was set to explode and even the dogs were cowering.

Thank God for editing, and the power of practice. By the seventh take, the pressure of impending elder arrival and the need for some dinner had compressed their communication into short, speedy authentic sounding sentences and a confidence with the subject matter that only practice, repetition and frequent consultations with Google translate can foster. The golden brown, roasted to perfection duck that eventually emerged from the oven was a triumph of cross cultural communication.

I’ll say this for them. If they ever get to China, they will be able to impart some very useful culinary tips in flawless Mandarin, and providing the recipients are happy to shop, clean and watch from a distance in utter silence, they will get a mighty nice meal.

The bad news? This was the prerecorded version. We get to do it all again this week..

 

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of school

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of school..

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of schoolA conversation over coffee last week centered around how we all adapt to any new environment, and I offered up the Feisty One as an example of someone who had it figured out from birth. Watching her walk into every new school leaves me sitting in the school car park in tears, while she sets her shoulders, pastes a smile onto her face, and proceeds to network like a New York socialite.

Somehow, she has decoded the unspoken rules that guide social acceptance, and while her group of friends may change over time, within 15 minutes of setting foot somewhere new she’s worked out the social groups, the codes of behavior, and just who her new friends are going to be.

For the rest of us, here are the relocation lessons that we have learned, lived and long since forgotten..

 

Everyone is scared, but we all have different ways of showing it. Some get louder, some get quieter, some giggle, some snarl. Don’t let your fear define you, or how you judge others. A little patience goes a very long way.

The sooner you make a friend, the better it will be. Because two heads are better than one when it comes to figuring it all out, facing the world, and sharing the fun.

You’ll miss home and family, but you’ll learn to enjoy the time away and cherish the holidays spent together.

Some days are better than others. Some days, you just have to wait it out.

Some lessons you will love, some you will like, and some you will hate. Having favorites is good, but time and perspective will teach you that the ones you liked the least taught you the most.

People can be mean, but the earlier you learn how to deal with them, the easier your life will be.

Look after your lunch money. Mom won’t always be there to bail you out.

Your behavior affects the whole school, so choose your actions wisely.

Don’t believe all that you are told. Consider the source of your information carefully, and then decide the real story for yourself.

Being prepared feels a great deal better than arriving knowing that you didn’t do your homework.

Not doing your homework is the fastest way into trouble.

Being rude is the second fastest.

Breaking something once and you might be forgiven, break it twice and you’ve lost their trust forever.

You can do anything you set your mind to with practice, patience and help from others.

 

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective International Relocation - Defining Moves

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective Global Transition

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective International Relocation - Defining Moves
We all need a little point in the right direction..

At Defining Moves we believe that the most crucial parts of successful global transition are a clear assessment of your situation and thoughtful planning. It seems self-evident, but in reality we are often working with inaccurate information, cross cultural confusion and an unrealistic expectations. With that in mind, here are our 3 essential strategies that will make any relocation far, far easier. And yes, you already know you need them, but how many of us take the time to actually DO them..?

 

1. Before You Go – Cultural Orientation

Many transferring companies provide some cultural orientation training, but it often focuses on the working environment rather than the living one. If you have the chance for professional help, take it, but don’t just stop there – there is a wealth of information out there that can help you better prepare and adapt to your new home.

Guides like the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide both have excellent sections on the local environment, cultures and expected behaviours for visitors, along with a language starter guide. Remember that you are not on vacation, and many other guides assume that many of your basic daily needs will be met by a hotel, so opt for the backpacker and independent travel guides  – they are written for people who have greater contact with locals and are looking after their own living needs.

Blogs, expat websites, forums  and social media networks give you great insight into your new world through the eyes of an expat, and can offer a way to make contacts with like minded local residents without leaving your couch. It’s currently a hugely underutilized resource in terms of cultural orientation, possibly because of the sheer volume and varying quality.

I’ve listed some of my favorites at the bottom (feel free to suggest your own) – many offer local guides for a fee, and a listing of expat blogs by country. Contact the blog authors, read their articles and the comments of others, and build a picture of the day-to day challenges that expat family life will present.

Many expat groups have a Page on Facebook – simply searching the term ‘expat’ and your new location will generate listings. Doing the same search on Twitter will put you in touch with plenty of people willing to share (and probably a few oddballs, so brace yourself), and allows you a less formal method of contact than email. However, remember that with social media, you are also sharing a great deal of information about yourself, so read our guide to using social media before you start.

If you prefer to meet people face to face, Internations is another place to meet a huge variety of expats from across the globe, with monthly meetings in many cities. They also have an excellent online resource and community.

 

2. As Soon As You Arrive – Find a Mentor.

The Armed Forces, established experts at the task of relocating people, have long been advocates of mentors for transitioning individuals and families, but the corporate world has yet to catch up. The good news is that the expat community is a very supportive one that understands the challenges faced on international assignment, and is always ready to rally to the cause, so don’t be shy about asking for help and finding a mentor.

We’re not talking about finding a friend here –  you don’t even need to like your mentor, as long as you respect their opinion. You are looking for is someone who has a good working knowledge of your new location, has an enviable list of contacts, and has recommendations that they are willing to share. You don’t need to agree with their choices or follow all of their advice, but having a place to start will save you time, money and considerable frustration. It’s about getting the information to get things done in the most effective way possible.

Your mentor provides a number of functions – they can point you in the direction of essential goods and services, help you navigate your first weeks in your new environment, and provide an early warning system for problems that you might face.

Ask your transferring company whether they have anyone locally or in your host country who knows the ropes or look for spouses of work colleagues, PTA members or expat welcome groups. Your relationship might not extend beyond a shared coffee, a phone number and a list of people and places, so try to have a list of what you need already prepared. Here’s our Mentor Checklist to get you started.

 

Once The Dust Has Settled – Continued Cross Cultural Training / Support.

In her FIGT 2012 presentation, Philippa Erlank of Consider Culture pointed out that most cross cultural learning takes places between the 6th and 12th month of any assignment. Before that, the practicalities of establishing a home, school and work life take priority, and after a year, most people have settled into some sort of daily routine both in terms of tasks and behaviors.

Those who have been through expatriation before will tell you that most corporate cross-cultural provision happens either before the transfer or immediately after – both points at which you are distracted, bewildered and often struggling with the logistical arrangements of family life. By the time you realize that you need help, it has disappeared into the sunset with the rest of your expat life delusions.

There is good news, however. Most cross-cultural training is delivered by independent consultants, many of whom are happy to provide ongoing private services, both in person or via online coaching. They are familiar with the unique demands of temporary life overseas, and can provide a listening ear, sage counsel to help you with day-to-day dilemmas, and a compassionate shoulder if it all becomes too much. So if your relocation package provision has ended, or if you are relocating independently, it’s well worth exploring the idea of a intercultural or expat coach to help you gain understanding and get the answers to that most fundamental of questions..

Why?

 

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Expat Life and Long Drops

Today’s post is from the wonderful Apple Gidley, author of the hilarious, poignant and very, very well observed memoir Expat Life, Slice by Slice. For more of her writing, you can find her blogging at the UK Telegraph. But today, she’s writing for us – hooray!

www.showusyourlongdrop.co.nz

“You didn’t warn me about the long drops,” my sister admonished on her return from trekking up Machu Picchu all in the name of charity – Great Ormond Street Hospital being the chosen one.

“Would it have helped to know?” I asked.  Never having attempted the climb myself I thought her accusation a tad unfair – how was I to know about the lavatorial facilities on a Peruvian mountain?

“It might have,” she sniffed, “And you know about these things!”

Long drops, dunnies, bogs, loos, privies, ploppen, names that vividly describe those receptacles we all use regardless of race, colour or creed.

Val’s assertion got me thinking about how much we really need to know about a place before we travel to new lands, whether for a few weeks or a few years. Yes we need information about healthcare and schools.  A broad overview of the political climate is helpful and an idea of basic customs and acceptable behaviours is essential, but do we really need to know the intricacies of day-to-day life in a new country before arriving?  Doesn’t that lessen the excitement of discovery; take away from the foreign flavours if we’ve read all about it in Rick Steves’ travel guide?

Maybe it lessens the pitying glances as you ask a seemingly obvious question, like the first time I went to Australia.  I was only seven at the time and my Australian mother had neglected to explain certain differences in Antipodean and English English.  “What’s a dunny?” I remember asking my cousin of the same age as we headed to school on the bus, me just for the day so as to experience a rural bush school.  I got over the shame of ignorance and the smirk that accompanied the explanation, and I never looked back.

Like most people I am sure, I prefer a little privacy when attending to my daily ablutions but it is quite amazing how many places there are in the world where that doesn’t happen.  I’ve squatted in the New Guinea highlands surrounded by soaring eucalypts and ficus, or on in the scrub of seemingly secluded African beaches only to become aware of eyes belonging to the two-legged species watching me through the dripping mist or the sea grapes.

“Hong nam ti nai kha?” was an oft-heard request as my daughter and I raced from an idling car clogged in the Bangkok traffic to burst through the door of many a coffee house during the potty training stage of her life.  She learnt to squat over a hole in the ground with equanimity. “Sawadekha,” she would trill to the occasional head poked through the flimsy curtain providing the barest of privacy, curious at the mad farang using their facilities; she far more at ease than her mother at the same intrusion.

Despite a dislike at these intrusions I used to think us Westerners were probably far too sensitive about discussing our bodily functions but a recent conversation changed my mind.

“I looked everywhere for ploppen loos,” Jo, an English friend renovating a house in Den Haag, mentioned to us over wine at this year’s FIGT conference.

“Why?” asked a Dutch friend.  “Non-ploppen toilets allow you to discern the health of your movements.”

A charming way, I thought as I spluttered inelegantly into my glass, of entreating us to check our crap.

“I don’t want to check it, I want to flush it,” Jo said.

“Oh you English are so puritanical,” Jantje commented.

“Did you find any ploppens?” I asked.

“Eventually!” Jo said.

The wonderfully euphemistic phrase used in the United States for the lavatory, whether ploppen or non-ploppen, is ‘restroom’.  Strange as the experience might produce relief but rarely rest.  Certainly not in America where the whole ordeal is heightened by the need to avoid exposing one’s nether regions, or the acrobatic reengaging of tight tights over round rumps, by staying firmly out of sight.

“Don’t they have doors?” I hear you ask.  Well of course they do, but a great many restrooms also have an inch gap around the stall walls.  I know we have all been confronted at some time by an inquisitive face peering up under the door to be quickly followed by a mother’s voice shrieking, “George, don’t do that!”  That is an accepted part of children in public loos, rather like a face through the curtain was in the less sophisticated eating establishments in Thailand.  But really, having to dodge between the gaps is a bit much.

So no, I didn’t warn my sister about long drops but she didn’t warn me about American restrooms, and really does it matter?  When you’ve got to go, well, you’ve just got to go regardless of where you are and who’s watching, and don’t these little discoveries add to the excitement, and laughter, of life on the global trail?

 

Apple Gidley has relocated 26 times through 12 countries and has found the amusing side of life in most places.  She is the author of Expat Life Slice by Slice, Summertime Publishing. 

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Interfaith calendar - Holy Days, celebrations and Festivals in May 2012

Interfaith Calendar – Holy Days, Celebrations and Festivals in May 2012

Interfaith calendar dates are shown using the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Dates determined by the lunar calendar may vary by region. Jewish festivals usually begin at sunset on the previous day.

Interfaith calendar - Holy Days, celebrations and Festivals in May 2012It’s May already and time for this month’s interfaith calendar of celebrations, festivals and holy days around the globe.

Fittingly, May 1st brings us Beltane, the Pagan fire festival welcoming the Summer and the hopes of  a fertile year. On a more local level, on May 1st the Defining Moves household are welcoming the coming of the Grandmother, complete with chocolate, teabags and crepe production capabilities, so we too will be hoping for a fruitful season..

 

1

Beltane (Pagan)

See above. Pagan traditions associated with May 1st (May Day) survive in many Scandinavian and European countries, such as the May Day bank holiday, the May pole and many other practices historically linked with celebrations of fertility and abundance.

 

2

End of Ridvan (Bahai)

“This twelve-day period (April 21 – May 2) celebrates the time in 1863 when Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed His Mission as God’s Messenger for this age at a garden in Baghdad, that became known as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise).” Gary Heise

It is celebrated with communal prayers and a day of rest.

Birthday of Guru Arjan (Sikh)

Guru Arjan (the fifth Sikh Guru and first Sikh Martyr) is most remembered for collating the previous four Guru’s teachings into one book – known as the Guru Granth Sahib. In doing so, he included work from Hindu and Muslim saints, and was subsequently martyred when he refuse to remove them.

He is also responsible for laying the foundation of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, creating the idea of  the four doors in a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) and for introducing the idea of a ten percent charitable tithe.

 

5

Wesak (Buddhist)

Buddhists celebrate Wesak (the Buddha’s Birthday) on the first full moon in May. It is considered the most important date in the Buddhist calendar, and is associated with achieving enlightenment.

It is traditionally celebrated by discarding out the old and welcoming the new, so homes are cleaned and decorated, by leaving offerings at the temple and by praying and bathing the Buddha with water.

 

10

Lag B’Omer (Jewish)

Celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer , Lag B’Omer commemorates the death of Shimon bar Yochai, and in modern Jewish tradition, the revolt against the Roman Empire. It is seen as celebrating the strength of the Jewish character.

 

17 / 20

Ascension Day (Christian / Catholic Church of England and Wales)

Following Christ’s resurrection on Easter day, Ascension Day / Sunday celebrates the ascent  of Christ into Heaven in the presence of his disciples.

 

20

Yom Yerushalayim

Also known as Jerusalem Day, it marks the reunification of the Old City in 1967.

 

23

Declaration of the Bab (Bahai)

The Bab was the predecessor to Bahá’u’lláh, and was responsible for paving the latter’s way. He announced the coming of Bahá’u’lláh on this date in 1844.

 

25

St Bede the Venerable (Christian)

A 8th century English Christian monk and scholar, Bede wrote the bestselling “Ecclesiastical History” which is still in print, and a definitive Latin Bible edition.

 

27

Pentecost (Christian)

Celebrated on the 50th day after Christ’s ascension into heaven, Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third part of the Holy Trinity. Celebrated in Christian churches throughout the world, priests wear red to symbolize the flames accompanying the holy spirit to earth.

Shavuot

Celebrated 50 days after Passover, Shavuot is the second of the Jewish harvest festivals, and also marks the date that Jews were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is celebrated with the recitation of prayers, by decorating with flowers and the eating of dairy products.

 

29

Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh

Marking the death of Bahá’u’lláh in 1892, followers of Bahai observe a day of rest and prayer.

 

Further Reading

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/tools/calendar/date.shtml?month=&year=2012