Archive for October, 2008

The Expat Life: Success Stories

Posted on 30. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been following the Expat Interviews blog for a while now. What I like best about these interviews is that the overwhelming majority of them come from happy expats.

I love seeking out these success stories. There are enough articles, books and message boards that dwell on expat “issues” already. Yes, expatriation is challenging at times, but how can we forget about the adventure, the discovery, the opportunities to learn and grow as a person?
I choose to focus on the positive. We need to hear from more expats who have a vision and who are living their dreams!

Where can you find positive examples and inspiration around you?

- Expat circles can be a great starting point to meet people who have successfully adjusted to your current location.
- Locals may be delighted to introduce you to lesser-known aspects of their culture or facets of their city, especially if they are passionate about their heritage to begin with!
- Looking closer to home, do you have a friend or family member who is always upbeat and positive? Make this person your role model! Communicate with him or her on a regular basis. Chances are he or she will help you remember how lucky you are to be living the expat life.

So, where will you look for inspiration and success stories this week?


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The Expat Life: How Did You Come Up With The Idea?

Posted on 28. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Relocation

When did you come up with the idea of living in your current location?

This is one of my favourite questions over at Expat Interviews, a blog that features expats from all over the world and has them answer a fixed set of questions.

The wide range of answers fascinates me, from “I fell in love with the place during a holiday and decided I wanted to live here” to “I did not come up with the idea, I followed my spouse on an international assignment”.

Many of these expats made a conscious decision to change their lives and planned their relocation accordingly. Others happily seized an unexpected opportunity and packed their bags on short notice. For still others, who were not necessarily looking for an international experience, the deciding factor may have been falling in love, or being offered a particularly exciting career opportunity.

As for me, the story of my relocation to Vancouver, BC falls squarely under the “I have found my dream place and I am going to live there no matter what it takes” category.

The year was 1999. I was living in France back then. Vancouver was featured prominently in magazines, having been voted one of the most liveable cities in the world. I realised that I did not know the first thing about Vancouver, or British Columbia for that matter. Since it sounded like I was missing out on a really beautiful part of the world, I decided to go see it for myself during my summer vacation that year.
Long story short, Vancouver was everything the magazines had described and much, much more. Most importantly, it felt like home. So the next logical step was to, well, make it my actual home! Two years later, armed with my visa, a credit card and two suitcases, I officially became a permanent resident of Canada.

Do you have a similar “love at first sight” experience to share? Or did you end up in your current location for completely different reasons?

Was it your own decision to become an expat, or were other factors at play? Anything you wish you had done differently?


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The Expat Life: Tough Assignments

Posted on 25. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration, Relocation

Talk about tough assignments with non-expats, and most people will picture war-torn countries, rampant violent crime or rough living conditions.

However, you may find that even the most paradisiac location can prove difficult if you are having a hard time adjusting. When you are feeling homesick, isolated and overwhelmed, it does not matter where you are; it is tough, period.

To make matters worse, friends and family back home may or may not be as supportive when you relocate to a “desirable” location. Your worries and frustrations may be dismissed with a “Oh come on, I would give anything to be able to spend three years in Italy. What are you complaining about?”

Many of my expat clients cannot help but feel let down and confused when they hear such comments. Are they the only ones who don’t love the place? Are they being too picky? Too sensitive? Is something wrong with them?

If this sounds familiar, let me take a moment to acknowledge your feelings and assure you that you are not the only ones in this situation- not by far!

Western Europe or North America may not qualify for danger pay, but moving there still means going through a tremendous number of changes, big and small. There is still a culture shock to overcome- even for supposedly smooth transitions such as moving from the US to Canada.
I would even argue that transitioning to a very similar culture can give you a false sense of security that may actually make things more difficult. But this is a subject for another post.

Honour your feelings. Don’t beat yourself up when you are going through a rough patch. Know that your doubts, your frustrations and your occasional bouts of the expat blues are a normal part of living abroad.

If you are not getting all the support you need from your friends and family, find an expat group near you. Other expatriates have gone through the same experiences and will lend you an understanding ear.
An expat coach can also help you come to terms with your feelings and arm you with coping strategies for the future. If you do not speak the local language, consider hiring a professional from your home country and work with them by phone or email.

What was your most difficult international assignment? What was hardest about it? What ways did you find to cope with the hardships?


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Expat Skill: Ch-Ch-Changes

Posted on 23. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

When it comes to ensuring a successful experience abroad, your ability to manage change is one of your greatest assets.

Expatriation is, after all, all about changes.
Some of them are major transitions, such as moving house, learning a new language, and finding or adjusting to a new job.
A myriad other changes are more minor, yet significant (and numerous!) enough to disrupt your well-established routines: having to substitute unfamiliar ingredients for your favourite foods, remembering you are not supposed to shake hands with the opposite gender or figuring out the local transportation system.

What is your attitude toward change? Does the word carry a negative or positive connotation for you?
When faced with change, do you fear it, resist it or embrace it? Do you turn into a “control freak” or do you go with the flow, not planning anything in advance?
Do you see yourself as a victim of change, or do you take control and find ways to manage it?


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Book Review: The Power Of Full Engagement

Posted on 21. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Home, Reviews, Tools & Resources
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Last week, we were talking about the importance of balancing stress and recovery, so that you can focus and feel energised when it counts.

If you would like to learn more about these concepts and the research behind them, here is a good resource to design your own energy management plan: “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

According to Loehr and Schwartz, there are four dimensions to optimal energy:
– Physical energy
– Emotional connection
– Mental focus
– Spiritual alignment
In each of these dimensions, we must learn to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

Most of us tend to expend too much mental and emotional energy, without sufficient recovery. Conversely, we do not train our physical and spiritual muscles enough to build optimal capacity.

The energy management strategies proposed in The Power of Full Engagement are based on alternating energy expenditure and recovery, much like you would alternate weight training and rest if you wanted to grow your biceps.

The book is ostensibly aimed at corporate employees, yet anyone who wants to increase their energy levels can apply its principles.
The authors draw on their many years of research and experience training elite athletes and executives. Worksheets help you identify your strengths / weaknesses and allow you to design daily rituals that anchor your energy management plan.

I have been incorporating new, simple rituals in my workday for a week now. I take short breaks every 90 minutes. I make a point of eating a proper lunch. I do not work past 8:00PM. Yes, all of this is common sense, yet given my tendency to push myself until I burn out, it looks like I can use a bit more common sense in this department!

So far, my energy levels have indeed increased, and creative ideas seem to come to me more easily. Time will tell what the long-term gains are, but in the meantime, I do recommend reading The Power of Full Engagement if you would like to create better flow in your life.


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Expat Skill: Balancing Stress And Recovery

Posted on 17. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

One of the challenges that my expat clients often bring up during coaching is that they have too much to do. This is particularly true at the beginning and toward the end of their international assignments. In addition to the demands of everyday life, they have to deal with extra paperwork, packing or unpacking, getting their bearings in a new location… the list goes on.

It is tempting to assume that we cannot get everything done because there are not enough hours in the day.
However, once we dig a little deeper, it turns out that in a majority of cases, the issue is not lack of time, but lack of energy.

Figuring out a new culture, learning a different way to do things, adjusting to the awkwardness and ambiguities of living abroad, all of this takes a lot of energy. Other factors, such as living in very crowded or noisy cities and coping with extreme temperatures, can deplete your energy reserves even further.

After spending your entire day running errands in a foreign language, getting lost several times only to end up in a huge traffic jam, you most likely feel too stressed out and too drained to start unpacking. So the boxes keep sitting there, unopened.

When you are operating under a lot of energy-depleting stress, do you make time for periods of recovery? I am not talking about going to bed at 8:00PM or vegetating on the couch for hours- this is likely to leave you feeling even groggier.
What you need are tools to recharge your batteries. Think recovery and renewal. It can be a short nap, a quick jog in a nearby park, a 30-minute meditation or yoga session. It does not have to take long, but it has to leave you feeling refreshed and energised.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, when your schedule is packed, take time off. Take your mind off your to-do list. The renewed energy, focus and engagement you will bring to your tasks after your battery-recharging break will make a world of difference.


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The Expat Life: Travel Opportunities

Posted on 16. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home

One of the major perks of expat life is the opportunity to explore your new country and to discover nearby destinations. What exciting adventures are there to be had near your new home? Do you have a wish list of must-see cities, historical sites and natural wonders?

Of course, just because you are living abroad does not mean that life is one long holiday! When things get busy or stressful, it can be hard to find the time, energy or motivation to get away. Those of you who travel frequently for work may simply prefer not to board yet another plane come the weekend, choosing to stay put and rest instead.

However, one frequent reason why expats do not travel as much as they thought they would is that they do not make it a priority. You can always go on that day trip next week, right?
Well, next thing you know, your international assignment is over and there goes your chance to see Angkor Wat or to participate in the Oktoberfest in Munich. So do not delay- if you have always wanted to travel somewhere but have not got around to going there yet, start planning today!

As an aside, I will admit that I am guilty as charged: I have not left Canada much at all since I moved to Vancouver, BC seven years ago. That is about to change, though, as my travel bug has been complaining loudly for the past few months and must be indulged. A trip to Lebanon is in the works; stay tuned for more details.

What about you? Have you made travelling one of your priorities?
If not, how could you make it possible to go on an adventure within the next month?
If time or other constraints prevent you from leaving town, what could you explore in your current location that would give you deeper insight into local culture? What are you curious about? Keep your mind and your eyes open and you are sure to make wonderful discoveries!


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Book Review: The Expert Expatriate

Posted on 11. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Relocation, Reviews, Tools & Resources

“The Expert Expatriate: Your guide to Successful Relocation Abroad: Moving, Living, Thriving” by Melissa Brayer Hess and Patricia Linderman

Clear, easy to read and practical-minded, this book should be on every expat’s shelf. Not only do the authors provide a step-by step approach to relocating, they also strike an excellent balance between practical advice and psychological insight.
In other words, this book does not leave you with yet another to-do list to stress over, all the while asking you to check your emotions at the door. I believe that this dual approach is the key to a successful international experience.
I appreciated the concrete suggestions on such topics as learning the local language, making the move less stressful for children and what to do if, in spite of your best efforts, you are still not adjusting to your new environment.

The Expert Expatriate is primarily aimed at employees sent on an international assignment by their organisation. However, anyone moving abroad with children and/or pets will find much of interest here, as entire chapters are devoted to these subjects.

Readers looking for country-specific information or emigrating without the support of an organisation may want to supplement this book with other resources written with their situation in mind. They will still greatly benefit from what The Expert Expatriate has to offer, such as strategies to cope with disenchantment once the honeymoon with the new location is over.
Highly recommended!

Please note that the edition I read and reviewed has since been revised and expanded, under the new title “The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad”. The new edition includes a chapter on safety as well as updated information on relocating solo.


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Work / Life Balance, Where Art Thou?

Posted on 10. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Musings & Inspiration

Today, I coached a client and right after that I got on an hour-long call with my own coach – she makes sure that I keep growing as a professional coach and that I hold myself to high standards when working with my clients.

It was interesting to see the exact same themes surfacing during both coaching sessions. My client, who is currently job-hunting overseas, realised that she had been neglecting most of the personal goals she had set for herself upon arriving in her new location.
Then it was my coach’s turn to point out that I was moving away from my goal of balancing work and personal life by investing all of my available time and energy into my business.

So what happened? Clearly, both my client and I decided, maybe unconsciously, that our work is more important than anything else. So much more important, in fact, that it warrants walking away from our non work-related goals. Sure, it means compromising on our values… but isn’t that the reasonable thing to do, because work is, well, so important?

Guess what? I am not buying this argument anymore. Of course work is important. However, my health, happiness and personal growth are important too. I would even say that they are primordial. So why is it that when I have to make a simple, everyday life decision (such as, do I go to bed early or do I work an extra hour?), work always wins?
There is a disconnect between my values and my stated goals on the one hand, and my actual behaviour on the other hand. I am not OK with that and I have to find a way to bridge this gap.

But not tonight.
My coach and I decided that from now on, if I go to bed, say, an hour late, I have to slash one hour off my work schedule the next day. Yikes! Off to bed I go…


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Inner Chatter: When It Gets Too Much

Posted on 07. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

Expat life is rife with opportunities for our thoughts to become a little chaotic. Our head may be filled with more “internal chatter” than usual. And how wouldn’t it be?

In a new country, even basic errands, such as grocery shopping or driving through town, suddenly become more complex. The unfamiliar environment and cultural ambiguities can prompt all sorts of questions, uncertainties and conflicted emotions. Not to mention that the packing / unpacking / getting settled phases are sure to put our problem-solving and organizational skills to the test!

When too many random thoughts are bouncing around your head, you may have trouble concentrating and staying focused. You may feel scattered, overwhelmed and stressed out. Important tasks may fall through the cracks. How can we deal with that?

Here are a few techniques that work well for me:
Meditation, Yoga or other practices that allow me to focus on my breathing and still my mind
Staying in the present. Narrowing down my focus to the present moment helps me select one thought at a time. I can then explore it further (or decide that it is not worth my time), release it and move onto another thought. No mulling over the past, no projecting into the future. Just the here and now. This is my go-to technique when my thoughts and emotions are all over the place
Putting it out on paper. Rather than trying to keep everything in my head, I write it down and get it out of my mind. I use a variety of tools, from good old To-Do lists and day planners to Mind Maps and Priority matrixes. Writing or journaling are also very useful for working through complex or confusing emotions
Talking to my coach. Nothing helps me keep my priorities straight like using my coach as my sounding board and personal strategist. Find someone you can trust to be objective and firm, yet upbeat and gentle. Talk through whatever preoccupies you. Set specific objectives for your conversation: do you want an action plan, greater clarity or a different perspective? What about all three?

Notice when your inner chatter become distracting. Identify the patterns.
Does it become louder when you are trying to do too much at once? When you are in an unfamiliar situation? When you are worried?
If you have found ways to keep it under control, please share your helpful tips with us!


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