Archive for December, 2008

Expat Skill: Whose Values Are These Anyway?

Posted on 30. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

This is the fourth post in a series designed to help you get reacquainted with your core identity. For the first three posts on this subject, see Expat Skill: How Well Do You Know Yourself?, Identify Your Values and Define Yourself From The Inside Out

Before we discuss values any further, let’s do a quick test:

Take a few seconds to review the core values you have already listed. How do they make you feel?

– If positive feelings arise, such as passion, energy, deep serenity or joy, congratulations! You have successfully identified what fires you up and keeps you moving forward in life. You have a solid foundation on which to build a fulfilling life as an expat- more on this in the next post.

– On the other hand, if your values leave you emotionally flat, or sound like a lot of work or even fill you with dread, this is a great time to pause and ask yourself whose values these really are.

Be candid with yourself. Do the words on your list truly define your authentic self? Or is there a possibility you may have unconsciously espoused other people’s values- your parents’, your organisation’s or those the media have been feeding you?

You may be thinking “That’s silly. How could someone possibly confuse other people’s values with their own?” Trust me on that. I meet and coach many, many individuals who have lost sight of their own core values. In fact, someone I know well spent 30-odd years confusing someone else’s values with her own- myself!

For the longest time, I went through life believing that these were my core values:
– Hard work and dedication
– Reliability
– Punctuality
– Self-reliance
While these principles allowed me to achieve a certain measure of outward success- a prestigious degree, a good career and a steadily growing bank account- something was missing. My life seemed to be ruled by a lot of “shoulds”, “musts” and “have tos”. After I experienced burnout twice in 10 years, I decided it was time to reassess the fundamentals of my lifestyle, starting with my values.

Much to my surprise, I realised that these values were not mine at all- they were my father’s and they bore the hallmarks of his strict, dutiful, hard-working Lutheran upbringing. They were not quite working for me though, so I did some reshuffling and updating. Self-reliance, dedication and reliability are truly important to me and I kept them high on my list. I also added several values that reflect my take on life: warmth, contribution, clarity, joy, beauty and inspiration. There, that’s more like it!

If you are not 100% sure what your values are, or whether yours ring really true, here are two possibilities:

Hire a personal coach. Yes, I am biased! All joking aside, any coach worth his or her salt is trained to listen for values in everything their client says. Because values are so central to motivation and identity, they are one of the first things we look for when working with someone. We are also quick to point out any discrepancies we perceive between values and goals, or values and lifestyle. So if you feel that you could use a reality check in this department, coaching might be just the thing you need.

– Come up with your Style Statement. Developed by two fellow Vancouverites, Carrie McCarthy and Danielle Laporte, Style Statement is a structured approach to finding your authentic self and expressing it in your everyday life. At the end of this process, you get a two-word statement that is the very essence of you.
Now the name might be a bit misleading- just because it says Style does not mean that it only applies to fashion or home décor! Your Statement can become your personal mantra for all aspects of your life. Some of them are quite magical, such as Enduring Bold, Comfortable Purity or Designed Ease. Mine is Sophisticated Inspired.
To find out more, you can go to the website, or get the book and create your Style Statement yourself, or book a phone consultation to have Carrie or Danielle walk you through the process.

Whew. This Values thing can be a lot of work, but I promise it is all worth it in the end! In the next post, we will explore how you can use your values as a powerful decision tool.
Until then, have a great day and, for those who are celebrating, enjoy getting ready for the New Year!


Related posts: How Well Do You Know Yourself?, Identify Your Values and Define Yourself From The Inside Out

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Expat Skill: Define Yourself From The Inside Out

Posted on 27. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

This is the third post in a series designed to help you get reacquainted with your core identity. For the first two posts on this subject, see Expat Skill: How Well Do You Know Yourself? and Identify Your Values

Now that you have identified and listed your values, here comes the next step: defining your identity from the inside out.

All too often, when it comes to expressing who we are, we let outside circumstances take precedence. Our job, our house, even the type of car we own seem to be part and parcel of our identity.

The thing is, as an expat, you know all too well that the next assignment could bring dramatic changes to your life. You may have to give up a successful career to follow your partner. You may move from a duplex in a tony urban centre to a villa in an expat compound. You may go from being a well-connected social butterfly to feeling lonely and isolated as a newcomer.

The drawback is pretty clear: if you let outside circumstances rule your sense of self, any significant changes, even positive ones, will require you to rebuild your self-image entirely. To put it bluntly: if life throws you a curveball, you are in for a nice little identity crisis.

How can you prevent this from happening to you? This is where your inner values come to the rescue.

If your core values are, say, Integrity, Compassion and Contribution, you will bring these qualities to everything you say, do or attempt, no matter where you are.

Your values are permanent, independent of your location and they cannot be taken away from you, unlike a job or a house. Because your values motivate you and fire you up, you can always turn inward and draw strength from them, even in times of turmoil or crisis.

In other words, you will never lose your sense of identity if you define yourself from the inside- i.e. your core values- out- i.e. how you deal with external circumstances. This is one of the most powerful tools expats can give themselves to retain a strong, healthy sense of self throughout their assignments and eventual repatriation.

Go through the list of your values (here is a list of tips to help you if you have not listed them yet). Which ones do you live by every day? These are the building blocks of your identity; cherish them like the good, reliable friends they are. Which ones could you use more of in your life? Are there any that you have been neglecting somewhat?

In the next few posts, we will look at practical ways to express your authentic self in your everyday life, and how to use your values as a decision tool.

PS: Happy Kwanzaa to all those celebrating!

Related posts: How Well Do You Know Yourself? and Identify Your Values

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Expat Skill: Identify Your Values

Posted on 25. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

This is the second post in a series designed to help you get reacquainted with your core identity. For the first post on this subject, see Expat Skill: How Well Do You Know Yourself?

Many of the challenges of expatriation revolve around the notion of identity.

For those accompanying partners who had to give up their career, this may translate as a loss of identity. For TCKs who wonder where their roots truly are, it may be a case of hybrid or confused identity. Finally, pretty much all expats experience a significant shift in their self-image and identity as they are exposed to a different culture.

In short, expat life forces you to ask yourself who you really are.
In the midst of all these changes and all these new experiences, what truly remains constant about you is your core values- what you deeply believe in.

How can you identify your values?

If you are not sure what your core values are, here are a few questions to help you:

- What truly matters to you in life?
– What are you willing to take a stand for?
– Think back to one of the best times of your life. What was particularly fulfilling about it?
– Imagine that you are living the most rewarding life possible. What are the main characteristics that make it so wonderful?
– What do you want more of in your life?

Answering these questions may take some time and effort. Some of the themes that emerge might surprise you at first. Be candid and only list what is truly important to you and you alone.

You will know you have uncovered one of your core values when the thought of it gives you a jolt of energy, motivation and clarity.
Different values will have a different feel. Some will fire you up, while others will leave you feeling deeply serene and centered. Enjoy the many flavours they come in and let us know in the comments what you are learning about yourself.


PS: Merry Christmas to all those celebrating!
I am taking the day off and I hope to make it as meaningful yet low-key as possible. Oh, and I will be playing in the pretty snow… Vancouver has seen unusually heavy snowfalls over the past few days and I fully intend to enjoy the winter wonderland while it lasts!

Related posts: Expat Skill: How Well Do You Know Yourself? and Define Yourself From The Inside Out

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Expat Skill: How Well Do You Know Yourself?

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

If I gave you five minutes to list the following:

- Your five most important values,
– Five things you truly believe,
– Five words that define who you are,

… would you be able to do it ? What would your answers be?

If you find that you would need to think long and hard about it, you are not alone.

I ask all my new expat clients to answer similar questions before I start coaching them. Many find the exercise difficult, as they have never taken the time to articulate their own values and beliefs before.
Unfortunately, experience has shown me time and again that those who are unaware of their personal values have a significantly harder time dealing with expat life.

Think about it this way: Your values act as your compass. They show you where your True North is.
Without a functioning compass, it is all too easy to veer off course. Chances are you will end up pursuing the “wrong” goals- that is to say, goals that are not aligned with who you truly are and what you truly want. Expatriation, or any significant change, for that matter, becomes much more challenging when you do not know yourself well.

Instead of writing a long post about what I believe is a very important topic, I will break it up into a series of shorter posts over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for practical tips and techniques to help you identify your values, define yourself from the inside out and use your values as a decision tool.

In the meantime, please share your thoughts with us in the comments!


PS: Happy Hanukkah to all those celebrating!

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Expat Skill: Never Assume

Posted on 20. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

One piece of advice that expats frequently hear is “Keep an open mind”. Great idea, but how exactly do you go about implementing it in your daily life?
The more I think about it, the more I find that it boils down to one simple mantra: Never assume.

Never assume that local customs are impenetrable, incomprehensible and irrelevant to your life
Be curious. Ask questions. Find yourself some “cultural mentors” who can shed light on the habits and traditions that baffle you.
Suspend judgement and get involved in many different aspects of daily life in your host country. You will be rewarded with a much richer and more meaningful expat experience than if you stayed on the sideline.

Never assume that you know what other family members really need
In an ideal world, we would all say just the right thing at the right time. We would know precisely when and how to cheer up homesick children, or give plenty of space to a stressed-out spouse.

Unfortunately, we cannot read minds and sometimes our efforts fall flat. What if your children actually needed alone time to work through their emotions and nostalgia? What if your spouse was in fact craving a chance to open up and discuss what is bothering him?

Once again, ask questions. Give your family the opportunity to express their needs. You could ask “What is the best way for me to help you through this?” or “What would make things easier for you?” Then let them do the talking. Your job is to listen very carefully, and to ask further questions if you need to clarify something.

The best questions you can ask are open-ended (i.e. they cannot be answered by yes or no). They give family members plenty of space to express themselves. I try and avoid starting questions with “Why”; these tend to trigger defensiveness rather than dialogue and cooperation. Questions starting with “What” or “How” are much more powerful and invite creativity.

Never assume the worst
Some of us are quick to consider the worst-case scenario. That whole idea of asking instead of flat-out assuming can sound a little scary… what if people get offended? What if they think I am prying? What if they ridicule me?

Don’t fret.
By and large, people will enjoy your asking for their input. Do not be shy about it! Show that you are genuinely interested in local customs and your new friends will probably be delighted to share their knowledge with you.

At home, do not assume that open communication is impossible, even when things get a bit tense. Undivided attention is a wonderful gift to give your family. Focus on listening well and asking open-ended questions; your children and spouse will appreciate being heard and acknowledged.

What emotions come up for you when you think of letting go of your assumptions?
Is it relief, curiousity, excitement… or does it make you feel vulnerable, exposed and disoriented? What does your Inner Critic have to say about it?


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The Expat Life: Taking Pictures

Posted on 18. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration, Relocation

Just passing on a good tip given to me by a photographer friend:

Take pictures of your new surroundings soon after you relocate- let’s say within the first three to six months.
For those of you who enjoy scrapbooking, the same rule applies: get those projects done early!

Why is that?
Well, first, this will ensure that you actually do take said pictures or finish said scrapbook album.
As we all know, expats easily fall prey to the “I can always photograph this temple / visit this medieval castle / get my personal project started next week” syndrome. Soon enough it will be time to move on to your next assignment, so do not delay- or be stuck with garish postcards as your only mementoes for all eternity!

Second, and perhaps more importantly, you will bring a fresh set of eyes to your new location. No matter how impressive the landscape, how majestic the gothic church or how colourful the night market, you will eventually get used to it, up to the point where you do not really see it anymore. But for the first few months, everything will seem more intriguing, more unexpected, more dramatic.

Shutters and front doors painted in bright colours. The quality of the light, so different from what you were used to back home. Daily scenes in the bustling streets of the capital city. Even if your technique is not perfect, your curiosity and sense of wonder will help you find more interesting angles and capture more emotion in your photographs.
So do not wait until you take it all for granted. Grab your camera and start exploring.


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The Expat Life: Staying Sane During Home Leave

Posted on 16. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

Three tips to help you make the most of your next stay in your home country:

- Stay in a neutral place
Relatives and friends may insist on your staying with them. While this is very kind of them, and may sound tempting if you have not seen them in a long time, this arrangement may actually be less than ideal.

Do not forget that you will be dealing with jetlag and re-entry shock. Having your own space- guest rooms and sofa beds do not count as such- will make it much easier to ease back into the local time zone and lifestyle, on your own terms.

If you are travelling with children, keep in mind that elderly relatives or childless friends may not be used to having young ones around. It will be much easier for everyone involved if you arrange for a hotel room or a rented apartment instead.

– Don’t go to them, make them come to you

The first time I went back to France for a visit, I had a long list of friends I wanted to see in Paris. I made plans in advance so that we could spend quality time together, in small groups.

Instead of the joyous get-togethers I had pictured before leaving, I mostly remember running from one arrondissement to the next, wasting time waiting for people who were running late or had to cancel at the last second, and not finding enough time to visit the friends I most wanted to.

The following year, having learned my lesson, I sent all my friends an email that read: “Will be in Paris between this and that date. So far, all I know is that I am having dinner at my favourite Lebanese restaurant on the Monday. You are all welcome to join me. If that doesn’t work for you, give me a call and we will make other plans.”
That worked like a charm. The few people who could not make it that day met me for tea near my hotel later in the week. No frayed nerves, no exhausting schedule, and plenty of laughs with my friends. Home leave, the way it should be.

If you are renting an apartment, you could also entertain your friends there. A potluck dinner or a simple brunch only requires minimal work on your part and is a great way to spend quality time with your loved ones.

– Get the shopping done early in your stay

Right after arriving, I often find myself in a bit of a jetlag-induced daze and do not feel like doing much anyway, so this is when I get the shopping out of the way. (I must admit that I might be biased here, as I really, really dislike shopping!)

But even if shopping is not a chore for you, it does make sense to get it done early:

We all know that expat shopping sprees can be costly. It’s better to find out just how costly at the beginning of your stay. If the bill turns out to be higher than expected, you can always adjust your spending accordingly to stay within your total budget.

One last perk: you can gauge early on how much space your purchases will take in your suitcase. No more frantically trying to stuff your last-minute shopping into a carry-on bag just before leaving for the airport!

Do you have more tips on how to best retain your sanity and enjoy yourself during home leave? Please share them with us- and happy travels to those of you going on winter leave! Have a lovely holiday season!


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Book Review: Diplomatic Baggage- The Adventures Of A Trailing Spouse

Posted on 13. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Reviews, Tools & Resources

Many expat clubs around the world recommend “Diplomatic Baggage- The Adventures Of A Trailing Spouse” by Brigid Keenan as a must-read for diplomatic wives and accompanying partners in general.

Let us get a warning out of the way right now. If you have no patience for complainers, stay well away from this book, as it will probably infuriate you. Mrs. Keenan, a former fashion journalist and the wife of a British diplomat, whines a lot and spends much time crying, especially in the first few chapters. Some anecdotes read like a laundry list of her phobias: entertaining, flying, heights, robbers, sharks, snakes… as the author says herself, it seems like on every posting she discovered “new ways of dying to worry about”.

Her self-deprecating humour does make her sound more likeable and is sometimes genuinely funny. However, it does become a bit too systematic after a while. About halfway through the book, the many variations on “I am such a sorry excuse for a journalist” and “I am the most useless hostess you will ever meet” start to wear thin.

In spite of these quirks, there is no denying that “Diplomatic Baggage” is fun and easy to read. While I did not find it quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as many reviewers did, several anecdotes made me smile and I loved the husband’s tongue in cheek sense of humour. I finished the book in two evenings and it kept me entertained the whole time.

Beyond its qualities as an autobiography, I found “Diplomatic Baggage” to be a valuable account of the ups-and-downs of life as an accompanying partner: loneliness. Homesickness. Boredom. Marital tensions. The sometimes daunting etiquette. Having to manage domestic help when you have never had staff before.
Throughout her book, Brigid Keenan weaves in pithy, lively descriptions of the various locations where she and her family lived. Be forewarned that she tells it like she sees it and that she is not shy about stating her political views. Some of her remarks will be seen as controversial; some others verge on patronising, especially when she writes about her staff.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of the impact of expat life on the couple’s children. The two daughters are more or less invisible for two thirds of the book, until they hit the teenage years and begin to act up. Even when the girls run away from boarding school, refuse to study for their exams and are eventually expelled, the challenges faced by Third-Culture Kids are never explicitly brought up.

In summary, there is a possibility that “Diplomatic Baggage” may turn you off, or even offend you. At the same time, it will entertain you with its accounts of postings as radically different as Belgium, India and Kazakhstan. Former and current accompanying partners will find their experiences, emotions and challenges mirrored in this book and will realise that they are not alone. Considering that supposedly “spoilt” diplomatic wives do not always get much sympathy or support, this alone may make reading this book a rewarding experience.

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The Expat Life: How To Build Your Support Team

Posted on 11. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources
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We talked about the importance of surrounding yourself with a support team here.

Where and how do you find the right experts when you’ve just arrived in your new country?

Ask the experts

10 tips to build your support team (more…)

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The Expat Life: Don’t Be A Lone Ranger

Posted on 09. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

Do you have a support team? Who are your trusted advisors?

Because you have a lot to figure out about your new country, it is crucial that you surround yourself with professionals and/or peers that you can turn to for sound advice.

We already talked about the importance of asking questions and how you can use your various networks (colleagues, other expats, consulate) to obtain all sorts of information.

Finding advisers takes that idea to the next level. Here, you are primarily looking for expertise and reliability.

Your next-door neighbour might be the perfect person to tell you where to find the best bakery in town. However, would you blindly follow his advice when the time comes to fill in your first tax return, start your own business or update your will? I hope not!

Financial, business or legal matters are best left to the experts. This is where advisors come into play.

Who should be on your team?

The same type of professionals whose services you used back home is a good place to start. However, consider adding a couple of new advisers to your list.

Why is that? Well, some of the things you used to take for granted are not that obvious anymore. How much do you really know about commercial law in your new country of residence? What about the local tax code? Even if you knew how to navigate these regulations back home, you are now in uncharted waters – time to get an expert opinion.

Have you ever thought of having a mentor or a coach? Now might be the perfect time to get that extra push, that additional dose of guidance and encouragement that could make a big difference in your career and your life.

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I relocated was waiting too long to build my support team. I was trying to do everything myself and, because I like thoroughly researching a subject before making a decision, nothing really got done. I am ashamed to say that it took me 3 years to actually start investing some of my savings and even longer to get proper insurance for myself and my home.

Thankfully, I eventually saw the light and started surrounding myself with the right people. My current support team is comprised of a financial adviser, a business adviser, a professional coach- who also acts as my mentor- a website designer and three wonderful women entrepreneurs with whom I meet every Monday to discuss our businesses, give each other feedback and set goals for the week.

I think that my Lone Ranger days are officially over.

You will find a few pointers here to help you find the right advisors- and avoid the really bad ones- in your host country.

In the meantime, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to fight the inertia and finally phone that advisor you have been meaning to contact:

- What is one piece of expert advice that could help you progress toward your goals?
– How would that make your life better or easier?
– What is holding you back?
– How strongly committed to your goal are you really?
– What is the next step you are going to take? When are you taking it? What outcome do you want?


Related posts: Asking Questions, How To Build Your Support Team

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