The thrill of living and working every day in a foreign culture can be a life-changing event: for better or for worse. As such, it’s important to ensure that this major life event is the magical and beneficial experience it should be, and not the reason for a major life mistake, which it sadly sometimes is. Living and working every day in a foreign culture can quickly turn into a major trauma if you aren’t prepared for the many often unexpected challenges of adjusting to cultural differences.
The following tips spell out EXPAT and were written by Dean Foster who was my legendary mentor when I first started delivering relocation and cross-cultural training in organizations.
P: PLAN: You cannot plan enough: there are myriad logistical issues to sort out before international relocation, and lots to learn about the life and business styles of your new location abroad. Successful expats give themselves as much time to do this as possible and take advantage of cultural learning and training opportunities before getting on the plane.
A: ASSESS your comfort level with differences: Being abroad, working and living, will challenge you to adjust to differences, both big and little, every day, in many ways. Assess the degree to which you are flexible and comfortable with situations that you may not understand, or which may challenge your deeply held beliefs, values, and ideals. Remember, you cannot, and are not, being paid to change your host culture and its people: you can only change how you react to what others present to you.
T: TRAIN to learn how to behave more appropriately to that which you encounter to be strange, different, and challenging. Knowing about the culture and being trained to respond more positively and genuinely to the culture are two different skills, and you need to master both.
How to achieve SUCCESS in your relocation endeavor:
S: STAY CURIOUS: Curious people do not judge what they do not understand, but rather seek to understand it. Stay open, curious, and positive: assume the best until you have the facts to know otherwise, and learn about what is happening to you, as opposed to seeking to avoid it.
U: UNDERSTAND: Learn, train, and make sense of what you first find mysterious or problematic. Ask questions, seek answers; be a student, not a teacher.
C: COMMUNICATE: Successful expats express their feelings in positive and humble ways to locals, as they build friendships and relationships to overcome differences. Communicate supportively to your partner, and children, who are also going through adjustment challenges of their own: lean on them when you need to and support them when they need you.
C: CHANGE: Or, at least, be ready to. Successful expats are flexible and change-focused; be ready to give up some cherished ideas in an environment that may not cherish them quite to the same degree as you do (if at all).
E: EFFORT: All this takes time and energy: be kind to yourself and recognize that it is not easy to adjust and adapt to differences. You will slide, you will be frustrated, you will make mistakes. Just never give up, never hide out in the expat community, and wake up every day to the challenge of making the effort.
S: STAY POSITIVE: Do what makes you happy; share your discoveries and your frustrations, and keep a sense of humor. You are human after all, and you will make mistakes. Seek support from your friends, family, and other expats in the expat community.
S: STAY HUMBLE: Remember, always, you are a guest in someone else’s home, and you don’t know their culture as much as they do. As irritating as someone or some situation may be, it is YOUR job to sort it out, and in the end, to adjust and adapt. Be respectful of what you don’t understand or cannot agree with and be an objective teacher when they express thoughts and ideas that challenge you about your cue.
With the right training and preparation, relocation can be a fascinating adventure. Exploring and living in new cultures will enable you to discover new boundaries and acquire essential tools to elevate yourself to successfully work from a “global mindset” perspective.