Managing the cycle of change Preparing for an international move can be overwhelming. Many expat partners become so immersed in the logistics of the move, they fail to prepare themselves emotionally for the challenges that lie ahead. Cross-cultural training can help. TEXT MARIA FOLEY
oving to a new culture may open the door to exciting possibilities, but it can also be daunting. Losing the familiar cues that tell us how to behave can leave us feeling confused. Not being able to work or continue with other activities that fulﬁ l us may feel frustrating and disorienting. Our very identities can be affected, since an overseas move often involves a change of status or social roles.
Why cross-cultural training works Cross-cultural training can ease the transition to expat life. In a study published in the International Journal of Human Resources Management, lead author Paula Caligiuri outlines its three main purposes: 1. 2. 3.
It gives expats the skills to behave in a culturallyappropriate manner in their host country. It provides the tools necessary to deal with unexpected events. It establishes realistic expectations of international life.
with cultural change and ﬁnd their place in the host culture. The one-day group workshop has been successfully helping Global Connection members integrate for fourteen years. Since the introduction of an online coaching version, participants also have the option of meeting privately with a facilitator via Skype.
In-person vs. online The in-person workshops are highly interactive, and participants are encouraged to ask questions and share their experiences. In fact, the camaraderie that forms among the attendees is a big part of what makes the day special. “The atmosphere is very supportive,” agrees facilitator Richard Forrest, “but we understand that a group environment isn’t for everyone.” The one-on-one aspect of the online version creates a different dynamic, he says. “It’s a dialogue, so the two of us are able to dig a little deeper. It feels more like coaching than the group sessions, although of course there are some insights and coaching there too.”
Working through the cycle Global Connection’s Cycles of Change workshop addresses all these issues. Rather than just provide etiquette tips and advice on local customs, it teaches attendees how to deal
Global Connection | September 2013
How we respond to an international move depends on our cultural background, life experiences, and personal values. Knowing what to expect from expatriation (or
repatriation) is also a major factor. In addition to managing expectations, the training examines what culture is and how profoundly it affects all aspects of our lives, how our personal values drive our behaviour, how to deal with culture shock (or, for repatriates, reverse culture shock), and how to explore a culture instead of just skimming the surface.
Attendees learn how to deal with cultural change and find their place in the host culture A major topic of both the in-group and online coaching sessions is the cycle of change: the stages we go through as we adjust to an unfamiliar culture. The discussion can be eye-opening, as expat partner Tatiana Petkova discovered. “This is the ﬁ rst time I’ve lived abroad, so I thought it would be good to have some professional advice,” says Tatiana, who moved from her native Russia to Romania for her husband’s job with Achmea. “I learned about the stages of adaptation and found out what to do in each stage: how to behave, what tasks to do to make it better.” Some of the stages can be quite challenging, but Tatiana found it comforting to know that while most people struggle at times, the difﬁculty usually passes. “When I ﬁ rst arrived in Romania, I didn’t know what to do or how to ﬁnd friends,” she notes. “But when I was doing the training, I learned that I felt that way because I was in the disorientation stage. It
was a relief to ﬁnd out it wasn’t just me – everyone goes through it. Now that I’ve been here ﬁve months, I realise that getting used to living here was actually pretty easy – maybe because I was prepared.”
Planning to succeed Of course, knowing what to expect is only half the battle; determining how to deal with it is an essential next step. Since the road to adjustment is deeply subjective, there’s no one-size-ﬁts-all plan of action. Tatiana Petkova It often takes quite a bit of soul-searching before participants are able to come up with a strategy that will work for them. Richard’s job, he says, is to help them “connect the dots” by asking leading questions. The result of all this self-examination is a personalised list of ‘do’s and needs’ – a blueprint for adjusting to life overseas. “Richard helped me ﬁnd my feet here,” says Tatiana. “He showed me that I can take courses and ﬁnd friends. Now I feel much more conﬁdent, and it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken the online coaching.”
I was sceptical at first I took the Cycles of Change online coaching a week after I arrived in Singapore. I admit I was sceptical at first. My husband Jimmy and I are both Malaysian, and I thought coming back to Asia after living in the Netherlands would be a breeze. Richard, my coach, told me it wouldn’t be that simple: even though the two countries share some history, their cultures aren’t the same. He said I wouldn’t know how to behave, but because I look and sound Singaporean, people will expect me to fit in immediately. He was right about that. Richard had been through it all himself, and that made me more comfortable. For example, he told me that when a couple goes through a big change like this, they either move closer together or drift apart. It’s helpful for Jimmy and I to be aware of that, so we don’t take each other for granted and lose the closeness we have. Knowing what to expect in each stage of the cycle of change was the most important lesson. I wish I’d known that before our move to the Netherlands! The stages are inevitable, but at least now I know how to handle them. Soon Yee Looi - Expat partner, FrieslandCampina
Global Connection | September 2013