February 17, 2010

New site, new blog!

Well, here it is....


my newest blog entry is now hosted over there (clic on "blog").
Still working out the kinks, so bear with me, but this is sneak preview for my favorite readers.

I will let you know when I get "The Expat Gym" enrollment set up.

feedback WELCOME!!

a domani,

February 16, 2010

Ways of thinking

I found this story on a forum and it is a wonderful example of differences in approaches to thinking things through and decision making processes.

I sat on a European subcommittee for several years and was able to observe the different thinking styles being played out. These differences would considerable misunderstanding and conflict and quite often produce a total impasse. Much of the ways of thinking owe a large part to the legacy of British Empiricism (as per David Hume). This will often manifest itself such that if someone suggests an idea the boss' will ask for proof that a viable and effect project plan can be produced: only then will the idea be given adequate consideration. On the other hand, French thinking owes much to the legacy of Cartesianism (as per Rene Descartes). This would be manifested in the French industrialists and academics paining the 'big idea' and asking for agreement first and then later working on the project plan. Attempts by the Dutch, British and German members to seek the viable project plan first so that they could take it back to their respective institutions for approval were clearly seen as obstructive behaviours. Agree the big idea first and then work out the plan versus prove it is viable then we can sigh off on the big ideas are 180 degree opposite ways of thinking. The net result was that the British and Dutch contingent never got sign off and so lost out on the funding!

a presto,

February 1, 2010

Deadlines come and go

Deadlines are what drive S. crazy. "They don't keep to deadlines!!" she exclaimed, "and it drives me crazy".

"So, what do you do?" I asked.

"Well, for example this morning I set a meeting time, then I sent an email to everyone, then I followed up with individual phone calls about 30 minutes before, then I arrived on time, and waited."


"A few people started wandering in about 15 minutes later, chatting on their phones with a coffee, others arrived and finally about 30% of the group was there."

"Well, is it ALWAYS this way, I mean, I've seen Italians come through with everything well organized and on time, haven't you?"

"oh, yes, of course, on time, everything prepared, perfectly, sometimes."

"Well, what is going on when it works? What is different? What works, when it works?

Her pumpkin ravioli froze in mid-air as she stopped to think, and down it went to rest on her plate as she continued to reflect. And I patiently waited. In silence.

Slowly she looked up, "that would be when they own the question. Then deadlines are not an issue, it all gets down, wonderfully and on time."

"So, what will you do next time you need to have everyone at a meeting?"

a domani,

January 30, 2010

Lunch alone

I have been doing a few 1-2 day cross-cultural training programs for incoming managers and (accompanying spouses) to Italy....and I have run into a reverse cross-cultural moment.

It has to do with lunch -- how Italian.

I spent a day with a couple in Milan, starting VERY promptly at 8:30am and finishing at 5:00pm. Part of the day was dedicated to general cultural awareness, culture shock, managing expectations etc, and another part on cultural differences in the workplace with the working spouse alone. The morning clicked along with a short coffee break.

Then 12:30 rolled around and they accompanied me downstairs to release me, saying, " let's meet back at 1:20" and off they went.

I was meant to eat lunch, ALONE.

Their assumption was that this was my break and that being with them was work, because what else could we possibly talk about over lunch, but work. This was a very short-term professional (work only) relationship and we all needed a break. Maybe I needed to sit over my computer and send email messages while dropping pizzette crumbs on the keyboard.

But I have been in Italy way tooooo long, and I felt as though I had been punched in my empty stomach. I instead had assumed that we would grab a bite together -- actually it had crossed my mind that we might even have a plate of something hot at their home....I thought we might chat about anything and everything BUT the work we had been doing all morning -- about the best places to ski, what I thought of Berlusconi, if they should think about buying a FIAT, what the winters are like in Milan -- ANYTHING. We could have had a nice break together. You know....the "pranzo" thing.

I felt like I must be a terrible person and that they hated me.

Ah yes, cultural differences. They thought they were being very respectful by allowing me time to myself, a work-break. I read it as disrespectful at being thrown out on the streets to fend for myself at a time like lunch!

It is the old personal / professional divide that Americans must work through when they hop over the pond and into Italy (France and Spain too).

While I didn't embarrass them by mentioning the "incident" (although I should have in retrospect..). I did emphasize that M. should never say "no" to a coffee or to lunch with his Italian colleagues and that these small rituals were key to the essential relationship building process that would make or break his successful assignment.

Now I have another 2 day training coming up and the global training company has put in my notes something about "lunch on my own"! The client is British though, so there is hope I will have company for my meal.

a presto,

January 15, 2010

Happy Birthday to all expat women

Birthdays are not just about getting older,

they are also about getting wiser,
listening more carefully,
responding to others,
fully engaging in the world,
having fun, and
finding a greater sense of purpose.

Happy Birthday to the Expat Women website and Auguri for their future!


a domani,

December 15, 2009

Expat persona

Today I would like to share a great blog post that talks about how we take on an "expat persona" while living abroad -- even using a new name that better fits our "other" self. My expat persona name is Elizabeth, which is actually my first name, but not the name I had ever been called by friends and family back home.

Comments to the blog post below include:

"I find that “Ana” is really a facet of my very self–she’s always been there, but it took moving to the Czech Republic to find this “Ana” part of myself."

"I feel like I’ve become more of myself and discovered new depths to my character."

"I was given local names which didn’t stick, but recognize your concept of a persona custom-made for (and by) a particular culture or setting. Personality fracture is a definite issue when your context changes…such a strange, internal tension when important and vibrant parts of yourself are put into cold storage — but, as you showed, also a chance to let a new piece of yourself come forward."

"I like the idea that when you move to a new country and change your language, that your name changes too. It’s pronounced differently, shortened. Your new friends shape it to suit their language. There are people that complain when their name is pronounced differently. I like it when that happens. I have the feeling of reproducing myself. I like being many people.”

"….odd how a name change for local pronunciation convenience can actually take on meaning for us."

Can any of you relate to the comments above?

Click HERE for the link.

a domani,
E (e leez a bet)

November 27, 2009

Rituals with friends

Another Thanksgiving came and went. You gotta love the ritual of it all -- same turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, side dishes, pumpkin and apple pie all washed down with a glass of Novello.

The conversation went to another Thanksgiving and my subsequent blog entry about the democracy of pot luck. This year, Peter -- our host and turkey carver in the photo below -- had to take a back seat to the guests of honor. After many years, we were finally joined by the Italian restaurant owners who actually cook the beast! Our gratitude to their curiosity to prepare to perfection such an exotic dish!
So, here is the post again. Enjoy.

for Thanksgivings gone and those to come -- shared with expat friends.

November 26, 2009

Going home

Repatriation is today's topic. please find below a very honest, open and insigntful online discussion about repatriation after an assignment abroad. Pass this post along to your HR office!

Before starting, I would like to put out an invitation: I am gathering stories from expats on how the experience of living and working abroad has served to jumpstart significant personal and professional progress. Please contact me if you would be willing to share your thoughts (in a confidential way) for this project. The comments below may help you reflect.

The opening question for this discussion was: END OF EXPATRIATION: WHAT ABOUT YOUR "REACLIMATATION". Before leaving, companies often provide relocation service and sometimes cultural training to reduce the adaptation period but at the end of expatriation there is a new adaptation period. Does your company organise something and how do you manage your "reacclimatation ?

and here are a few responses (without names for privacy)

This is normally forgotten by companies. I suppose that it is supposed that you go back to your usual self: family, friends, sights, language and, this "reaclimatation" is an easy thing, and sometimes, it is not so.

Also, bear in mind, that many expatriations follow to a new expatriation so, this problem doesn't arise until a long time since you first left your home country. And when this happens, your past environment has completely disappeared.

When you are an expat and come home for a few weeks, every body wants to see you and you become really busy, with hardly time for yourself. When you are finally back, suddenly, all those feel that they don't need to rush to see you and you may find your self pretty much alone during some time, this can be hard, specially for a non working spouse, who normally is after returning from a long expatriation. Companies feel that they have done enough covering the cost of the move.

I would look at this problem from the other perspective. Once you leave the "home country" for an expat job, you are begining the new life somewhere else. As the time goes by, the "new country" its opportunities and problems, are closer than the ones of "home country". You are building new relationships, and parallely sort of a distance to all of "home country" issues. Looking from abroad and judging as an independent judge, rather than participant makes you confused in understanding where you belong. The longer the contract is the harder it is to come back. Consequently what happens is that many expats can't find their place in their "home country" and look for another jobs abroad.

HR teams do spend a lot of time and money to help a family move and adjust abroad. I actually don't know anyone who has received help during repatriation.

When people leave their home country and move to a new environment (new culture, new food, etc.) they end up finding out what they really are made of, and that will change them.

Like it or not -- in your home country you are defined by many things that have very little to do with who you are inside – what school you attend, what clothes you wear, what you do for a living, what music you listen to… When you move to a new country with new language and culture and ways of doing business – you have to make a decision. Do you walk into a McDonalds because you recognize the food or do you walk into a local restaurant where you don’t know the food and can’t speak the language?

Most expatriates choose the latter. And when that happens you start to change. You challenge yourself more and more.

You also seek support from people locally vs. from back home. Speaking for me -- I have found that the people back home couldn't empathize with what I was experiencing and didn’t understand that I was changing as a person. The local expatriates did. The local international school did and provided a lot of support too.

When my family moved back home we were different people. My husband and I had 3 children (plus dog and cat) – and we all were lost. There was a huge gap between who we are now and how our friends and family remembered us. And yes, Jose is right! Nobody rushed to see us!

We needed a welcome home party. We needed support to help all of us adjust. During the time we were away the world changed. Social media, mobile phones, TV shows, junk food, schools….even the church. We needed help reconnecting to our home country and starting over again. We had changed, our home country had changed.

It took a long time for our family to adjust. I have found that we now seek out new friends who are 'world focused' and more open minded. Many of our expatriate friends have moved back to their home countries too, and every single one of them have made major changes in their lives at home. New homes, redesigned homes, different schools for their kids, and many wanted a new job! Yes, the company that sent them abroad no longer kept their attention.

In my world, international consulting, very little is done to even help us adapt to the country we are going to, let alone help us adapt when we return. We each find our own coping mechanisms but one of the ways that has always helped me recover from a long posting abroad is to decompress in a neutral location before coming home. That way the denouement of returning home is not as strong and you have been able to process a lot of the emotion of leaving the country you worked in before going back to your old life. But the more international work you do, the more your old life needs to adjust to the new and improved you and vice versa. You must have the courage to make the changes you need to make.

I have just finished reading Robin Pascoe's book Homeward Bound and can highly recommend it for anyone repatriating. I have done so 3 times and it doesn't get easier through practice. The book made me realize that I'm not alone and also that it's not unusual for the readjustment to take years, not months as most would expect. Robin makes the point that living overseas changes you forever and most probably I will always feel something of an outsider. Not a pleasant thought, but perhaps a fair price to pay for all the wonderful experiences I've had living overseas.

Happy Thanksgiving!
a domani,
P.S. I added Robin Pascoe's book to my list to your right.

October 18, 2009

Looking for fortune

I am preparing a "CQ" (Cultural Quotient) column for the next issue of The Roman Forum magazine and I clicked on their website only to find an old travel article of mine on the front page!

So, if you live in Rome and are looking for a great day trip, CLICK HERE for an article on the town of Palestrina (and its goddess of fortune).

a domani,

October 15, 2009

Cultural Awareness in the Workplace

A photo from yesterday's presentation at the US embassy in Rome -- Survive to Thrive: Cultural Awareness in the Workplace. It was a mixed group of new arrivals, spouses, diplomats and embassy staff (even a few Italians) and everyone was quite engaged and surprised at how much they got out of the hour.

So, I am figuring out how to make and upload a recording so that I can share the text with all of you too. Anyone want to help me crack the podcast nut?

a domani,