Tag Archives: expat spouses
Mountain View

As I have mentioned in this post, my mother could not find yeast during the early days of the pandemic. Her village in Southern Germany had a yeast shortage. We didn’t have a shortage of anything here in Zurich, neither toilet paper nor yeast, even though demand for both was higher than in “normal” times. My mother likes baking, but I felt she needed to bake even more during these times. 

I went to SPAR and bought five packets of dry yeast. The man at the post office laughed when I told him what was in the small parcel—my second delivery since the beginning of our lockdown. The price of the stamps was higher than the value of the goods, but hey, this was the only thing I could do for my family from here. I was so happy that I could help them with a small gesture. This year, I did not order anything online for Easter: I used my social media skills to locate the flower shop in my mother’s village, and we actually talked on the phone (I know, bizarre…). Once she understood my relationship with the village’s eldest woman (my grandma), I think she completely trusted me, and I trusted her. We agreed to her delivering flowers that I would pay via bank transfer. No credit card, no contract, just trust, and five minutes of small talk. She understood that this gesture was important to me. I only live about two hours away from my family, but I might as well live in Cochin or Costa Rica.

I’m an accidental “expat.” I didn’t really think of myself as an expat since I’ve lived the closest to home for the last 11 years. Coronavirus “expatriated” me. I’ve worked with expats most of my professional life, lived abroad, and been on international assignments. I’m an expert in Global Mobility, but it took a virus to make it hard to return to my passport country. 

I feel your pain and your stress. We are all experiencing varying levels of emotional and mental turmoil. There is no solution to the root causes of that anxiety, but we need to maintain our mental health like we do our physical. The World Health Organization, correctly anticipating that the longer the pandemic lasts, the more it would impact mental health, has spent the last couple of years publishing support and guides for people to follow. I have been following them, and they have proven helpful in centering me and giving me better control of my mental health.

Pause. Breathe. Reflect.

Take some slow breaths, inhaling through your nose, then slowly exhaling through your mouth. 

Slow breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress because it signals to your brain to relax your body.

Connect with others

Keep in regular contact with people close to you and talk to them. Talking to people you trust can help. Tell them how you are feeling and share any concerns, or discuss everyday things.

Keep to a healthy routine

The emphasis here is on both healthy and routine. That means not using alcohol and drugs to deal with fear, anxiety, boredom, and social isolation.

Instead, focus on establishing consistent sleeping patterns, maintaining personal hygiene, eating regularly and having healthy food, and improving time management to include exercise, work, and personal time.

One thing that works for me is to take regular breaks from on-screen activities and go offline.

Be kind to yourself and others

We are human and thus not immune to doubt and anxiety. Don’t expect too much of yourself on days that are more difficult than others. Instead, accept that some days, you may be more productive than others.

One way to practice self-kindness is to reduce how much you watch, read or listen to news that makes you feel anxious or distressed, especially news from your home country. Limit news to fixed times in the day and listen only to trusted sources. 

If you can help yourself and have the capacity for it, helping others can be good for you too. If you can, offer support to people in the expat community who may need it. Because as expats, we have learned to be resilient, we have survived previous crises, and we have managed to turn our lives around in the oddest situations. But now, we are not so sure anymore. When will this pandemic end? And how will we live when we get out of it? Which part of the world still feels safe? Will our children ever be able to catch up on the school lessons they have missed? 

I miss having offline workshops and what I love about this retreat is that we can be offline most of the time and connect with our inner creators again. We can work on our relationships with people who are important to us. We can build a community of people who help each other (irrespective of their cultural or religious background but based on shared values and deep love for people).

Like we need yeast to bake bread, we need energy and love to work and live with people around us. We might think that we can just stay at home and send our avatars to work, but who would we then be? 

We need to get dressed in nice clothes, have a commute to work and a distance between “work” and “leisure.” Otherwise, we lose our fire and inspiration, and lose touch with our inner creator. I look forward to hearing from you!

I wish all of us to support each other in communities, and I’m convinced that an OFFLINE RETREAT will most certainly create miracles despite the wonders of technology. Because of the travel situation and insecurities around the world, I have decided to offer the RockMeRetreat in Switzerland at the Ilanz monastery. I have been on a retreat there before, and it’s a humble, yet quiet and comfortable place, and the sisters are extremely warmhearted and welcoming, and the mountain view is just amazing.

We will offer the RockMeRetreat from 17 to 23 November 2022.

I hope you will join us in Ilanz. I will be happy to set up a meeting with you to discuss your participation. 

Richard Harvell, a Bestselling Author and Publisher and Diccon Bewes, also very famous author of “SwissWatching” and other books about living in Switzerland as a foreigner contacted us to announce this great pilot project they are conducting. They will hold an all-inclusive cultural integration retreat weekend in Bellinzona on 17-19 June and thought Global People Transitions might have exactly the right candidates to benefit from this exciting experience!

Cultural integration has been proven crucial to the success of an expat’s assignment, but it has often been overlooked. This kind of crash course (it’s not a course really, rather a touristy weekend where you also learn lots!) allows the participants to learn about their new setting in an informal and enjoyable way. This transition period (from the moment you decide to accept the assignment, to the preparation, to settling in your new place and job) is stressful enough; this weekend is designed to help you ease in and be ready to bounce back. Employers will also benefit from this retreat: having better integrated and less stressed employees, prepared to become more efficient faster can only be positive. Switzerland has long struggled with this challenge, and Richard and Diccon are here to make change happen!

Registration is now open here.

https://www.immerse-swiss.com/bellinzona

The Expert Guide to Your Life in Switzerland (trailer)

Resources and further readings

NewInZurich

Looking at the whole family in the expatriation process

Our epic blog posts

Global TV Talk Show with Ed Cohen:

Interview with Ed Cohen on Minority Expats

Talking

You might be facing a unique set of challenges right now. Acclimatizing to a new locale, new cultural norms and social practices, ever-changing pandemic rules, children with identity issues, an injury, or an elderly relative, who just fell down a third time and needed to be hospitalized. 

These challenges bring with them additional levels of stress and dealing with them every day inevitably results in mental exhaustion, especially if you cannot be there in person and have to support through WhatsApp calls.

You might also downplay your own mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion or worse, ignore them altogether. That’s because as new members of the workplace or community, you don’t want to be seen as the “constant victim”. You might end up overworking and taking on too many responsibilities to show your “worth” and you’re not looking after yourself enough.

This can result in weight fluctuations, feeling drained or listless, and being unable to get out of bed. If any or all of those descriptions apply to you or to a family member, then this discussion would help you understand better what is going on. 

The Expat Experience

The “Expat Experience (XX)” involves working longer hours, adjusting to the rules and culture of the host country, trying to build a new circle of friends, and retaining some semblance of social life. You notice that things that were commonplace in your home country, perhaps easier access to medication or specific types of food, are way harder in the new country and add to the stress that is already near peak levels due to the recent move.

Stress is something we all have to manage but for you, stress is experienced more frequently and from a broader range of sources. It starts with the “small” things – handing over your previous work, clearing your office space out for the move, and saying goodbye to people you love or grew accustomed to.

For you, it only gets more complicated from there. There is a new language and an entire culture built around it that needs to be understood, people to interact with, transport networks to figure out, and more. Remember, all this is happening in conjunction with everyday obligations like cooking and cleaning, spending time with family, calling your relatives or parents in your home country.

You can see why the statistics skew in favor of you facing more burnouts, and the negative impact on personal and professional life that they bring.

Culture Shock 

Early on during an assignment, a large portion of you suffers from “culture shock” or cultural adjustment. The impact of these often manifests as symptoms similar to mild depression – feelings of isolation and helplessness, oversleeping and lethargy (or even the opposite: insomnia and lethargy), mood swings, and unexplained body aches. Homesickness adds to the symptoms, which combined with the fact that you might be new to your role makes things even tougher. It could also be that you don’t have a job or occupation just yet and feel that an important part of your identity is suddenly missing.

In this high-stress, emotional scenario, you often turn to the wrong things for management: substance abuse in the form of drugs or alcohol. 

I usually prescribe these seven easy-to-implement steps for helping your body with cultural adjustment.

  1. Implement a Daily Mission Walk. The focus here is not on high-impact training, but rather on consistency. Go for a short walk and make it a staple of your daily routine. Motivate yourself by small missions such as taking the dog for a walk, recycling the glass bottles, getting bread or flowers, buying groceries without the car, dropping a few items off at the local Brockenhaus (or Salvation Army).
  2. Plan a Digital Detox. This one is not easy, as you end up losing contact with your family and friends back home, but it is well established that overuse of social media and technology has a high impact on stress levels. A weekend of digital detox will help you regain focus and have some time to think and reflect. I usually try to stay away from social media for 24 hours over the weekend. During the RockMeRetreat we are practicing to stay away from media for several days.
  3. Practice PMR or a similar Relaxation Method. Work through Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) every day after lunch or before you go to sleep. Start with videos you can find on YouTube or buy CDs and audios from Medical Doctors such as Dr. Beth Salcedo (English) or Dr. Stephan Frucht (German).
  4. Start Meditating 5 Minutes a Day. Practicing active meditation is also a good idea. I created this video to get you started. There are many more detailed videos on how to do this out there. I’m teaching active meditation at the RockMeRetreat.
  5. Combine your first coffee with a morning meditation. You can also start your day with a short morning meditation such as this one. I try to combine my first coffee with a short meditation.
  6. Start a Journal. Journalling is a great method to deal with your mind and emotions. If it feels like a lot of work, try a bullet journal first.
  7. Join one of our Group Programs. Having a support group to help through any kind of transition is useful. With the current BANI world out there I would advise that you always build a support network fast and have a person you can trust and speak to about your challenges regularly.

Reverse Culture Shock

The hope that you would only experience culture shock once when you start an assignment is dashed by the revelation that by the end of that assignment, particularly if it was several years long, the same people experience a similar shock on returning home.

Also dubbed “re-entry shock”, the scenario is pretty similar to the original culture shock. After 5 or more years, the friend’s group, support networks, and even the workplace have all evolved and changed, while your memories and knowledge stopped at the point where they moved away. You find yourself in a similar boat as when you arrived in the host country all those years ago.

Reverse culture shock has not received the attention it deserves until now, but Vanessa Paisley’s “5-V Repatriation Model” is a great starting point to learn more about it.

When You Need Help From a Therapist

Coaching is not always the best solution, especially if symptoms have been persisting for a long time or were previously undiagnosed, perhaps even in the home country.  Should I identify that your symptoms are beyond what we deem “normal cultural adjustment” I will advise you to seek out professional help. 

The symptoms of depression are complex and vary, but have devastating long-term impacts on a person. 

If you are experiencing changes in sleep patterns, appetite, weight and mood swings, or any combination of symptoms listed on the link, please reach out immediately.

It is not easy to admit, whether to loved ones or even ourselves when things are tough. If you are feeling symptoms of culture shock, the first and by far the most important step is to honestly identify and acknowledge that you are not well. 

Without that acknowledgment, the treatment and healing can not begin. Also, asking for help can be shameful. Start with asking us for help by emailing romee@globalpeopletransitions.com for a first 25-Minute Call with me. 

We would also once again like to invite you to join our preparatory free workshops in advance of the RockMeRetreat and for anyone who would like to get to know our work with Expats, Expat Partners, Global Nomads, and Scientists better.

Giving back

Guest post by Brooke Faulkner

Whether on a short or long-term assignment, expatriates should take advantage of all that Global Mobility has to offer. Being appointed to new locations can further your professional development, help bring the best professional practices to new places, and help your company expand its global network. This is all not to mention that on a personal fulfilment note, Global Mobility is a perfect opportunity to experience new cultures, meet new people, and learn new languages.

Businesses who appoint expats may know of the business advantages, and they may even know of the benefits of global mobility. However, there are side effects of global mobility, and a significant drawback of an appointed expat is that they may become lonely in their selected location.

An expat can alleviate this sense of loneliness by giving back to their new local community. An expat is in a very unique position to experience not only new cultures intimately, but potentially better business operations for their company. Giving back to your new community can make an expat feel less like a tourist and more of local.

Volunteer


Being an expat can be especially tough on families. Sometimes, duty stations will require you to leave your family behind and as a result, expats can become very lonely. However, things such as Skype and other video conferencing apps can alleviate some of these feelings of loneliness. In instances of an expat feeling isolated in a new region, volunteering can help you connect to your new community while helping to improve it.

Especially if you are an expat in a developing nation, there are many nonprofit organizations and social enterprises you can sign up with to make a difference in your area. While volunteering, you will meet new people, and may even make new friends from another culture. In fact, just by spending your downtime toward something productive and alongside other like-minded people, you can root yourself in the community and become more sociable — removing that sense of reclusiveness.

Not sure where to start? Many hospitals may be looking for help to facilitate their population-based health services, and if you live in a region where people are suffering from noncommunicable diseases, you can lend your services to make a difference in your new community. Volunteering is not only a great way of encouraging a positive global community, but you will meet new people and make new friends.

Spend Money in the Community


You may understand that small mom-and-pop stores benefit enormously from your business. Especially in developing nations, a vendor will appreciate you purchasing from them, as your money will go directly to them and their family. Buying locally not only supports local vendors, but will improve the local economy overall. It is essential in these instances to remember that no matter what amount of money you spend in your area, it will make a profound impact — especially to those in developing nations.

It is not hard to imagine that you will be a welcomed face if you have a reputation for spending money and time with local vendors and businesses. Spending locally is also an opportunity to make new friends, as local vendors and shops provide a more personalized service, and these businessmen and women will likely set aside time to converse with someone they appreciate. Get to know the local vendors in your new community and become a friendly face around town.

Help Your Fellow Expats


As an expat — now hopefully treated as a local resident as a result of your community contributions — you have the opportunity to help other expats feel at home in their new location. You know that a new expat may feel isolated just as you may have when starting out, so wouldn’t you want to make them feel included?

Show an expat who is new to the area the ropes and pay it forward by including them in your volunteer efforts. Make sure they understand the importance of local spending, and introduce them to vendors who you have become friends with by doing the same. With more and more people volunteering and spending locally, you’ll see improvements in the surrounding community.

It is easy to feel like you stick out like a sore thumb as an expat. You can also feel like you don’t belong in your new community — but local spending and volunteering can quickly take you from feeling like an outsider to being a friendly neighborhood face.