Tag Archives: Experience

Guest Post by Valerie Priestley

Moving country and within a country has become a way of life for me. Along the road I learned first how to adapt to the employment market: going from a city to a little province town taught me the importance of researching employment possibilities and thus being able to make an educated decision: Could I only work in a market research consultancy specialized in the construction industry or was I agile enough to embrace a career change?

My next big move forced me to consider my family as a whole and decide what was best for us as a unit. The advantages of opening up to a new culture, mastering a new language, thus giving a huge life advantage to our two daughters, moving forward the career of my husband largely outweighed my newish promotion as a branch manager. This move which started as a bit of a dare soon evolved into a project which had to be led successfully. The integration of 4 people depended on it. The financial aspect came only second to the improvement of quality of life.

Working in the financial sector obviously helped me enormously to fathom out what our financial or taxation situation would be; i.e. no double taxation within the EU. We got help where needed to correctly appreciate the remuneration package that was laid on the table, for example to try and evaluate the cost of living, renting levels (1st item on a family budget),… We both activated our networks to gather as much information as possible before accepting the relocation. The head of HR of a big international company explained the different items they offered their expats. Other expats we got to know gently offered their time to walk us through their integration.  Their experience raised more questions, forced us stop and think about what we expected from the change in our -until then, very rewarding life, to examine what education we wanted to give our daughters, the effect on both our careers.

I took a huge amount of time and effort to get to know  where the schools were, how they operated, how easy it was to travel by public transport, what social life we could have, how the social security system and health insurance work and cost, where to find a GP, health specialist, shops… These every day details have to be taken into account to decide where you would like to settle down. This should not be underestimated: I have witnessed families failing to integrate because of a lack of prior questioning and knowledge.

Relocation agencies, are they worth it? The answer to that question relies not only on the quality of the provided service but also on the allocated budget. Their knowledge of the local market is an undeniable asset. But the last move unveiled yet another reality: some landlords are reluctant or totally against dealing with relocating agencies. So be prepared to have to roll up your sleeves if you want to make sure you live where you evaluated would be the best spot for you. Priority setting is a must: location versus cost of rent for example, this needs to be agreed upon by all involved in decision making.

Choosing a new home could be turned into a great opportunity for younger ones to feel involved in the decision-making process: before making visits our daughters were briefed to take care of certain missions. Each one was to concentrate on assigned rooms, take pictures and make note of what she liked most about it or what would make it hard for her and us to consider living in the property. The debriefing turned into a lively conversation and in the end help towards the success of the relocation.

I took the opportunity of each move abroad to master a new language: without a budget for it at first – I learned on the job. English then became kind of my second mother tongue or family language.  Language courses designed for expats or even better a one on one course should be included in a relocation package as speaking the local language is not only a question of politeness to the locals but also a passport to finding a job specially for the accompanying spouse or partner, a necessity to be understood by your new car mechanic, GP etc.

With the move the honeymoon period of the project finishes, the hard work of making a nest, joining communities starts. Join existing clubs to meet your new best friends.  Truth be told with each day you are given new opportunities to learn something new. I could not live without that challenge.

During this phase, discover and make the most of the new surroundings as you never know how much time you have to enjoy it. Life is full of surprises. No matter how well you planned your career, for example going back to university to retrain and find your dream job – my case, some economic or personal parameter changes and throws a spanner in your well-oiled system – my case !

And it is time to start afresh…new experience, new excitement, new opportunities to learn something…

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA
Valerie Priestley

Valérie Priestley is an experienced professional with a focus on HR and a background in both financial services and the marketing sector. Her thirst for knowledge and desire to help others grow led her to return to university and successfully gain a Masters in training in 2014. Bilingual French-English she rose to the challenge and now works in German.

On a “normal” work day I plan an appointment for relationship building and I prefer to do this in person. I have become so accustomed to have instant access to a map and train time table that usually I don’t check where I am going until I sit in the train. Switzerland has perfected the train system. They are usually very reliable and on time. People get irritated here when the train is 5 minutes late. (Ha!)
Yesterday was different though. I had planned to go for a walk but it turned into a mini-walk to the recycling bin. In the afternoon I headed to my appointment. All seemed on time. In the train I found a connection and not for the first time the connection did not take me where I wanted to go but somewhere in the realm of the area. I got off, wished I had time to stroll in the mountains and snow-covered woods but I was running late already. According to my phone I should reach in 22 minutes. Then my batteries died. I hardly remembered the address. I was annoyed, ready to turn around, sick of these endless times where I felt I was going the extra mile even for a volunteering job. I found a bakery on the way, asked for directions. They had no clue. Then I found the street, but not the house. Because I checked all but one.
Strange how we humans can err. Finally (now about 25 minutes late) a young man offered to check the website of the organization I was looking for and yes, I was next door to it. I killed my anger and laughed. There was a lesson to be learnt here. For a long time I did not seek help from so many people. I found it strange that I asked people for the way and I must have come across a lot more desperate than necessary. The meeting was inspiring and I went back with a sense of doing the right thing, with a sense of having met two ladies who are aligned with my values and with whom it will be inspirational to work.
Then on my way back I noticed that I was in an area of the city that I hardly knew. I liked it and it seemed like a place I would feel at home in. It made me think that Zurich is so diverse but if you stay in the expat bubble you could easily forget there is a less affluent part of town which also reminds me more of the area I lived in when I was in Frankfurt. I know…it is not always about outer change…but sometimes your inner change has caught up and your lifestyle might not seem to fit with your values anymore.
I want to downgrade, I want to live without a car, I want to adhere to the Swiss value of modesty. I realize that I have a choice. On my way back I got delayed again because of an accident. Poor soul, a person probably died. I only saw the last cleaning up work but the fact that the road had been blocked for several hours indicated tragedy. Again, I walked for 15 minutes. I noticed in the session afterwards that even though I was a bit flustered my brain was stimulated and energy level higher. I’ve had this weird feeling since the year started that I was not working hard enough but looking at new social entrepreneurs I learnt that I probably just entered a new phase in the start-up cycle.
It is now time to pivot, adapt and optimize. We aren’t going uphill any longer it is a leisurely stroll on the mountain range, the sun shines, snow covers the view and once in a while there will be storm. It is time to let go of the old dusted image, the status symbols of a management career and embrace a simple yet heart-filled and wonderful life. I am filled with gratitude.

by Maria GorskiMariaMaria 2013_21-2-1 (1)Maria

We are still unpacking the remains of our container, which arrived from Zurich last week. This is our third international move and we have arrived back in Denver, Colorado after almost 7 years abroad. When we decided to move back to the US, I was prepared for a bit of “reverse culture shock”. My initial mixed feelings are slowly waning as life returns to some level of normality.

Reflecting my experiences

As I adjust, I am reflecting back on my experiences of new cultures from Sydney and Zurich. Both have taught me so much. Sometimes I have a tough time pin pointing exactly what I am feeling because the changes in my perceptions are so subtle. For instance, the first time I spoke to my sons’ elementary school principal, I was shocked that he had referred himself as “Chris” and not “Mr. Goydin”.

Of course, he called me by my first name as well. It took me a few minutes to figure out why this seemed so odd. I had to get used to talking to someone with this level of informality, which wouldn’t necessarily happen in Switzerland. After that experience, I really began to appreciate a certain level of casual friendliness amongst people here. It just makes the daily chores and errands less stressful.

Kai
my son in the boxes

Finding Patience and Kindness for oneself and others

Emotionally, I think the key to adjusting is patience. Finding patience and kindness for oneself and others, especially those closest to you can make all the difference. Unexpected problems will inevitably come up. When multiple “little problems” keep cropping up day after day, the point might come when you are pushed into a rage over a relatively minor thing, like the garage door opener not working. It is times like these when humor can save the day.

Keeping a sense of Humor

Looking for the positive in situations and keeping a sense of humor also goes a long way to ease the stress of starting anew. As the cliché goes, “every cloud has a silver lining”. Lots of rain makes for lush green scenery and lots of rules make for a predictable, well-functioning society. After it’s all said and done, I have to say “it is good to be back”. It has been great to slip back into old friendships, feel free to chat with strangers, and enjoy my new community. Though we are still finding our way around the area, as the place has changed.