Category Archives: Global Mobility

Guest post by Lucie Koch

I have been in Zürich for a few weeks now and I am starting to adjust to swiss city life. I am amazed every day by how cosmopolitan Zürich is with all the languages heard in the tram. It’s wonderful.

In my last blog post, I wrote about how entry into professional life was one kind of culture shock. I have started to adapt to the professional and Swiss cultural frame. Working for Global People Transitions is a very interesting experience, especially since I get to be involved in very diverse tasks, from administrative paperwork to exciting business development projects. I am discovering how many gearwheels must be activated and maintained for the business machine to work properly.

While I expected to have to adjust to the professional culture, I wasn’t quite prepared for the general culture shock that I experienced in Switzerland. As a child who grew up in France with parents from the cantons of Zurich and Luzern, and many family ties in Switzerland, I have been exposed to Swiss culture throughout my upbringing. I spent a few holidays in Switzerland when I was younger and identified quite strongly as Swiss. But then this month, I found myself suddenly confronted with cultural and structural enigmas: What is the deal with these expensive trash bags? Why do people eat so early? I also found myself confused about how to greet new people properly – do I offer a handshake? Should I do the ‘bise’ (kiss)? – which resulted in some awkward moments of hesitation and embarrassed smiles. It turns out, I might be more French than I thought.

These experiences made me think about the topic of mixed cultural identities, especially in the case of expatriation and specifically about the children of expatriates who grow up abroad.

Indeed, when you grow up in a country as a foreigner, especially in an area of low cultural diversity as it is the case for the French countryside where I grew up, the Swiss identity makes one stand out, especially for children. You don’t understand the other kids’ popular culture references and you speak another language with your family. The scarcity of Swiss items like cervela, landjäger, and swiss chips or mayonnaise turn them into ‘precious’ objects for the expat parents and to expat children, they appear as relics of Swiss-ness that you get to share once every other month in a kind of family tradition.

In the end, as a ‘born-expat’, one gets a reflected image of the parent’s culture. Indeed, a born-expat’s understanding of the ‘culture-of-origin’ is imagined (through the information absorbed from the media, short stays in the country or from the family’s opinions and stories) and not experienced. Therefore, young expats born abroad have an incomplete picture of a culture with which they strongly identify. The resulting culture shock, when the born-expat realizes how different reality is, can be very difficult, especially since it touches the perception of one’s own identity.

Children of expatriates are a very interesting focus of study when it comes to intercultural competence and how culture affects one’s identity and life. We are quite aware of how being an expatriate family is complicated logistically, emotionally and mentally on all members during the first years of immigration or how tricky it can be to raise children in a country in which we are not completely familiar with the education system. It is, however, important to consider that expat-children may face identity struggles when they grow up and to actively address the issues of identity and nationality during the upbringing.

Have you experienced any issues related to identity as an expat? Do you know a good way to address the question of identity with expat children?

I hope you enjoyed the read, I’ll write again next month.

Until then, have a great day!

Lucie

Lucie Koch was an intern at Global People Transitions GmbH in Zurich, Switzerland. She graduated from an Intercultural Management Master study, which led her to study in Dijon, France, a city she was already familiar with and in unfamiliar Finland (for one semester). Previously, she studied one year at Durham university (UK) as part of a Bachelor Erasmus Mobility program. She was born in 1994 to a Swiss expat couple in France. She grew up in the French countryside, around horses. She’s a self confessed introvert, fascinated by different languages, cultures, science (especially astronomy and biology) and philosophy. She also likes to spend time drawing, painting or in cinemas.

 

 


Guest post by Brooke Faulkner

An international assignment to Japan is one of the most rewarding achievements you could reach in business. Nothing feels better than to be wanted overseas for your talents and your accomplishments.

However, most of us, unfortunately, have a habit of acting culturally unaware when we visit new places, especially if we don’t have a lot of interaction with diversity within our home country. While that’s a broad generalization, it happens enough for us individually to be aware and check ourselves before traveling overseas.

I want to focus on business in Japan specifically right now because there is a lot of room to do international business with them. According to Alliance Experts, alternative energy, gaming, music, engineering, and healthcare are all fields thriving in that country, as well as ours.

Combining forces can be a really good thing. However, when you enter someone else’s home, you need to be aware and respectful of their way of life.

Careers in project management are highly sought after in the Western world right now, but to be a project manager in Japan requires cultural awareness, good communication skills, and a willingness to learn. For this reason, I want to cover some basics for those of you heading over there soon to manage projects. Stay ahead of the cultural curve so things go smoothly, and you’ll find yourself in a much better situation than if you hadn’t been able to!

Navigating Culture

Workplace culture is very important, and that can be hard to navigate even more so in a new country. The importance of respect transcends cultural differences. However what’s considered respectful and what isn’t changes from place to place.

For this reason, it’s important to know a little bit about Japanese culture before you get to Japan, especially if you, as a team manager, are working with and managing new people.

For some guidance, I pulled some information from E-Diplomats and Business Insider, who point out some cultural differences regarding workplace conduct and respect in Japan. Here are a few notable ones:

  • Business cards are often used the way Americans use handshakes.
  • Group work shows no pride in different members: you’re all in this together.
  • Treat your employees like their work is important, and show as much pride in your work as they do in theirs. Pride in your work and efficiency in the work process are very important. This is roughly translated with the word “shokunin.”

You can check both resources for more information, but workplace respect doesn’t stop at workplace specific differences — not by a long shot.

Communicating Past a Language Barrier

Body language is of the utmost importance when traveling to a new country. This is especially true if there is a language barrier like there probably is if you’re a typical white American. For instance, Japanese culture tends to be less touchy than American culture and values personal space differently. Eye contact and staring are similarly regarded as personal and rude if overdone. Another example that you may have heard of: When you enter someone’s home, always take your shoes off.

Keep in mind that silence is natural and is considered to release tension — as opposed to the U.S., where it builds tension. These things are important because not only should you understand how to communicate effectively with your team but how they’re communicating with you! Read up on Japanese culture so body language and social cues can speak for you when your mouth can’t. Things will go much smoother for you in doing so.

Willingness to Learn

Not to sound too redundant, but the Japanese tend to value learning and education. You won’t know everything going over there for the first time. If you show respect for the different cultural cues and customs, your team members and colleagues will appreciate you.

You may “mess up” here or there, but if your intentions are good and clear, you will hopefully avoid mistakes that are difficult to come back from. It requires an open mind.

You need to understand this because, at the end of the day, some things are just different. The public transit system, the food, the media, the social cues — they all differ due to a different place and culture. But that doesn’t mean these differences are bad or that you’re bad for not knowing them right off the bat. If you’re willing to learn about different cultures and how to respect them, your experience may thank you.

Have you ever worked overseas in Japan? Have you ever managed a team over there? What was your experience like? We’d love to hear about it — please share in the comments below!

Brooke Faulkner
@faulknercreek

About the author:

Brooke Faulkner is a writer in the Pacific Northwest who has conducted business all over the world. You can find more of her writing on Twitter via @faulknercreek

 

Editor’s Note: In my experience, an open mind is helpful, but not enough. Moving into another culture requires focused learning and intercultural coaching too. If you wish to work on your global competency right now you might want to work with our RockMe! App right now.

I procrastinated on this article for too long but today is the day where I need to write it. Why? Because I almost fell into the trap, the trap of self-exploitation, self-damage and nearly ruined myself in the process. I was wondering for a while why many female entrepreneurs and freelancers allow themselves to work for little money or even free. I came across seven reasons that I want to share with you. I’m hoping for a discussion on how we can avoid exploiting ourselves as female entrepreneurs

If you are the partner or husband of a female entrepreneur maybe you also want to know how you can support her.

Here are seven reasons why you are not making enough money

1) Your basic needs are met

Guess what, if you are having a roof above your head and food on the table you are privileged. If you can openly express your concerns you live in a great country. Still, how will you pay for your old-age pension? What if something happens to your partner and your savings are eaten up too quickly?

2) You are wealthy

You were born with a silver spoon or your parents already gave you an inheritance that won’t make you worry about your bank account anymore. You can actually work for free and volunteer for good causes because you are a princess. Well, congratulations! Maybe you could consider helping other women get their business off the ground.

3) Imposture Syndrome

You think deep down inside that you do not deserve to be paid adequately for your work and that everything you have achieved so far happened by luck or by an alignment of the stars. You are worried that one day you will be called out an imposture.

4) Fear of Competition

You keep your prices low, because you feel that there are hundreds of other women in the canton of Zurich or around the globe with a similar skill set and with similar profiles. You are working in a space where competition is high because you have not found your niche. Your brand is not recognizable and you are not even proud of yourself.

5) You are not clear about your potential clients

You have not defined your client group narrow enough and you think you can work for everyone and with everyone. Potential clients don’t feel that they are in the right place because they are not sure you can cater to their specific issues.

6) You lack tech skills

You don’t understand digital and social media marketing and you are worried about putting yourself out there because it could create actual work for you. You are afraid of using the Internet, your name and photo because of scammers, stalkers and robots.

7) You don’t have a network

You rely too much on tech, digital and social media marketing and potential clients are used to freebies and free-everything. You cannot get out of a place where everything is thrown at potential clients for free into a space where clients are prepared to pay for your products and services. You lack a good offline network and former clients who are willing to give a reference for you.

How can you solve this issue for yourself? As a first step, I would suggest to have a chat with me so we can discuss what is really blocking you from success.

Cheers

Angie Weinberger

I know that this sounds so 1980 in the digital age but I rediscovered my love for real, bound books. Even pocketbooks. They have a special energy and this energy is not comparable to a document I read on a Kindle.

Once we published and printed my books, I always made an effort and treated them like little treasure of gold. Even though sometimes a book can be misplaced it actually always “works”. You don’t have to charge it and you don’t need WiFi to use it. When you see a book in another person’s hand it triggers curiosity.

As a coach and lecturer, I love it when clients and students hold my books in their hands. It’s almost as if they cherish the fruit of my labor. It strikes my ego and makes me very proud, especially since I find all of my past book projects were almost aborted in the process (for different reasons: criticism, lack of funds, change of editors, lack of professionalism on the team).

I started to autograph my own books before I give them away and my colleagues, clients, and friends seem to appreciate a few handwritten words. We think that digitalization has magically improved our lives for the better and yes, we can name the successes and we can list easily how we now have access to encyclopedias of knowledge, free online management courses that would normally be only accessible by the privileged and we see the rise of the “common man” (and woman).

But is this really what our soul cherishes? Don’t you know the feeling of emptiness when you try not to look at your phone for an hour or even a whole day?

Don’t you feel a little lost when you are in another country and you don’t have access to WiFi? And then don’t your eyes enjoy the beauty of the written word in black and white?

The energy of my printed words came with me to a conference in Germany and I noticed that participants were curious. I actually sold a few books there. It felt great, that I could show some of the highlights, explain why I wrote them and see people’s reactions right away.

It felt weird to see a lot of books at the book table that I normally would buy in English in the German translation and I felt like a global nomad on home leave. I can understand expats, who have lived abroad for a while. It’s nice to dwell in the homeland, to walk along the river Rhine, watch the remainders of the “Bundesrepublik”, the stately home of the German President and other federal buildings.

I was also so happy to see the names of all those famous, humanistic Germans who contributed to society. It was especially suitable as I have just started to read a novel (in pocketbook format) that starts after the first world war. Still, you feel like the words that you are using sound a bit different, that you don’t know all the buzzwords and that you look a bit funny and out of place.

Another reason why I really like the energy of the printed book is that as an author you worry a lot about making a living. With a .pdf or even an online magazine, your work can be easily copied. In print, it takes a bit more effort. I also believe that the topics I write about fit an online audience to a certain extent only. They grow and become clearer and bigger with the interaction between the reader and the coach or the student and the teacher, depending on how the books are used.

My final word is about how you interact with a workbook. Maybe it sounds old-fashioned but a lot of my work is about helping my readers, clients, and students to inner clarity. In my experience handwriting is helpful in psychological processes and the more regularly I write, the clearer my thoughts are. So, it might be useful to consider paper books as a strategy for focus and clarity in times of distraction, vagueness, and shallowness.

Maybe a book is the new deep relationship in our life when we notice that Siri does not understand us (“I have connectivity issues” he told me today) or when Alexa continues to order stuff we don’t need just because it is convenient. A book promises a good time for little money and an encounter with people you might not normally meet. And with that, I say goodbye for this week so a part of the train ride is left for continuing the current novel.

Angie

 

by Tracy Hope

When I was 22, I moved from New Zealand to California’s Santa Cruz, from one ocean-loving, laid-back community to another. I was young, I was excited, I was a newlywed on an adventure, and I couldn’t imagine the culture shock that I was going to experience there.

It was only years later, when I had moved back to New Zealand and was preparing to move yet again, this time to Zürich, Switzerland, that I really took the time to analyse why returning to NZ from Santa Cruz was such a relief. I never found my niche in California, and it never felt like home. I made few friends there and had a permanent sense of being a fish out of water. And that was in a country where I spoke the language and grew up watching Californian TV shows and movies; the thought of living in a culture with another language (or two) with no prior experience was both exciting and terrifying, and I decided I was going to enter this new adventure with a firm plan to make it home.

 

There were many reasons why that first relocation felt like a failure. Don’t get me wrong: I loved living there and the opportunities I had for travel and new experiences. But I had expectations from TV and media that left me disappointed and disillusioned, and the culture of forming relationships with others was vague and confusing to me as an outsider. I read books and articles about life as a foreigner in Switzerland and set my expectations low when it came to making friends there.

 

I bought novels and biographies, learned about the history of the country, followed blogs and instagrams and researched my husband’s new employer, a global tech corporation with a large European headquarters in Zürich. We spent hours trawling through the company’s relocation tips and processes, and finally one day he pointed me to a page announcing a network just for spouses and partners of employees. Nervously I registered, noting the strict protocols to confirm that I was indeed married to an employee and therefore wasn’t joining just to learn company secrets. When my registration was confirmed, I was given access to a whole world within Zürich that I would never have known existed: a community of women and men in the same situation as me, learning to get along in a new country.

 

I read every webpage, browsed every topic in the mailing list archives, found the answers to questions I had and conversations that reassured me that everything would indeed be OK.

 

By the time I arrived in Zürich, exhausted and hungry on a snowy Tuesday evening, two children and a husband and a wagon full of suitcases in tow, I had already planned playdates with other families and had tips on how to get from the airport to our temporary apartment. Within two weeks, we had solved all of our new-arrival problems from registering at our local Gemeinde and choosing public transport passes to finding an apartment and buying new furniture. As soon as we moved into our new home (and assembled our Ikea furniture), I opened our apartment up to the community. Ten women came to introduce themselves and offer me their support and advice. Within a month of arriving on the other side of the world, I had found my home.

 

Having something with as much value as this built-in support network has been the most valuable tool for my relocation, and it’s turned me into something of an evangelist for plus-one networks for internationally relocating families.

 

There may be nothing more useful to a new arrival than this existing support network, made up of people who have already experienced what you are experiencing, and can give you not only helpful advice but the reassurance that it is survivable.

 

International HR researchers and RMC’s such as Brookfield publish extensively about this topic. They have found that more than 80% of international assignment contracts that fail, do so because the employees’ spouse or family is unhappy. Having a strong support network for spouses and partners of a company’s employees can drastically reduce the number of cancelled contracts.

 

The purpose of a plus-one network may vary wildly depending on the country and the community itself. My own community provides support for job seekers, language support, financial advice, social events and even regular welcome activities for new arrivals, giving them answers to the questions everyone has in their first months. The community can serve as a bridge between the company’s culture and the culture of the country, finding ways to connect foreigners with locals and open communications.

 

It seems unlikely that something so crucial to a successful family relocation can be so hard to find, but there it is: in the city of Zürich, a hub for international companies’ European offices, only one company and one university boast a network just for employees’ partners. In the case of the university, an entire department exists to support families of employees, while the company’s Plus-One network was founded and is managed entirely by volunteers within the community.

 

And here’s my point: anyone can make such a community exist. Whether in the financial, pharma, or academic sector, any like-minded group of partners or spouses of employees can create something that will boost the chances of a successful relocation, and hence the success of a company’s international employee contract. With solid support from HR, a company can increase the likelihood of their international employees’ contract lasting the distance. When the family is settled and happy, it should go without saying that employees are settled and happy.

 

A small amount of time and energy can go a long, long way towards happy relocations.

 

Want to learn more about how to create a Plus-One network? 

About the Author

Tracy Hope does not consider herself a “trailing spouse”. She finds new ways to support recent arrivals in Switzerland through integration events and small business support, and teaches English to children on the side. Kiwi by birth; community builder, writer and teacher by vocation, she will try anything once. Her business, Language Plus, is an English-language school for Swiss and bilingual children, but its boundaries are limitless.