Category Archives: Personal Story
Goat Days

As I mentioned in an older post it can be a burden to be an interculturalist. The same kind of burden a Obi-Wan Kenobi experiences or Frodo Baggins.

We interculturalists perceive cultural differences in a way that go far beyond the stereotype. Our knowledge feels very limited even though we know more about cultural differences than the average president.

Being an “interculturalist” (which is not even an official word), you watch and observe the world with a set of “magical contact lenses”. These give you a clear sight into how the world works (and if this is not how the world works you construct the rest around it.)

Once in a while you wish you could go back to the Shire. You wish you could go back to the time when everything seemed blurry in black and white, when the world seemed easy to understand.

You want to be in that presidential mindset where you can polarize and put people in drawers. Those drawers you pulled with the half-knowledge you had about people, their cultural background, their education, their personal story and their personality.

I want to encourage you to have an opinion when it comes to intercultural issues. I stopped being “politically correct” on all media.  I don’t want to cry at breakfast tables anymore when people I hardly know share how they feel about bombing Palestine or about refugees. I don’t want to hide my personal life any longer because I am afraid I might lose a client when they know that I live with a Pakistani cook. I don’t want to care what people say when they see a female breadwinner who owns nothing but her inner happiness.

My heart has been with the underdogs ever since I grew up in the children’s home my parents ran. In high school, I was considered “too social” for a lot of people and I always thought of myself as a moral institution. I was going to go into the arts that I was sure of. But life came in between.

In university, as the president of our AIESEC local committee, I was once told I was “too engaged” for our cause of intercultural understanding. Like I did not have enough self-interest as a normal business student would have. I did not connect with many students in my class. Most of my friends were from AIESEC.

Working in banking and other companies of capitalist structures I often felt a bit out of place. I tried to find meaning in what we did. When we made staff redundant in Germany, we supported them to find another job at another company. When we outsourced to India, I saw the positive effect on the job market in Bangalore and Mumbai. I tried to tell myself that as long as individual lives get better through my work I cannot be on the wrong path. But more than once my personal values of fairness, equality and honesty were challenged.

One of my best managers told me, that I had high moral values and that this was probably why I sometimes struggled in the corporate world. It sounds strange but my moral attitude and tendency to humanism got in my way in my career (plus the gender I am born into as being female).

Also, the conviction learned in school that you have to be truthful and honest. Let’s say in the corporate world you have to be diplomatic and understand political behavior.

I went to my first SIETAR conference in Germany in 2002 and felt at home.  I met other “interculturalists” at the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication in Portland, Oregon. I will never forget the deep connection I felt with everyone I was having lunch with. It was a revelation. After these encounters, I understood that there was nothing wrong with how I saw the world. I understood that there are people thinking and feeling like me out there. I was probably just in an environment, that was not ready yet for a more humanistic way of working with people.

In the meantime, I have my own business grounded on intercultural understanding.

I have made a decision to drop political correctness and be the person that I am.

My clients appreciate, that I am honest with them. For a career in corporate this might be an issue but I am beyond that. I want to say what I want to say. If clients, companies or Facebook friends decide that they don’t like that I will let them go.

I want to work with clients who share my values. In the first years of my business, I was concerned that I could lose clients when I share what I believe in. I have noticed, that this is my fear of rejection rather than reality.

In intercultural training, we often tell people to talk about sports or the arts over dinner in other cultures. While this is a non-threatening approach and works 80% of the time, it can also get dull.

As a German I want to dig deeper. I want to understand what drives people and how they really think. I don’t want a glossy, shiny or otherwise manipulated version of the person I am sharing a meal with. I want them to be able to tell me their truth. If a friend feels racist behavior because she has brown skin, I want her to share this with me. I want to speak openly to my clients and friends.

I will continue to fight for minorities and refugees, migrants, gays, lesbians and women. And you know why? Because this is who I am and this is why I was born into this world.

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.

 

 


I have a funny habit. I prefer to write these posts on my red sofa at home on my laptop. It does not make a lot of sense because I have the beautiful Global People Club Lounge at Hedwigsteig. There I have a bigger screen and a printer. I like to do the editing, designing and fine tuning at the desk. This part feels more like I am paid to do it. Writing itself to me is so relaxing that I do it where I watch movies and where I chill. I’m not sure if you know this but as a child I wanted to be either a writer, a journalist or an actress. I was never meant to end up in a bank or professional services firm. My parents were hippies. So, it might not surprise you that I have a very relaxed attitude to consumption and money. If I did not have to pay invoices and rent, I would spend my time volunteering on Chios. (I will tell you more about that soon.)

 

It could happen that you don’t always want to read my posts and that you feel that they could be punchier or more business-like. And if you feel like that and want to unsubscribe that’s fine for me. I am using storytelling as method but you might prefer boring business reports.

 

So here’s my story on the jacket order.

The Situation

In November my partner showed me his branded dream jacket online. I was in the Christmas giving mood and thought that this would be the perfect gift for his birthday (which is shortly after Christmas). We used to buy his present together in the last few years and it was always a little weird, because most of the time I then ended up giving him the present a lot earlier. Then on the birthday I would not have a present anymore. This is so against the German in me, who believes it’s bad luck to celebrate a birthday a few days before the actual date. My Kashmiri partner could not care less. For him, it’s the value of the present that defines the relationship, not when it is given.

 

I ordered online without paying much attention to what I was doing. It was late at night. We received a confirmation and I was happy. I was a little concerned when after 10 days and a short email reminder I did not get a response. However, with my previous bad customer experience I gave them benefit of the doubt.

The Event

Three weeks later the jacket hadn’t arrived yet so I started to get worried. A parcel from China was in transit and then the birthday came and again I had no present. Early in the New Year, I checked for a scam alert and yes, it was a highly risky site. I had almost lost hope when the Swisspost tracker said that the parcel had  arrived at customs. Then it was on its way to us confirmed. For a day I was hoping for another Sam story. Maybe the website was new, maybe the owners had just been inexperienced and yes, my hopes were high.

My partner was waiting for his branded jacket.

I had pulled up the forms from the credit card company to stop the payment but I did not touch them. Then, we received a parcel from China with fake Rayban sunglasses. Disappointment all around.

The Superhero Moment

When I held the fake sunglasses in my hands and saw the sad look in my partner’s eyes, I became so angry. I informed the credit card company and printed every proof I had that we had been dealing with a scam.

The price I paid

I am not yet sure if I will receive my money back. I had been stressed and angry too.

Not only have I lost a few hours of my life, I also lost faith in Online business transactions and digitization after the Rotterdam Hotel issue and this one. I feel abused and am concerned that someone might have my personal data.

The Price I have won

Normally here I would talk about the price I have won but I cannot see that yet. The story does not have a happy end. What could be a learning for the future is to take more time, check sites before buying and only to buy from trusted sites.

 

Why is storytelling important for you?

On a more important note, I just showed you an example of how to tell a story. I did not invent “storytelling” for the HireMe! program. I took the advice from my writer friend Libby and teach storytelling in the context of preparing expats and their spouses for interviews. As we are normally trained to write short, concise and academic with as little words as possible, we often speak like we are on Twitter.

“Did you also apply COLA and then when you calculated the C2C what happened?”

Or

“I would like to compare the L2L total comp to the SD net and I came across a huge NDI.”

Are you sometimes wondering why your expats do not “get you”. If you are speaking to them like a robot with technical terms they have no chance. Many of us spend hours writing emails to explain why COLA is now lower than the previous year instead of calling the assignee to explain it in layman terms.

We are so afraid of conflict and of explaining the rationale behind the home-based packages that we hide behind a screen and our jargon. I understand why “storytelling” is deemed a quality of GM Managers, not only in interviews. Mercer says so, so it must be true.

I talked to you about my latest shopping failure to explain you the structure of storytelling and to let you know to not order anything from a silly website that promised ridiculously low prices for overpriced branded jackets.

You can pull the template from here.

Have an exciting week ahead.

 

Angie Weinberger

PS: If you need help with storytelling come in for an exploratory session of HireMe!

PPS: Seems I am getting my money back. At least something.

Last week I told you the story of my car sale and how it challenged one of my principles of intercultural effectiveness. This was a story with a happy ending and thanks for your reactions and Sam-stories.

I have two more stories on digital client experiences. The hotel in Rotterdam is not a story like the last one. This is a story of my inner secretary’s failure. Some of you met my inner secretary already. She is not a perfectionist unfortunately and when I ask her to work for me (instead of a real assistant) she usually messes up something.

I had been to the Brainpark Hotel in Rotterdam several times already because it is convenient when I hold lectures at the Erasmus University. I was very happy the first and the second time. Service is good and food as well.

The third time was last March and there I wanted to cancel the room for one night and it required the intervention of a Dutch colleague cancel the booking without extra charge. I am not sure why I don’t seem to have authority in the Dutch context but maybe it is because I don’t function in that culture yet or maybe the clerks working at the reception are quite inexperienced. So let’s say there was a pre-history already and I had been a little put off by the March experience.

In November, when I booked a room through their website again, my inner secretary was happy that it all worked fine until I contacted the Expatise Academy again to discuss a few more small topics. I found out that we are actually in Amsterdam for this particular event. (“Never assume anything!” is a new principle of intercultural effectiveness),

The event was happening in Amsterdam, not Rotterdam and I had taken a late flight already. There was no point in going to Rotterdam first.

Normally, this should not be a big deal. Most hotels have a normal cancellation period of one or two days before the actual reservation. It was 10 days before the actual event.

I was not concerned at all until I contacted the hotel to cancel the room. They told me that they still needed to fully charge the room to my credit card as this was in their terms and conditions and I had agreed to them. If you are like me you probably don’t read terms and conditions for these kind of transactions either.

It took me now at least a minute to even find the T&C.

They look a lot worse than an expat tax policy or expat contract.

While I find this a strange business practice here is what the T&C say about cancellations:

“3. Reservations with prepayment cannot be changed and/or canceled in any way, and sums paid in advance as a deposit cannot be refunded. This is indicated in the conditions of sale for the rate.”

I asked them again, explaining the circumstances. I also asked if the manager could call me to discuss. Same response, no calls from anyone. I tried not to get angry. Remember, I am self-employed and for me 130 EUR is a lot of money.

Then, I also received about five automated notifications talking to me about my upcoming trip to Rotterdam. Responding to them did not work because they were sent from noreply email ID’s. Tripadvisor asked me for a review of the hotel I had just “spent a night in” and for the first time ever I gave a 1-star review called “No one cares.”

Now, I still don’t get my money back because it also seems that they do not care about their reviews but now my credibility on Tripadvisor has risen. Seems when you write good reviews you look like you are paid to that. When you write bad reviews you become an authority in the hotel business. I will continue to write bad reviews going forward and call a spade a spade.

My insurance company does not cover “miscommunication” as a reason to pay back the lost amount and even interventions by Expatise Academy did not make a difference.

Why am I telling you this?

  1. If you are in Rotterdam and you stay at this hotel tell them that they should be more careful about how they treat their returning customers. 
  2. On a more serious note: Our expats and their spouses and children often feel like I felt in this case. They feel like a number, a case and not like a human being that has issues and circumstances.

Please do not assume that expats have read their contracts, the policy and other documentation you have sent to them. Try to put yourself into their shoes. They are your client and they have a lot of other topics to worry about during that time. I would appreciate if we can all add the human touch back into the Global Mobility Agenda 2018.

Bring back the human touch into your Global Mobility population

Put that on your agenda! Collect ideas with your team about where your processes are disintegrated for the expat and their spouse. Check in with your population and improve your expat experience. You can email them one by one or through a mailing program such as Mailchimp or Yet Another Mail Merge (YAMM).

————

The Global Mobility Workbook (2019)  gives a lot of advice on how you can check in with your expats and spouses regularly.

 

Guest post by Lucie Koch

Lucie Koch has joined Global People Transitions for an internship and will be sharing her internship experiences in a regular blog journal. 

While I have driven all the way up to the North of England during my last bachelor year with only six months of countryside driving experience (let me assure you, the stress was intense), I, and it seems to be the case for many young people of my age, have never felt as anxious and simultaneously excited at the prospect of starting my professional career.

My internship at Global People Transitions  started a little more than one month ago and, for now, I still have one foot in the academic system and the other one in the professional system. Knowing that I am about to step out of the apparently safe bubble of the academic world is becoming more real every day. However, I know that this apprehension is a globally experienced side-effect of change and I am going to be fine.

This said, the professional discovery experience is an exciting (and scary) experience, especially when starting in an international or foreign company, or when considering how young Europeans of my generation have been reminded for years about the high unemployment rates and economic crisis. Writing about my experience may help students about to take their first step in the professional world to feel less stressed about the change and professionals understand the young interns.

The first challenge I faced was intercultural. Indeed, while I am of Swiss nationality, my ideas about work, are mostly shaped by the French education system and experience through personal relations in France. Therefore, I was quite insecure about the professional culture proper to Switzerland.

Secondly, there is the fact that the Global People Transitions team is very diverse in its cultural backgrounds. However, due to my intercultural experience and interculturality centered studies, it was easy to adapt to this.

The real intercultural shock for me was more about academical vs professional culture. Indeed, the differences in behavior, expectations, jargon and directness, are always a challenge to adapt to, especially in a secondary language. I would argue that it might be harder or at least as hard to adapt to a new ‘working’ culture than to a new national culture, especially in a global environment. It is especially complicated in a digital work team, as one can’t rely on tone and physical expression hints.

Culture Shock Theory, which is used to explain and educate people about the social, physical and emotional challenges which people face during and international mobility, could be used in my case too. Indeed, there is the initial ‘honeymoon’ phase, when one is excited about more autonomy, earning money, meeting new people, moving to a new place. Then come the first stressful situations, negative experiences, the disappointment of big expectations, or the nostalgia of old habits, life and friends can lead to a low (more or less hard depending on everyone’s experience). Adapting to the new environment is essential and it is not limited to a change of country.

However, what I discovered in the first month of my internship, is that there is no need to be anxious and that some intercultural communication failures are bound to happen, may it be because of a nationality difference, a professional culture difference, or even a generational difference. The apprehension is normal but the growth that one gains in the professional experience is worth the harder parts.

I hope that you enjoyed this read!

Write you next month,

Lucie

Lucie Koch - Global People Transitions

Lucie Koch is intern at Global People Transitions since April 2017. She is about to graduate 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 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.