Monthly Archives: January 2012

„People don´t understand me“ syndrome

When coming back from your expatriation, have you ever thought that people around you in your home country had changed? That to get a pen or some paper in your company, it takes time and you need to go through a lot of paperwork before you get it? What happened, why is it that people don´t understand you?

People haven´t really changed, the one who may have changed is you. Indeed, you have been living abroad for a certain amount of time, adapting to your host country and incorporating some of your host culture´s values and customs. Let´s also not forget that whilst you were abroad you had probably more freedom in your job, you could make your own decisions, direct your own team and get as much paper and pens as you wanted!

Coming back may seem like a culture shock for you because the people you have left behind, whether colleagues, friends or family, have in reality not changed, they have continued to live their lives as before, keeping to their work habits, getting together habits and have kept their usual hobbies. It may seem strange to you and you may feel as if you were the odd one in the group. What you project onto people is actually projected onto you as well; they see you as a different person: you have been away for so long, you have seen different countries, cultures, have picked up new hobbies, have escalated the hierarchy ladder, so for them you are different and that is why they probably do not understand you.

To get back into your home culture smoothly, think about what you have experienced, what has changed in your value system and in your customs, what was important for you in your culture that you didn´t forget on your assignment and think of how you can build a bridge between you and your friends, colleagues, family to enable a smooth repatriation and re-adaptation.

When coming back from your expatriation, have you ever thought that people around you in your home country had changed? That to get a pen or some paper in your company, it takes time and you need to go through a lot of paperwork before you get it? What happened, why is it that people don´t understand you?

People haven´t really changed, the one who may have changed is you. Indeed, you have been living abroad for a certain amount of time, adapting to your host country and incorporating some of your host culture´s values and customs. Let´s also not forget that whilst you were abroad you had probably more freedom in your job, you could make your own decisions, direct your own team and get as much paper and pens as you wanted!

Coming back may seem like a culture shock for you because the people you have left behind, whether colleagues, friends or family, have in reality not changed, they have continued to live their lives as before, keeping to their work habits, getting together habits and have kept their usual hobbies. It may seem strange to you and you may feel as if you were the odd one in the group. What you project onto people is actually projected onto you as well; they see you as a different person: you have been away for so long, you have seen different countries, cultures, have picked up new hobbies, have escalated the hierarchy ladder, so for them you are different and that is why they probably do not understand you.

To get back into your home culture smoothly, think about what you have experienced, what has changed in your value system and in your customs, what was important for you in your culture that you didn´t forget on your assignment and think of how you can build a bridge between you and your friends, colleagues, family to enable a smooth repatriation and re-adaptation.

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Singapore lah in pictures

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Perception of time

Time just as any other important area of our life is a perception that not all of us share or have the same idea of !

I remember when I left France after my BA to do a Masters in Spain, i found that my world was crumbling down because my perception of time was not shared by my class mates ! Indeed I remember going with my class mates which were all from Latin America (i.e. I was the only European and poor them, half-French, half-German) on holiday to Mallorca !

There were 12 of us and we rented 4 cars so that we could go around the island and visit. As I loved and still do sometimes to plan in advance and know what we will be doing the next day, i chatted with my friends and made a sort of Agenda for the trip. The agenda was really not used, I remember asking when we should meet for breakfast and hearing everyone agreeing on 10:00am. The only one at 10:00 am at the breakfast table was me, myself and I. The rest arrived at noon ! I was still young then, and it really bothered me because for me I was losing half the day ! My friends continued doing this for 2 days until I had enough and confronted them about it and asking them to be a little more flexible with me as well as I was also different and also had my rythm. We could maybe meet halfway and find a compromise !

The response was: “Nadège, por favor tranquilisa te ! Estamos de vacaciones y tenemos todo el tiempo del mundo asi que tomate todo con calma y disfrute !” which literally means, relax and enjoy your time and holiday !

I have to say it was very difficult and I felt that my efforts to comply to their view on time was not compensated by a small gesture on their part, but when i look back today, I am truly happy that this happened ! It made me much more flexible and also made me understand that yes, time can be endless and that in certain situations you don´t need to perceive it as scarce, hence schedule everything (Here I am talking about vacation ;-)) .

This experience has taught me so much, and I am glad I went through it because one has to set priorities in one´s life ! For business, time is important (for myself), it might be different for someone else, and I respect that.

We should all respect and accept the fact that we see and perceive the world differently, which makes us in a way very unique. And our uniqueness is what defines us !

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Gong Xi Fa Cai ! Happy Chinese New Year 2012 !

I would like to wish all of you a prosperous and successful year of the Dragon !

Chinese New Year has been celebrated over centuries, it begins on the first day of the lunar calendar (therefore it is also called Lunar Year) and lasts for 15 days until the moon is bright again.

I chose a little video which summarizes well the tradition of Chinese New Year throughout Asia, I hope you enjoy it !!

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Case Study: a Franco- German Wedding

This summer I was invited by one of my French friends to her wedding in France. She was getting married to a common friend who was German. The city hall and church wedding were held in both languages so that all guests could enjoy the wedding.

After the ceremonies, all guests gathered in a Chalet and the party was celebrated “French style”, hence an emphasis on food and wine. The dinner lasted for about 4 hours, around great food and wine. After the dinner, all gathered up on the dance floor to celebrate the couple´s union!

Now, I was interested in understanding how the German guests perceived the wedding and thus I went on a little expedition and asked a few questions to them, here are some of the remarks that came out:

  • The difference between a French and a German wedding is that in France, you prefer to sit at a table enjoying good food and wine, whilst having discussions with one another, whereas in Germany, we have a quick dinner and then we drink and dance until dawn.

 

  • Another interesting point that was raised about the French culture was that the French work to live, and the Germans live to work! So work is perceived as very important for Germans, it comes before everything else.

 

  • The French family, as opposed to the German family seems to be more united, family values and unity are very important, and when there is a celebration such as a wedding or even for Christmas, the family comes together; whereas in Germany it is slightly different, it stays within the nuclear family. Of course we celebrate with the grandparents and aunts/uncles, but the occasions are rarer.

By the end of the evening it seemed clear that both cultures are neighbours, but their way of living life and celebrating is different. This case study is food for thought: think about your friends or neighbours from other countries, and try to see whether your perspectives on life are the same, and if not, why is it different and how can you find a common ground?

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Borneo Part 2 – Sabah, Pulau Mabul

After having spent a few days in the jungle in the region of Sandakan, my friend and I decided to spend 5 days by the sea and stay in Pulau Mabul.

Our initial plan was to stay on Pulau Sipadan which is now a nature reserve and Jean- Jacque Cousteau´s preferred diving spot, however in the beginning of 2000, a group of divers staying on the island´s hotel were taken hostage by a Philippino islamist group and stayed for weeks in the Philippino jungle, so since that incident, Pulau Sipadan was closed to the public, made a natural reserve and is now guarded by the Malaysian military.

That´s for the background, so we took a plane from Sandakan to Tawau. We arrived there and it was raining, not really the weather we were hoping for, but we thought that once on the island the sun would great us and it did ! After an hour drive to the port we took a boat and headed to the island of Pulau Mabul which is the closest to Sipadan.

We arrived at the Sipadan Water Village after a bit more than an hour boat drive and we thought we had landed in paradise ! The bungalows were built above the water and the staff was really nice. The next five days were spent snorkeling and diving !

Now there is one little thing I should say before we start. I am afraid of fish ! Quite funny isn´t it if you are going to spend your holiday snorkeling and diving ! Well, I found a way to get rid of my fear which was to take pictures. Indeed, by having the camera in front of me and seeing the fishes and sea from the camera angle I felt more relaxed and was less afraid.

So we started getting acquainted with our friendly fishes by the jetty and after two days went to Pulau Sipadan ! No need to say that the first thing after entering the water and looking down was the sight of a white tip shark ! I am going to spare you the screams ! But our guide said: “Don´t worry lah, shark very good, not hungry so will not eat you!” How reassuring thank you ! So we made our way away from the shark and saw a beautiful flora and fauna which you can discover in the pictures enclosed 🙂

After that wonderful day snorkeling I decided I was ready for my discovery dive which we made the next day and the rest of the time we were in Mabul. Our aim was to find Nemo (or anemone fish) and we did after hours of searching whilst diving and snorkeling ! What an amazing feeling it is to be underwater, it is so peaceful, calm and relaxing. To be honest it was the only thing that really calmed me down and relaxed me !

After our five days, we wanted to stay longer but work was calling and we had to head back to Singapore ! I have to say that was the best holiday I had ever had ! surrounded by peace and quiet, lovely dive instructor, lovely staff who took great care of us , great food especially fresh seafood and a surrounding which is unforgettable!

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The 5 stages of expatriation

When we are given the opportunity by our company to move abroad we go through phases of accommodation to our new role. Now some companies provide you with support and others don´t.  It is a little bit different when we decide ourselves to move abroad for a better life and work experience, however the phases we go through are slightly different as we will be more stressed about it as we take a leap into the unknown.

This article will focus on those who are expatriated by their companies, and another article will be written for those who go on their own.

You have worked for a few years in the headquarter of your company or in the branch of your company which is located in your home country and after x years your boss tells you that you will be relocated to another country. Elisabeth Kübler Ross writes about the 5 stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance) when we lose someone dear to us. In the intercultural field it si a little different however we still go through different phases which are as follows:

1. Happiness

The first time we here we will be relocated we think positively about it, indeed we get to move somewhere else, hopefully where it is sunny, and we have a role with more responsibilities which is great for our career. We start gathering information about the new country, speak about it to all are friends and family and look forward to this new opportunity !

2. Doubt

Is it really happening, am I really going to move away from the ones i love ! I know this country is great and that it is good for my career however how will it be, will I feel good over there, will I have nice colleagues ? All these questions start to pop up in our head a few days or weeks before we are due to leave for our new assignment. Some companies offer their expatriates a first glance of the new country by sending them overseas for a few days to have a look at the new environment and speak to their new colleagues which soothes this feeling a bit. Others do not offer this and that is were some expatriates might feel even more doubtful about this new experience because they are jumping head first into something they don´t know ! This phase will last until you touch down in the new country.

3. Curiosity

You are now in your new home, new country with your new colleagues, the first month will be about settling, finding a home, getting to know your colleagues, discovering the new city and all of this is quite exciting.

Where it splits is after the first or second month, there are two ways we can react:

4.a. Adaptation

You have spent a lot of time going out, exploring the city, getting to know your colleagues, meeting local people and you feel comforted and at home. You are now in the adaptation phase, it is all about understanding what and who is around you.

4.b Depression

You have satisfied your curiosity however you don´t feel good about it and you start questioning everything you see and the way people work around you. You don´t feel comfortable living and working here so unfortunately you fall into depression because you miss your friends and family. This usually happens when we omit to meet with local people to integrate or understand the local culture better. We all react differently to such an experience that is what makes us human !

5. Acceptance and integration

For those of you who have adapted well you finally accept that this is your new home and that you will spend a few years here. You have found new friends, created a network and have colleagues you work well with. For those that went through the depression phase it might be tricky, there are those who stay but whose performance is not very good due to them feeling uncomfortable, and there are those who decide to leave the assignment and return to their countries.

Most expatriation or at least 50% of expatriates fail and return early to their home country because they had problems adapting or integrating to the new culture. There is nothing bad about it, probably they would have needed help which we can provide for example to adapt better to their new host country.

Many of us think that asking for help may be a sign of weakness however in many intercultural texts you will find that the best results in expatriation comes from those who have been helped with the adaptation. Not all of us need help that is true !

Conclusion is that yes some of us may or may not need help however when provided with training/ briefing or coaching before leaving for a new country can accelerate the process of integration.

 

 

 

 

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Borneo Part 1 – Sabah Region, Sandakan and Sukau

Whilst working and living in Singapore, and being in such a strategic place for travelling I developed a strong interest for Malaysia and traveled quite a lot to Kuala Lumpur for work and on week ends to beautiful Islands such as Pulau Langkawi, Pulau Tioman, Pulau Tenggol and many more.

However for longer periods of time, a friend and myself decided to go and uncover the secrets of Malaysian Borneo, which fascinated us by its beautiful landscapes, and tales of headhunters !

We started our journey flying from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and from KL to Sandakan which is known for its Orang Outan Sanctuary. We stayed in Sandakan for a few days in a small cottage (no need to say that it was full of cockroaches which the local found quite funny as they always had to help us get rid of them !) Oh and I forgot to mention that we were two girls, so for the Malaysian boys it was quite funny to come at our rescue !

We visited the Orang Outan rehabilitation center / Sanctuary where specialist gathered lost or injured Orang Outans and rehabilitated them for the wildlife. The jungle was beautiful, very large plants which were as tall as we were and a wildlife constantly present, it was an amazing feeling to be in the middle of such beauty !

We spent the next few days visiting Sandakan and knowing more about its history and a very tragic part which was the invasion by the Japanese during the 2nd World War. Japanese people are not well seen in this part of the world as they destroyed and killed many allies and locals and had the thirst to rule over Asia. As westerners, we recognize that the Japanese were very brutal but we didn´t see it from a local perspective !

We visited the town center and the water house quarter. From there we took a boat to Sukau, a little town alongside the river where we would stay the night. On the way we had rain and wind but could still admire the beauty of the landscape and the houses made of wood which were full of solar panels. After a few hours we arrived in Sukau, had a little rest around some banana fritters and tea ! At dawn we were taken on a night cruise to see the night wildlife, it was breath-taking and amazing !

The next day we went back to Sandakan and on the way we spotted Proboloscis monkeys, pigme elephants, monitor lizards and heard all the birds chanting.

We came back to our little cottage which the hotel upgraded for us probably because they felt sorry for us and the fact that we were scared of cockroaches !

The next day we left for Tawau in the South of Sabah for a sea adventure, more to come soon 🙂

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To blow or not to blow your nose

Our society dictates us how to behave in different situations, at work, in public, in school and how to stay polite when we have a cold or an allergy.

In our cultures it is polite to blow our nose when we have a cold, we use paper tissues our tissues made of silk or cotton to stop our nose from running !

In other cultures however, using tissues to blow our nose is considered dirty ! Indeed the tissue paper is considered as a means to spread bacteria !

You can experience in Asian countries and surely in other countries across the globe that people will use snorting or blow their nose with the hand which is considered in their culture more appropriate.

When we meet such people, especially if we are travelling on a plane our reaction will be to provide them with a tissue. Believe me, if we do that they will not know what to do with it and may use it to wipe off sweat or just use it to dry their hands off after washing their hands.

Moral of the story is we are all conditioned about what is right and what is wrong, however right and wrong are not universal and we need to respect and understand that others have different customs and perceptions !

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shaking heads, slurping one´s soup – different manners

We all have our own ways of doing things: eating, working, acknowledging our counterpart when he is talking and also our own way of seeing the world

Most of the time, our way of doing things is not shared by others and we have to accept it, because how we do things is not universal and we need to be complacent and understanding towards other ways and view points.

I have two examples of faux pas which I have experienced working in South East Asia.

The first faux pas I came across was whilst we were having a team meeting to discuss our strategy. The team was composed of a Singaporean, an Indian, an Indonesian (who studied in the UK), myself and our German boss. The meeting went very smoothly and all points had been discussed, when all of a sudden, my boss asked my Indian colleague to stop shaking his head.

Now, we are aware that people have different ways of showing they agree or that they are following a topic, and that was how my Indian colleague used to do it and for that matter most Indians. Nobody said a word, we all looked at each other and left the room without any comments as we were truly shocked by what had just happened !

What happened exactly ? There is no real explanation really, we are not in my boss´s head and we don´t know what came through his mind when he addressed my Indian colleague. What might be was that it distracted him and so he lost his patience. There are surely many explanations, but still, we have to remember that what we say can be very intrusive, disrespectful and hurting to others !

Another faux pas I experienced was whilst having dinner with our South East Asian counterparts, we were having dinner and eating soup when one of our counterpart made some noise whilst eating his soup. All my expat friends just stared at him with their mouths wide open with surprise. They didn´t say a thing but the way they looked at our counterpart and their body language led him to stop eating. In Asian cultures what just happened was that my friends made this man lose his face. No wonder we didn´t hear from him anymore.

In Asia the concept of Face is very important, you have to give, earn and receive face. It is a very strong concept and you can do a lot of harm if you make someone lose face and it can cost you your business or friendship.

Therefore, please be aware that we all do things differently, there is no right or wrong way, just differences that we need to accept and not react upon so strongly. Why not try to keep it for ourself and not hurt anybody in the process.

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