Living And Working Abroad
Struggles Of Expat Life
We love to share real-life, experience-based articles and posts, because we think the best way to support people is through giving out authentic value. So we had the idea to ask our expat and spouse support coaches about the most common challenges and struggles of expat life. What are the issues people most frequently ask their help with. What makes the collection even more interesting and relevant is that in their answers our coaches talked about general topics as well as issues related to certain territories or groups. So without further ado, here are their answers:
- Identity crisis: The gap between who a person is within their comfort zone versus outside their comfort zone.
- I named my coaching model “The Quest” because my experience has been that my clients are on an adventure to accomplish a set goal – no matter if they are an expat on an international assignment, the accompanying spouse or a Third Culture Kid. On this exciting journey, my clients may discover hidden talents but may also have to face fears and limiting beliefs. I support them in nurturing these talents, while encouraging them to find new ways to overcome their fears and limiting beliefs.
- Another form of the identity crisis I have personally faced is my own identity of growing up as an immigrant. Then there is the struggle of my Third Culture Kids, children who are growing up in a multicultural family.
- As a family we have found a happy medium among all these various facets and can comfortably answer the question “where do you feel at home?” Our answer is “here”. That is something I incorporate in my coaching as part of self-care — feeling at home without losing your personal identity.
Work-related struggles of expat life:
- Building trust with international teams is a struggle for expats and leaders of virtual teams alike. Because they are the communication channel between two or more cultures (organisational/national), they may feel split in the middle. I support my clients in being a bridge, with different communication styles at the two ends, and yet retain their authenticity. This helps them foster a sense of trust and belonging among the various team members.
- Caring for aging family members at home from far away
- For white, single women in Asia: finding a partner/spouse, seriously a big topic.
- And there is something else that came to my mind. It may be not too big in number, but for the people involved it is a big deal: Homosexual marriages that are fully recognised in the home country / countries, however not in the destination place. In these cases it is so hard for the accompanying partner to get visa and social status, work permit etc.
Work-related struggles of expat life:
- Belonging as well as loyalty: in new location to be the “spy” coming from headquarters and/or “We have seen these expats come and go and do not care”, while in home location “not one of us anymore”.
- How much do I need to change my habits as a foreigner working here, how much am I expected to behave as a foreigner, and what do I personally want?
- I think the struggles of expat life can vary immensely. One of my clients had found making friends at work difficult in the UK because she was very direct and was not able to be more indirect when sharing information and feedback with colleagues. For her, being direct was connected to efficiency, so together we worked on some strategies to prevent any miscommunication!
- Bringing up children is another area of concern for many expat parents because when people have kids they often get nostalgic about their own childhood back home. Maybe they find the way things in the new culture are done rather strange and fail to see the positives. This takes time, and demands patience and tolerance – it’s not so easy when you feel you have to keep positive in front of your children at a time when you actually feel displaced and vulnerable.
- Since my work with expats typically focuses on the sense of identity and loss,I frequently hear from clients about their anger and frustration around having to “reinvent” themselves every time there is a move. This can be particularly hard when there have been frequent moves and there can be a certain level of fatigue related to having to attempt to understand others and also to feel understood, and attempt to fit in a new culture.
- Our personal and professional cues can be stripped away each time we move, and without those identifiers we can feel isolated and lose confidence, and experience depression and anxiety as a result.
Most of my clients are German expats.Having been managers before in Germany, many of them struggle with their direct communication style they are used to in their former positions. Often it is difficult for them to change communication patterns.