Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #10 – Do not allow negative comments and attitudes to darken your outlook.

April 3, 2012


TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS

10. Surround yourself with positive people. Do not allow negative comments and attitudes to darken your outlook.

It is hard to stay positive, but when culture shock is at its worst, it is very easy to slip.  Sure the other new teachers at your school (and the veteran ones) have a lot to say to you about the host country and culture, but you just might find yourself joining in with them. Commence the inevitable negative thought process!

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” – Helen Keller

It is hard to know exactly about the meaning behind those negative comments from your coworkers (or from yourself).  Are they saying those things because that is just what you do and say when you are an expat, even if it is said like it is only a joke?  On the other hand, people say things as a joke under stressful times and there is usually much truth behind their negative comment.

Some things are small and people are easily quick to be negative about it.

“Why do I have a pay this media tax? I never had to pay this in any of the other countries I’ve lived in.  I don’t even have a TV.  I refused to pay this stupid fee!”

“Seriously the internet in this country is so slow. You can’t even access Facebook and Youtube here.  Now I have to pay for a VPN service, which usually makes my internet connect even slower!”

“Nothing is open around here.  Good luck finding a store open after 18h here.”

“Arg! It is so dirty here.  I open the windows to my apartment and one hour later the floors are covered in a thin layer of dust.  I can’t want to move back to a country that is cleaner!”

There are many more things to talk negatively about when living in another country.  We forgot too, under the influence of culture shock, that there are many negative aspects to living in our home country as well (e.g. getting a cable service repair person to come to your home to fix your internet or cable).  People complain and obsess about negative aspects of their lives in their home countries too.  But some might say that is your country so maybe you are “allowed” to say negative things every once and awhile about your own culture and way of doing things.  Is it different or the same then when living abroad?  When you are in a host country, the country is your “host.”  Certainly, we all would agree that you should try and be gracious to your host.

Some things though are NOT small, and can be quite important in relation to your life abroad.

“Be ready to not get paid on time.  Last year, we didn’t get paid until three weeks after the salary payment date! Why don’t we get paid on time?  There is nothing we can do about too.”

“The building management in our apartment complex steals our money.  They are giving us bills that are way more expensive than the locals that are living in our building.”

“I have been waiting for six months to get reimbursed for things that I purchased for the school!  I am also waiting to get reimbursed for my flight allowance….for LAST YEAR!”

“My last schools didn’t have this much work to do.  It is unbelievable about much I have to work at this school.  I don’t know if I can handle working until 19:00 every day after school!”

When there is something negative related to your home, your salary or your money (in general), then it is very easy to be sensitive to these situations.  Maybe then you are allowed to voice your concerns (i.e. be a bit negative).  Hopefully though there is something that you can do about it; get your school administration involved, the local police, etc.  Also, it is important to remember that these things might be temporary as well, inconveniences that will pass after a few weeks or months.

“Don`t be trapped by Dogma – which is living the results of other people`s thinking.   Don`t let the noise of other`s drown out your own inner voice.   And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” – Steve Jobs.

So, knowing that there are going to be negative comments heard and negative comments coming out of your mouth at some point, the key is to try and stay positive as much as possible.  Don’t let the negative thoughts and comments take over and take control of your thinking.  Your life in your new country will be full of ups and downs, that is a given.  Realizing that simple thing, could dramatically keep your negative thoughts to a minimum.  Also, maybe think twice about sharing all of your negative thoughts with your friends and coworkers, some might be best to keep to yourself anyways.

How do you try and stay positive in your current placement?  Share your comments with the rest of the International School Community readers.

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Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #9 – Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

February 17, 2012


TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS

Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

9. Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

When you are living abroad, there are moments when the locals are looking at you strangely. You might be thinking that they are making fun of you, being rude, or just plain staring at you.  Most of the time though they usually don’t have an unkind intention towards you.  The initial reaction is to put on a face that resembles the woman in the first photo above and think the worst.  But after a nice hello and a kind smile, many times you can turn a negative cross-cultural encounter into a positive/normal one.  Often I find that I make a rash judgement call about the situation when living or travel abroad, and sometimes that gets me into trouble, leaving me with a poor attitude toward the locals.  It is good to remember to try and take a step back (figuratively and maybe literally) and have a think about what might be really happening and try and view the situation as if you were in their shoes.  A negative situation can easily be averted if one of you puts a smile on his/her/your face.  A smile is typically contagious, no?

Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

Taking pictures of the locals is a strange situation really. I mean how often are there tourists walking around Minneapolis wanting to take pictures of the Minnesotan people that are walking around the downtown area.  Well maybe there might be a few there (but most likely not), but for sure there wouldn’t be tourists walking around the suburbs taking pictures of you.  It is hard for expats to really know what it is like.  It is sometimes irresistible though to take a picture of a local.  You can take the indirect approach and try and snap a shot without them knowing, but that sometimes leads to the locals getting angry.  A more direct approach sometimes is better when you are trying to get a shot of a local. You might buy something at their store or your might just start up a conversation with them.  Instead of the person getting angry or suspicious of your camera, they might have a different reaction to you taking a picture of them.  It is a good idea to not get lost in your photography and to remember to smile (and sometimes laugh with the locals) as you are walking around their neighborhood.

Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

It is hard to keep your sense of humor when you are on a old, rickety bus in a developing country.  You are in the back.  You are stuffed between to people that don’t share the same cultural tradition of putting on deodorant.  But these are the times when you can easily laugh to yourself, especially if your friend is in a similar situation in the front of the bus. You know it is not ideal.  You know that it is temporary (sometimes it is just a short bus ride, though sometimes a longer one!).  You start to think about how this is so different from where you grew up and how awesome really it is that somehow you ended up in this situation halfway across the world from your home.  Truthfully, it is the story you make sure to tell your colleagues the next day at school about what happened to you on the bus yesterday; a very good time to keep a good sense of humor and laugh about a situation that in reality really isn’t the most desirable one to be in.

Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

When you look at the locals, they sometimes look very different from you and the people you would see in your hometown.  Because of that fact, you might tend to stare a bit or be quick to observe and judge.  But you must remember that the locals might be looking at you in the same way (see exaggerated picture above of the guys in top hats).  Try to remember to keep a positive attitude towards the people around you, and keep your respect.  When you are by yourself you might not think twice about the guy in the crazy Eastern European sweater walking down the street, but people tend to be more vocal about their opinions and observations when they are in group of two or more.  Being “ready to laugh” in this instance might be a poor choice; and hopefully they won’t laugh and poke fun of your outfit as well!

Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

If you are living in China, one thing that keeps your sense of humor in its place is your ability to use chopsticks. Sure, many expats have mastered the art of eating dumplings and other Chinese food that can be a challenge to eat using chopsticks, but there is a sizable amount of expats that struggle.  You want to impress the locals with your skills.  You DON’T want them to see you fumble for fear of cultural embarrassment.  Try to maintain your sense of humor though and don’t give in to the temptation to ask the server for a fork and knife (if they even have them) and most importantly be ready to laugh with them as your dumpling falls from your chopstick-grasp to the edge of your table and then down to the floor.

Leave a comment and share your experiences keeping your sense of humor while living abroad.

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Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #8 – In all things be flexible

January 14, 2012


TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS

In all things be flexible

8. In all things be flexible

When relocating to a new place there’s so many things to consider, so many new impressions, so much to take in and oh so many things to learn. Even though we’re constantly told that today we are living in a globalized world and that the distances between may seem wide, and reality, new technology has brought us closer somehow. But all considered, and perhaps despite the ever-evolving, the ever-growing technology, there’s still a difference.

Novelist Herman Hesse said: “Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and cruelties.” Through centuries we’ve grown accustomed to certain kind of conventions, some passed on by older generations as a kind of “we’ve always done it this way” and some just grow out of nothing, until they become significant.

Can you learn culture? Probably! But it does take awhile, and it demands a lot of patience, and the risk of embarrassing yourself and others, when cultures clash, and our differences come obvious. It’s in these kinds of situations you might need to be flexible, and open to new experiences.  Even as simple as buying some bread at the local bakery.  Not knowing how to buy the bread there can be a tiny bit stressful.  (i.e. not knowing how the queue system works, not know how to ask a question in the host country language, not knowing how to respond to the person behind you in line starts talking to you in the host country language, etc.)

In all things be flexible

Waaaaaay back when, we were taught that to survive we somehow had to adapt. We were never the ones to lay down the rules, there was always something stronger than us. Since then we have desperately tried to prove that we are greater than we think, but we’re still bound to be flexible. We still have to compromise every now and then. When you have just arrived at your latest international school posting, there is much you will have to compromise!  Luckily, there are the teachers that started at that school the year before there able to help you along your way trying to be flexible in every situation.

When you are new in some strange city that seems like anything you’ve ever seen, you have to have an open mind, maybe re-evaluate a little, and take things as they come. The easiest thing to do is just deeming everybody wrong, and yourself the master of right, but it really won’t get you far. In many international school locations you might be living in a new apartment that might not live up the standards you are used to, but still you have a roof over your head, and a bed to sleep in, and we all need to start somewhere. And then the grocery store, they don’t sell the same items you’re used to, so you have to be inventive and creative, and when has that ever hurt anyone. Everybody speaks a different language, the cars drive on the wrong side of the road, there’s no Starbucks, and the cinema’s more expensive, and so on and so on. A lot of things can be wrong or bad, if you don’t learn to compromise, and learn to be flexible. You might enjoy the little peculiarities, it might even broadened your view, and you gain more than you, at first, might thought, you’d lose.

I’ll leave you with some wise words from authoress Ayn Rand: “Man’s unique reward, however, is that while animals survive by adjusting themselves to their background, man survives by adjusting his background to himself.”

Take care, you…

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Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #7 – Try to understand the host country perspective.

December 18, 2011


TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS

Try to understand the host country perspective.

7. Try to understand the host country perspective.

It would be quite the task to encapsulate an entire country’s significant culture, or even try to boil it down to a few key points. The thing is when you try to define nationality, you resort to simply creating a stereotypical object, which might embrace everything, but really fails to bring out anything significant. It’s the illusion that we can create anything objectively.

But maybe it’s an ancient romantic hope that globalization hasn’t completely devoured us all, and then spit us out as these uniformed clones that all march to the same beat. But when you scratch beneath the surface, and look beyond the fact that we’re all listening to Adele, going to the movies and seeing Transformers #1001 or buying our clothes at H&M, maybe there’s this thing I call “country habitus”?

Habitus can be described as some kind of objective consciousness; how we react, how we think or how we experience. It’s the significant! It is what describes and sets us apart, it’s our lifestyle somehow put into a template. Habitus is derived from French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, and is usually used to summarize people into certain groups based on symbolic capital, which again is how we act based on our status and prestige in society. Can the same be transferred to a country?

To each other, international school teachers often talk about certain common traits in the various countries they have lived in or traveled to.  Albeit very generalizing and objectively, there might be truth to what we say sometimes. You often hear that Scandinavians are very happy people, or that Germans are very pragmatic and industrious, or that Americans are much more hospitable than Europeans in general. These are of course very favorable traits, but maybe the traits change depending who you are, maybe some think that the Scandinavian are very somber and dark, that the Germans are very stubborn and unwavering, the Americans are ignorant and too self-absorbed. The thing is that you want to paint a good picture of yourself, showcase the best and favorable traits, while still maintaining something significant. Your own country’s habitus.

We always somehow reflect ourselves in what we think we are, and what we definitely think we aren’t. We belong to a certain kind of culture, maybe only for a short period of time and then move on. But in that culture we can reflect, feel we fit in, and feel a kind of cohesion, this both as an individual but also as a people of a country. We bring our habitus with us wherever we go.

“Try to understand the host country perspective”. When we arrive at our next international school post, we all come with our own perspective, our own upbringing, our own culture. It’s very easy to dismiss others as being brought up the wrong way or having a culture that we don’t really understand at all, and thereby find useless or unnecessary. There’s a certain prestige in being elitist or being charitable, and having the sense that you contain and understand all traits. Bob Dylan once wrote: “don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” Back in the 1960’s we assumed people were more open-minded and free-spirited, since then a lot has changed. This world has been through a lot, and maybe the distance between us has grown both smaller and wider. There is a huge difference between everyday life in South Africa and Scandinavia, maybe we all make status updates on Facebook and poke our friends virtually, but how we live, how we are raised is still very different.

It make take some time for international school teachers to observe the host country.  To find and then understand the multiple perspectives of the host country is a challenging task.  After a two-year posting at an international school, you are bound to know more than when you first arrived there.

Try to understand the host country perspective.

So objectivity or an Archimedean point may not completely exist. If we sat down an entire country’s people and asked them to come up with one significant trait of themselves, it would probably be impossible.  And why even try to minimize an entire nation’s rich culture, just to make it more accessible? International school teachers encounter new perspectives every day, and what is the easiest way to deal with these? Emphatically!

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Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #6 – Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

November 19, 2011


TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS

Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

6. Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

In the heat of a strong and intense culture shock moment in your host country, it is very, very easy to slip a bit.  Slipping-up is what culture shock is all about.  There are moments when you take a step back and ask yourself,”did I just do that?!”  Not the best moments in your attempt to have meaningful cultural experiences and intercultural exchanges.  Many of these moments are things you are actually trying to avoid or think you are above them, but then your “sense of urgency” just shows its face in the most inopportune times.  So, what are these conveniences of our home country that we instinctively want to cling on to?  They aren’t necessarily things you can explain in specifics, but there are general topics we could discuss.

“Where is the bathroom? Is that the only bathroom in this place? Am I going to have to use that? Do I really have to actually pay money to use this restroom?”

Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

There are times when you are in the search for the bathroom in a non-western country; probably the most important thing you need while traveling. In the United States and in some other westernized countries, the general idea that restaurants, stores, grocery stores, etc. in a community will provide you a restroom free of charge, and most of the time you don’t even need to buy something there.  We expect that the bathrooms are going to be there for us that we indeed start taking that convenience for granted.  Then you find yourself in another country and that convenience is now gone.  Many places do not even have a bathroom for their customers to use.  The quest for where you are going to find a bathroom to use is indeed a real one when walking around a city in a foreign country.  Not everyone will let you into their bathrooms!

“It is taking so long for internet to get set up in my apartment! Why don’t they offer an English option when I called the phone company’s customer support line? Why is the internet so slow in this country?”

Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

How important is having internet in your home nowadays? Most people cannot live without it. Now throw in your inability to communicate in the host country’s language to actually get internet set up in your home, it can feel like your sense of urgency about getting internet into your life is not shared with the local phone company…not one bit.  Some international schools provide support to their new teachers to help get things set up in your apartment or to even have them set up before you get there, but other international schools leave you on your own.  That means you are the one going to the telephone store and trying to figure everything out yourself.  Now the tricky part, when you finally get to the date of the installation, you get the phone call from the technician who is literally minutes away from your house.  You are so close to getting the internet set up, yet the technician is speaking to you in the host country’s language and doesn’t speak one word of English.  Luckily though, many times the technician does arrive and is able to install everything successfully, but in that one stressful moment, you would have given anything to be able to speak their language.

“Could this line be going any slower? How can there be so many people here? Where exactly is the ‘line’ anyways??!”

Do not expect of the new culture the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences.

Waiting in line in more western countries is sometimes quite different from waiting in lines in countries in Asia.  What are the hidden rules about getting in a line in China for example? What are the hidden rules about getting in line in India?  In some countries pushing and shoving is just part of the game when in a line waiting to get to the cashier.  The locals have a “sense of urgency,” the correct sense of urgency, and they get to the front of the line faster.  You just need to carefully observe and figure out what their rules are first so that you can also get to the cashier in less time.  The convenience in a more western country is that you can assume that nobody will be touching you or pushing you in a line, the line will most likely be a straight one and that there will be someone who can speak English more or less at the register.  Once you are living in a foreign country though, you soon may realize that you have possibly taken for granted all of those conveniences from your home country.

If there is one lesson to be learned…it is that you actually do (usually) end up getting the conveniences that you look for in your host country, it just comes to you a bit slower than or in a different way maybe what you are used to.  It all comes down to communication (or your lack of communication) doesn’t it?  Maybe your sense of urgency for all the conveniences you expect will be lessened a bit if you are able to explain yourself better.  What has been your experience living in your host country?

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