Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Living your best life abroad

I'd like to recommend a new resource to you if you are an expat or soon to be one.  It is a book called Living your Best Life Abroad by Jeanne A. Heinzer. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Living-Your-Best-Life-Abroad/dp/1904881165  Jeanne has put together an excellent collection of resources and tools to help support accompanying partners when they're on international assignments.  From a coaching perspective, I was pleased to see so many relevant exercises and tips conveniently located in one place that I could easily share with my clients going through cultural transitions. 
Rather than just my recommendation, I thought it might be even more interesting to have the perspective of someone using it in the throws of  adapting to a new culture.  So let me share with you Sanela's story and how this resource helped her on her journey . . .

I’ve got this book just a month or so before I was to move to Germany from the UK. I loved the title and the chapter titles looked interesting and relevant. My intention was to spend some time reading/working through it whilst staying at my parents (our in-between-house) before I actually moved to our new home in Germany. However, the practicalities of life, mainly focused around getting the new house furnished so I spent more time searching internet for stuff than doing any psychological preparation for the move. I was also 8 months pregnant at the time so not in the peak form!

However, I took the book with me when I went to Munich for 5 days and had fabulous uplifting time sitting in a Munich department store, sipping second or third freshly squeezed juice and working through the “wheel of life” exercise. I bought myself a lovely notebook too and started capturing what I wished to have for myself over the next two years.

The wheel exercise is something I’ve done many times before and found it useful as ever in helping me clearly articulate why some things are important right now, why do they have a low or a high score and what I wanted to do about it.  The exercise confirmed my priorities which, for me was to get my environment, the house sorted out exactly how I wanted it to be ASAP and definitely before I had a baby!

I also found it useful to read about general experiences especially around change and what to expect. I shared this with my husband as well especially when things got a bit stressful – I could just say – hey, this is where we’re at right now and others experienced it as well (of course talking to other, real expats, was a good way to normalise our own experience).

The best thing I got from the book is a value, a principle which I think makes all the difference for this or any other experience in life. The gist of it is that you alone are responsible for making this experience the best one ever. Jeanne talks about taking responsibility for how you feel (this relates to partners in particular) and instead of falling into a trap of picking fights with your partner, kids etc. because you’re not feeling good about something, it’s better to think about what you’re missing and then ask for it/find a way to provide it for yourself. So, the other week when I started feeling a bit resentful towards my husband for no apparent reason I stooped and thought about my needs an once I figured it out I had a much more constructive conversation with him. I was also able to talk to friends I recently met to draw on their support.

Another principle that I love is that of self care – throughout the book Jeanne talks about importance of self care though little, everyday things and also through big areas of life like self development, career, health etc. I happen to be a strong believer in this principle as I know that if I’m not good myself I’m not good to anyone else either!

I see this book as a working, sort of reference book. There are chapters that “spoke” to me immediately and those that will be good to read in few months time. For example, defining who I want to be, what I want to get out of this opportunity etc. was and still is very important and it requires some thinking. One observation is that although I would have liked to have done this thinking before coming here the reality of international move seems to be that you just do things as you move along. Being conscious of the need to define and be clear about what this needs to be for you is in itself, a very important principle that is helping me shape this experience into something meaningful for myself.