Tag Archives: culture shock

I remember when we were heading to our first overseas assignment as a family. It was 2009, my husband and I had both lived abroad before, but this was our first time exposing our children (ages 3 and 1 at the time) to the world outside the United States.

I was so incredibly excited to be moving to the Dominican Republic. I’d done a school report on the DR for my high school Spanish class and had been friends with a Dominican exchange student at our school.

It felt like a dream come true. It was our first choice of assignments, I speak Spanish and had high hopes of finding meaningful work and all of our family members are beach-lovers so I knew we would happily bask in the surf and sand.

I felt like it was one of those places that called me, that I was destined to go. It was all meant to be.

And then I remember riding from the airport to our new home. “This is it?” I thought. Old Nissan pick-up trucks held together with duct tape, piled ten feet high with mattresses rumbled past unscathed, perfectly spotless Lamborghinis. Donkey carts full of piña competed for space against motos carrying five or more members of a family, oftentimes the baby dangling happily to the side. Black spilling exhaust, the thumping of merengue behind blasting car horns and screeching tires, potholes and stray dogs and precarious power lines, open sewers all under a blanket of sun and humidity that burned my face and saturated my nose.

Nothing was as I had expected.

And in it’s shocking imperfection, it was perfect. Somehow it already felt like home. Like “a” home.

As with anything – this awareness is not a uniquely expat experience. It’s not something that only those of us living between cultures can see. But, because we live between places we’re made deeply aware of the shades of gray that makeup the world.

It’s the reason that a place with human rights violations can also be a place where we fall in love.

It’s the reason that walking among soaring skyscrapers and pulling up a chair to endless dishes of perfectly crafted foods, doesn’t remove from our brains the knowledge that women are being made to shut up and pour tea in the hallways of those same buildings.

It’s why witnessing staggering poverty breaks our hearts and leaves us feeling helpless, but also enables us to see laughter and happiness on the faces of people who’s lives we know could be much better. And then we ask, "Well, who’s really to say what’s better?"

Of course, it’s also the reason we never fully go back to our passport countries. Because now we see them in all of their never-ending gray. And then we start to see ourselves as part of that. Perhaps we’re gray too. Nothing’s all good. Nothing’s all bad. It simply gets complicated.

The truth is – the only real sign of perfection, is imperfection. Imperfection is the norm (whether we like it or not). Imperfection is what’s real – in the places we love and the people we are.

So why does this sit so deep in the awareness of those of us who move?

Because that dichotomy – of seeing all the imperfections in the places that bring us so much joy and of finding the perfection in the places we never expected to love – gets us closer to the truth about the world.

Living with the truth is so much more fulfilling. It’s what makes a life lived around the world so compelling. We can love somewhere and see its pain. We can recognize how drawn we feel to freedom and mobility, while also acknowledging the deep loneliness that comes from being so far away.

We stop seeing in black and white. We live right smack in the middle. We live both places. We are both places. Maybe it’s not even really gray in there. Perhaps it’s where all the color really lies.

We can never un-seen that...ever.

No wonder we can’t go “home.”

A parent in a Foreign Service Facebook group recently shared this video that her daughter made about being a Third Culture Kid. It's so well done and does a wonderful job of capturing the emotions of this lifestyle. I even teared up a bit watching it with my oldest son.

Being able to name and identify our emotions is key to successfully navigating the expatriate lifestyle. If you're interested in learning how to better understand your own thought and emotional patterns, consider checking out this free downloadable exercise from my book - The Expat Activity Book: 20 Personal Development Exercises for Gaining Insight and Maximizing Your Potential Wherever You Are. Or, click here to find out more about the book and purchase your copy.

In the past two days I’ve had the incredible pleasure to conduct “get-to-know-you” sessions with the participants in the beta-test of my Finding Your Way: Everyday Mindfulness for Critical Moments program. This 12-week mindfulness skills program will support clients in learning the practical, accessible mindfulness skills offered through the Personal Leadership framework and provide coaching support as the participants implement these skills into their daily lives.

It has been so fun to engage in these conversations! Each of the participants is coming to the program from their own unique desire to live more engaged and more connected with the world around them. I have loved sharing with them the details of how we’re going to be talking about real world skills, actual day-to-day practices and ideas that they’ll be able to implement not just in times of balance, but in times of upheaval.

Please stay-tuned for updates (by liking the World Tree Coaching Facebook page or by joining my email mailing list if you haven't already). I’m hoping to have completed the beta phase and to begin accepting clients for the program in late-April 2018.

I’m also happy to announce that I’m now booking individual coaching clients for 2018. After some time off for the holidays (and to get my beta-testers moving through their program), I’ll begin seeing new individual coaching clients in mid-January.

If you’ve thought about coaching before, but aren’t sure it’s the right fit for you, please click here and schedule a time for us to talk more. This no-obligation session is a great way to see how coaching could support you in reaching your goals, managing transition, gaining clarity and maintaining (or regaining) balance as you enter a new year. Coaching is a true gift to yourself. There’s nothing quite like it!

As a special offer, all new clients who register between now and December 18, 2017, will receive a free copy of my book The Expat Activity Book: 20 Personal Development Exercises for Gaining Insight and Maximizing Your Potential Wherever You Are (a $20 value) along with a voucher for $25 off the coaching program of her or his choice.

Click here to learn more about how we can work together to make 2018 the year you get moving where you want to go!

I was looking back at some past World Tree Coaching birthday posts and it turns out I write pretty much the same things every year! Seriously. Year one. Year two. Year three.

It's clearly a birthday blogging tradition and all of it's still true, so why change now?

Here's what I'm saying (again):

Yay! I made it!

I love this work!

I love my clients!

This year I'm doing super fun new things (read about some of them here and here and here).

Gush, gush, gush, gush, gush – this job makes me so happy and I’m gonna’ do it forever!

Work With Me! Working with a life coach is awesome! Don’t take my word for it though – check out what my clients are saying. Or read this recent post from another coach friend and learn a bit more about why working with a coach is absolutely something you should do.

I’ve got a couple of clients wrapping up and that leaves 4 individual coaching spots open between now and the New Year. Wait! World Tree Coaching is turning 4 and I've got 4 spots open!? What are the chances!?

Seriously – what are you waiting for?

Wondering what exactly I do? Here's an excerpt from this recent blog post:

As a coach and expat support professional, I help people find home. I whole-heartedly believe that the answer to what home means to each of us is already with us. With age and time and conditioning, we lose our ability to get up close and personal with what we think and feel and that affects our ability to see clearly what home really means. We shy away from the messy parts, we hide the ups and downs and we downplay the things we’re totally rocking. My theory is – it’s all material! I help people learn to be okay with what’s working well. And, I support people as they honestly and gently, refocus towards their inner sense of home when they find what they’re currently doing has stopped serving them well.

How do I do all of that?

I bring optimism and compassion into the space in which we are working together. I believe in my clients – they are whole, capable, experienced and brilliant. Through a lens of love and curiosity, I invite them to step into the space where they can use those traits to get where they want to be.

That pretty much sums it up. Join me and help me celebrate yet another year of supporting people in finding home no matter where they are.

Read more about my one-on-one coaching programs here.

Click here to schedule a FREE, no obligation consult session to see what this coaching thing is all about.

Let's face it - you love your kids, but you might...just might...be happy they're all back at school. Right now it’s possible you look like the lady in that photo…right?

If there's one thing I hear from friends, clients and colleagues alike right now it's that a return to the school year means a return to regular schedules, normal bedtimes and a better sense that you can come out from under everyone else's stuff. It's heavy under there!

And that means it's the perfect time for you to turn the focus back in your direction for a bit.

I want you to do that! I love more than anything supporting people in reaching their goals, finding their sense of self and moving forward one step at a time in connecting with what matters most in their lives.

Join me in celebrating this newest transition by taking advantage of my latest coaching program offer.

From now until the end of September 2017, take 20% off your coaching program fees. Click here to see if you’re eligible for additional discounts. Installment plans are available for my 8- and 12-week programs.

If you're ready to get started - simply email me at jodi at worldtreecoaching dot com.

Have you been thinking about coaching, but you're still not sure if it's right for you? Never considered coaching, but now you're kinda' curious?

Read what past clients have said here. Or click here to schedule a time to chat with a FREE, 45-minute consult session!

The other day my mom sent me a photo of a basket of peaches.

I want to be that basket of peaches.

I want to be the prickly, sweet way that they smell. I want to be the juice that seeps through the corners of the dry, crinkle sound of the paper bag that first housed them on the side of a two-lane road somewhere between Fredericksburg and Austin. Bluebonnets long since faded and replaced by green that won’t be brown until August...on a good year.

I want to climb inside the basket and feel how they’re both scratchy and soft at the same time. Like the little pig I once named Wilber…before I really understood what happens to Wilber.

I want to walk into HEB and pass right by the Georgia peaches that sit there in that big, wooden, less-expensive crate with the bright yellow sign that says, “Buy me because I’m cheaper!” and go straight for the smaller ones in the less visible display next to the limes and lemons.

Sure they’re smaller. Bring it on! Don’t Mess With Texas.

When you pick them up in your palm you already know they’re just right without even giving them a gentle squeeze. There’s always a stack of lunch sacks waiting just right on top or maybe sometimes in that little wooden holder.

Do they bring that holder out just for peach season?

Who would put peaches in a plastic bag?

Who would call tortillas, soft tacos?

Who drives by Dairy Queen without stopping for a Blizzard (small, extra Heath)?

But back to the peaches.

I want to hold the fruit in my hand and gently turn the knife around and around along the middle, making a meridian. Lots of meridians to cross between here and home. Lots of lines. This one in the peaches is perfect.

I want to be that moment, after the knife, when if it’s just the right peach, on just the right day (which is always June), at just the right time (which is always 3:00 in the afternoon) when you hold each side and twist. Snap. Not quite a snap though. More like a deep, just-waiting-to-give release.

And now it’s two sides. Eat one. Slice the other. Peel or no. That part's up to the consumer.

I want to be those peaches because in them there are so many memories. It’s like if I become them, crawl inside and live from them all the things that seemed so simple are still there.

Time stands still in those peaches.

We’re all watching the world go by. We absentmindedly read the news, scroll through Facebook, eat lunch with one eye on our laptops and drive home without even remembering how we got there.

To be fair, it’s a little bit harder to become fully zoned out when you’re living outside of your home culture. Not paying attention could land you eating some bizarre, new food or telling the cashier, “I don’t need a bath,” instead of “I don’t need a bag” (true story). So naturally expats tend to be a bit more observant.

But, no matter where we are, we get into habits in our daily routines. We take our feelings, our thoughts and our actions for granted. Much of the time we don’t even notice that the strain in our neck came after the disagreement with our spouse or that the third cup of coffee fuels the sloppy emails or late night media binge.

I believe there’s an additional layer to this for people who are living away from home. Our thoughts, feelings and actions are complicated by the unpredictable and unusual way in which we live. There are more distractions...and simultaneously more ways in which to pay attention.

Often, people who thrive in this lifestyle do so by learning to pay better attention and by adopting a level of intentionality in their daily lives despite all of the spinning around them.

When I talk with people about this, no one ever disagrees. Yes, of course, we should pay attention to what we’re feeling and thinking. But, how? Should I journal? Talk with a friend? What about going for long walks…listening to woodwind instruments over the sounds of the sea…drinking one less gin and tonic?

Sure. But really, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

There are surprisingly easy ways to adopt a higher degree of intentionality in the things we do. And, contrary to what you might think, it can start in small and specific ways at any point in the day.

When we’re able to pick a couple of things to do on purpose, we’re strengthening the part of our brain that pays attention. At first we simply pay attention to a couple of seemingly innocuous events, but before we know it, that heightened sense of awareness has come to support us in noticing the more significant ups and downs of our daily experience.

But pay attention to what?

I like to say, "Think of yourself as a scientist."

In that vein, paying attention can be anything from really noticing the sensations of washing your hands to making a head-to-toe scan of your body when you sit down at your desk each day. It can include actually observing yourself making your coffee or sitting on the train, noticing the world around you (not reading your phone).

Brainstorming a list of ideas is a great way to start. And there’s nothing that says you have to choose everything you write down. Maybe just one to start and then add two or three as the weeks progress.

What you’ll notice is that the noticing, instead of the brushing-aside, becomes the habit. The paying attention starts to feel normal. It’s an exceptional way to tune in to your daily experience. And that, in turn, creates greater insight and can improve decision-making and relationship building.

None of this happens over night. It’s like doing push-ups. You get stronger and more skilled, little by little, until (before you know it) you’re aware of things you never noticed before.

If you’re stuck - this exercise might give you some insight into how to try out paying attention.

I also love this TED talk about developing habits. I watched it as part of a Personal Leadership program I’m participating in. While he’s not exactly talking about paying attention, the presenter's ideas for micro-practice could help you establish a regular routine for paying attention.

And, if you want to get a better sense of how to observe your thought and emotional patterns, check out this activity from my book, The Expat Activity Book, here.

go-ahead-share-1

Think about all the times you had something you wanted to share and you held back. It could have been that small, but big-to-you victory. Maybe it was the bad day at work that came out of nowhere. Maybe it was the time you felt overwhelmed, lost, rejected…or completely thrilled with the path before you.

We do that, don’t we? Keep things in when we know they’d be so much better shared with and supported by someone else.

One of the biggest benefits of growing into the person you want to be, is accepting that talking it out with a friend is always, always one of the best places you can go to make sense of whatever it is you’re facing.

Talking out our troubles with friends doesn’t always erase our pain or free us from our challenges, but it gives us a completely new lens from which to see what’s there before us.

Sometimes this is harder for people who move around a lot. But, it doesn’t have to be. Deeper connection comes from taking the leap to share with others. As expats we’re often forced to dive into relationships very quickly. Rather than worrying about who we will scare off, I think we benefit from focusing on who we’ll grow closer to.

But there is no doubt it can be difficult. Even when we know the benefits of fully and honestly connecting, the hesitation we feel about reaching out and the old belief that we shouldn’t bother people with our problems (or brag about our successes) can be hard to overcome.

It occurs to me that sometimes all we need is the very first step and when it comes to talking it out with our friends – the very first step involves…well…talking.

It can be as simple as saying (or texting):

“Are you free to talk?”

“I’m celebrating! Join me for a drink?”

“Have a minute?”

“I could use an ear, are you free?”

“I’d love to bounce something off you, can I give you a call?”

“Are you free for coffee? I could really use a friend to talk to?”

“I don’t want to feel like I’m unloading on you, but I could really use someone to talk to. Are you free?”

Yes – that is actually just a list of words to get you started. It's totally something you could have come up with on your own. But – it is both not-rocket-science and totally overwhelming at times. Having that list up there is my way of reminding you that you already have the tools...you just gotta' use them. If you’ve been struggling to connect – take a minute to imagine what would happen if you committed to using one (just one) of these in the next few days.

Write down your favorite phrase. Use the ones above to plan out your own words to get you started. Practice in the mirror if you have to.

And then, whether it’s a major accomplishment or a tiny, little, barely-there frustration – go ahead and reach out.

You won't regret it!

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My 3-year-old is scared to death of Japanese toilets. Maybe you’ve been to Japan so you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you haven’t, but you’ve heard about them. I mean, they’re kind of like Japan’s most famous weird thing…from the perspective of the non-Japanese out there, that is.

She’s scared because our first night here she stared down into it as my husband did his best to decipher the various buttons. A face full of toilet water will do that to a toddler. Nothing we’ve been able to do can convince her they’re safe. My friend tells her daughter it’s a car wash. I like that idea, but it hasn’t turned things around for us. I’m afraid there’s no going back.

But, I’m not one to typically avoid the daunting…at least not for long. This week, 2 months into our life in Japan and armed with Google translate (although without a face mask, which would have been, in retrospect, a good idea), I decided to get to the bottom (figuratively!) of our Japanese toilets.

I soon discovered that the steps for figuring out my Japanese toilet were not unlike some of the biggest keys to mastering transitions as an expat. In fact, I found 4 specific expat life skills just waiting there for me on that piece of porcelain!

One: Start with what you know. No matter where you go in the world, you come in with a pre-existing set of skills, habits and bits of knowledge. Despite what it might feel like, you’re not born anew as a baby every time you move. So remember to always start with what you know, access those skills first and offer up those abilities when possible (especially when you feel new and a bit like you have nothing to offer). In the case of the toilet – I can read hiragana and katakana (the two Japanese phonetic alphabets). With this I was able to know – that button turns on the bidet (ビデ) and that word says おしり (which I can lookup…and which I now know means buttocks).

Whew! Two items deciphered - now to phase two.

Two: Pay attention to the clear and easy. So often we are so blinded (and frankly, blindsided) by our moves that we don’t even notice the things that are clearly marked. We forget to pay attention to things like hunger, exhaustion, illness, frustration or sadness. These normal experiences can get buried under the sea of the unfamiliar. We benefit from finding ways to take time out to pay attention to these emotions, physical feelings or logistical questions. What’s this got to do with my Japanese toilet? Well, the toilet comes complete with a few illustrations. So, the photo of the butt with water spraying up should be pretty obvious. Push that button and I doubt the results will take you (too much) by surprise. When in doubt – go with the obvious.

But, what if even after using the skills you already have and reading the clearly marked signs, you still feel lost?

Three: Get help with the confusing stuff. I’m a firm believer in the power of community. It’s not always easy to ask for help. We’re often trained to believe that it means we’re weak, stupid, lazy or needy. I’m here to tell you that that is simply not true. We need others. We need community. We need helpers. My clients (and friends) that are able to reach out for support consistently adjust to new experiences better than those who suffer their troubles alone. In the case of my Japanese toilet, Google translate was my very best friend. She mostly gave me helpful answers and only occasionally (I mean, nobody's perfect, right?) provided complete mistranslations like “toilet seat flights.” On the other hand, if this thing flies I’m totally signing up for that adventure!

So you’ve moved, you’re unpacked and you’re flying off into expat happiness on your Japanese toilet seat. But wait! There’s one more important step to mastering transition.

Four: Just go for it. Sometimes you’ve just got to get in there and do your best. You will get lost sometimes. You will feel like crap sometimes. You will definitely feel lonely, lost, confused and completely out of sorts. But, you will learn and you will get better every single time. As for the Japanese toilet? Well, go ahead and sit down…it can’t be that bad of a ride.

Wanna’ get better at tapping into your best expat self? Check out The Expat Activity Book on Kindle and paperback and my latest coaching offers here.

 

 

My Beloved Emotional Roller Coaster

So we made it! We’re back in Japan after fifteen years away and we’re back abroad after about 18 months in the States. There’s no other way to say it – YAY!! It feels so good to be back to our typical way of living.

I think in some sort of way I didn’t know it would feel this way. Maybe I didn’t even know how much I was missing our international life. Somehow I’m not sure I realized how being back abroad would feel more like home than “home” really did.

But you know what? The most awesome part of all of this is that despite feeling so good about being back – I don’t actually feel perfect! I don’t feel good all the time! I haven’t slipped peacefully back into life here oblivious to the ups and downs of culture shock. What I am doing is feeling all up close and personal with the whole range of thoughts and emotions that come from living life as an expat. Most of them are actually really nice and happy and welcoming, but some of them are, naturally, not sweet and cozy emotions.

Like anyone who is going through a major transition sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed, turned around, confused and exhausted. I’ve been doing this long enough that these feelings aren’t plaguing me all the time, but they’re there – sometimes really big and loud and sometimes just quietly in the background.

As strange as it may sound, I’m finding old friends in the whole host of emotions that live inside me when we’ve moved to a new place. These emotions are so familiar to me during transition. Even when they don’t feel so nice, I’m finding now more than ever I’m able to say, “Oh, it’s you again Anxiety-About-Getting-Lost-Down-Unfamiliar-Streets? Welcome home!”

What surprises me this time around (this is my sixth international move), is that these emotions don’t scare me anymore. I know they’re here. I know they’ll likely be gone soon and I know they may reappear from time to time. They are actually a part of me and a part of my expat experience that feel completely familiar. With all the new stuff, there’s something really nice about experiencing something I’ve known before, even if it is a handful of emotions most people would try to avoid.

And so, with the ups and downs and all the in-betweens, I think I can officially say – we made it! I’m home.