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Becoming an Interculturalist: Why Might an Expatriate Bother?

By Barbara Schaetti, Ph.D. and Valerie Scane

In our presentation for FIGT 2004, we explored the value of an intercultural perspective for expatriates. While many expatriates have some exposure to cross-cultural training, the majority are left to develop their intercultural skills, if at all, through general experience and osmosis. We suggested that the expatriate, his or her family, and the sponsoring organization would all benefit from an intentional process designed to help expatriates cultivate their intercultural fitness.

Cultivating an intercultural orientation has much to offer expatriates and repatriates &emdash; employees, spouses, and children as well.

1) The intercultural is about navigating cultural differences, within the multinational expatriate community as well as with host nationals; simply put, you will become more effective in intercultural situations.

2) The intercultural emphasizes a learning orientation; it reorients you through very practical strategies from being a responder to circumstances to a creator of experience. Challenges are profoundly reframed into opportunities for personal and professional development.

3) The intercultural begins with knowing yourself; it encourages the kind of reflection and purposeful attention that supports you in articulating the life you want to create, and then crafting a life in alignment with that vision.

4) The intercultural gives a theoretical context to personal experience &emdash; your own and your family s. No longer is your experience terminally unique; you can position it within a research literature and within a bigger picture for your own life development.

5) With an intercultural orientation, you need never be bored again. The most simple of interactions and experiences becomes fodder for your learning as your daily life becomes your living laboratory.

6) Intercultural skills and competencies translate out. The intercultural is about communicating across difference, and, to some degree at least, every interaction involves a communication across difference. By taking an intercultural orientation, all your interactions take on new power and purposefulness.

7) Life is about living it at your highest and best, whatever that means to you. Taking an intercultural orientation is about being intentional with your expatriate and repatriate life; doing so directly supports you living from your highest and best.

To achieve this level of competence, we suggested that expatriates take a Personal Leadership orientation to the experience, and use the assignment as a living laboratory for growth and transformation. Personal Leadership, a model developed by Sheila Ramsey, Barbara Schaetti and Gordon Watanabe, is based on two core principles: mindfulness and creativity. The former requires us to wake up to our habitual and culturally-imbued behaviors, becoming thus more self-aware and more able to look at all situations with fresh eyes. The latter, creativity, comes from the space our mindfulness creates, that gap between ourselves fully engaged in an encounter and ourselves watching our behavior. This gap gives us the space to create culturally appropriate behaviors to bridge differences fruitfully and joyfully.

The Personal Leadership model has six practices: aligning with a personal vision; attending to our judgments; attending to our emotions; attending to our feeling body; cultivating stillness; and engaging ambiguity. Expatriates are in an especially advantageous position as they have the opportunity to hone these practices daily: rarely does a day go by when an expatriate is not confronted with a situation that draws forth a judgment, or that causes our shoulders to tighten or our emotions to rise. Expatriates live in a sea of ambiguity, and so the combined practices of engaging that ambiguity while anchoring our being through stillness practices (such as meditation, yoga, etc.) and holding to our guiding personal vision to reach our highest and best are critical to navigating that sea effectively.

We concluded our presentation by asking what would happen if the expatriate s personal vision and commitment overlapped with that of his or her family and the sponsoring organization. Instead of each party having contradictory or antagonistic aims, we suggested that by finding alignment through visioning, the synergy of visions could release the power and energy needed to live life at its richest and most meaningful.

Barbara Schaetti, www.transitions-dynamics.com

Valerie Scane, valscane@indosat.net.id

Families in Global Transition
C/O Campbell Rappold & Yurasits LLP
1033 S Cedar Crest Blvd
Allentown, PA 18103, USA

Phone: +1 (703) 634-7400
Email: admin@figt.org

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