Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Returning to work after international relocation: culture, language and identity

Returning to work after a career break is challenging enough in itself. I know from my own experience of living in 4 countries in 30 years that when you are from a different country, you face a range of additional complexities, some being connected to culture, language and identity. The more you can gain clarity on these issues, the easier it becomes to turn these cultural and language differences to your benefit when returning to work.

Culture
Having spent most of my adult life in various countries outside my home nation, I feel that clich├ęs and stereotypes, although unfortunate, cannot be ignored from either side. For instance, one of my English colleagues shared with me as I arrived in the UK, that French people are perceived here as arrogant. Although it was a shock to me, as I would have never perceived us French as arrogant, it helped me understand what image we can give in the UK. So it will be useful to you to understand how locals perceive your culture, as much as what you truly think of those living in your host country.

Practical tips: if you are new to the country, take every opportunity to attend workshops on cultural differences. If you have been around for a while do investigate sensitively how your culture is seen locally, reflect on how you experience your own culture for yourself; and be open to conversations about cultural differences.

Language
If English is not your first language and you are reading this, your language skills are already strong.  If you are relocating to a country and you do not speak the local language, there is only one single piece of advice: it’s worth putting in the effort needed to learn that language. It could take time for you to feel confident so if need be, make this learning quite formal and put in the resources (group or private lessons, intense homework etc).

Trying to return to work when you do not speak the local language is a challenge. However I understand that in some cases, language structures and sounds are so different from what you are used to (e.g. for a European moving to China or Japan), that the effort might just be too much to take on. In such cases, my advice is to improve your English (if it is not your first language) and to look for opportunities in multinational companies or ways to offer your services to the expat community.

Identity
This is a wider topic than just culture and language. But there is a connection. If as a ‘trailing spouse’, you had to reluctantly give up a professional career, you are likely to have had your identity shaken in various ways at the same time: cultural, personal and professional. You will have experienced some loss and will need to recreate a balance and to invent a fulfilled new you.  Take action to create a satisfying life for yourself or you risk building resentment against your partner.

Practical tips: spending time acknowledging what is going on for you and what you need to create a balanced life is not wasted time: it is building precious self-awareness.  Sharing how you feel helps others understand you while asking for advice from those who have been there before you helps you realise that “it’s not you, it is the situation”. Getting support could be your best next step, whether through a buddy, a social network or a professional such as a coach.

If you pay attention to all three areas, culture, language and identity, as you investigate your return to work options, it will make your choices clearer and your decisions easier.


Post by Claire d’Aboville, a Women Returners associate, a multi-lingual and multi-cultural Executive Coach and founder of Partners in Coaching http://partnersincoaching.com/Welcome.html

2 comments:

  1. Another side of this is trying to return home after a period working abroad. Easy in terms of language and society, but if you haven't been back very often it can be difficult in terms of reverse culture shock - how you remember you homeland to be may not be how it is now, or may have only been a memory seen through rose tinted glasses. I've read plenty of comments on MumsNet about women moving back to the UK and finding it difficult to resettle.

    And these days, it is often financially impossible to move back speculatively so job hunting - possibly from half way round the world - makes things more difficult, even if you have managed to keep up with professional developments (new legislation in your sector, for example).

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    1. Completely agree. I vividly remember the shock of returning with a baby in tow from living in Australia to a freezing cold UK, feeling totally displaced. If we succeed in getting returnships more established, we hope that this could add another route back into the UK job market, where recent local experience is not a hiring criteria. Julianne

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