The 7 habits of highly effective expats (redux)

The 7 habits of highly effective expats (redux)On Monday I presented my interpretation of Stephen Covey’s seven habits as seen through the lens of expatriation. Today all I’m borrowing from Mr. Covey is that iconic title.

(This post actually pre-dated my reading of the book by about a year, but my penchant for scribbling story ideas on the back of random scraps of paper, combined with a somewhat slovenly approach to filing, means it only surfaced recently.)

Here, then, are seven of the habits cultivated by highly effective expats:

1. They prepare: They take the time to study the new culture before they get on the plane, and get a head start on learning the local language. Either by reading, talking to other expats, or taking cross-cultural training, they develop an understanding of culture shock, learning how to recognize its symptoms and how to manage them. They’re then able to form realistic expectations of what lies ahead.

2. They introspect: They examine their own values, strengths and weaknesses. They gauge their tolerance for ambiguity, take stock of their resiliency reserves, and assess their patience levels. The work they did above shows them what’s coming; the work they do here shows them how they’ll respond to it.

3. They keep an open mind: They accept that things will be different and that constant comparisons to their home culture is counterproductive. They peel back the layers of their preconceived notions and stereotypes until there’s nothing left. They resist judgment. They don’t automatically blame everything that goes wrong on the country or its people.

4. They connect: They establish a strong in-country social support system of both expat and local friends. They nurture their family relationships. They keep in touch with loved ones back home, just not 24/7. They make a point of surrounding themselves with positive people, limiting exposure to the bitter and the bigoted.

5. They bend: They consciously adapt their behaviour to meet local norms. They’re flexible, but they know where to draw the line so they don’t compromise their values.

6. They take (reasonable) risks: They try new foods, activities, experiences. They make mistakes and learn from them. They maintain a sense of curiosity and wonder that keeps them engaged in the here and now.

7. They keep a sense of perspective. Effective expats know that life has its ups and downs, no matter where you live. While they’re grateful for the chance to swim in a different pool, they know it comes at a cost. And yet they accept the downside as the price they pay for the richness and texture of expatriate life.

What can you add to my list of habits?


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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4 Responses to The 7 habits of highly effective expats (redux)

  1. Excellent, Maria! What I would add specifically is Showing Respect to the locals. This is usually not an issue with expats who follow the other habits, but it might be a point to consider. I can’t count the times I’ve heard expats – perhaps unknowingly – being unnecessarily critical about customs, habits, etc. while talking to local people, often making comparisons with how it’s done (better) in their own country.

    (Of course their are obnoxious expats who make a sport out of that, but they’re not usually the most successful expat in any sense!)

  2. I agree with Miss Footloose’s comment (I have just arrived at your blogsite from hers), and would just add that opening conversations in the local language is the best way of showing respect. In my backpacking days – alas now long gone – I always asked “do you speak English?” in the local language, before anything else. If the answer was no, then I struggled; but an English-speaker was usually produced. Few places were so far off the beaten track that one of those was not within shouting distance. Few, but some! I have blogged about some of my reminiscences from the 1960s. There’s one posted in July 2012 called “Clean sheets”, which illustrates how one can win an argument while still being respectful.

    • Maria says:

      Welcome, Gordon, and thanks for stopping by. I agree with you 100% that making an attempt to speak the local language is a good way to start off on the right foot — even if you end up talking to someone who’s dying to practice their English, it’s the effort that counts. And I loved your description of the patchwork wallpaper in your hotel room. 🙂

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