An Intercultural Perspective: Enriching and Facilitating Our Lives as Expatriates
by Barbara Schaetti, Principal Consultant—Transition Dynamics
This article was originally published in the March 2003 issue of Relocation Today, a publication of BRAnchor.
Expatriate and repatriate lives are filled with the kinds of experiences that the intercultural field is passionate about–international transitions, adjustment to new cultural contexts, cultural identity challenges and multicultural identity development, the complexities of communicating and negotiating, and living with ambiguity and uncertainty every day.
So what would happen if we, as expatriates and repatriates, were to intentionally and purposefully assume an intercultural perspective toward our international lives? We might find that we enrich others’ lives and facilitate our own day-to-day experiences.
Enriching Our Lives: An intercultural perspective invites us to question the assumptions that underlie our judgments, to consider what it is that touched us so strongly when we react emotionally and to examine the expectations that drive our physical responses. When we take an intercultural perspective in this way, our daily lives become a “living laboratory.” We learn something more about our “cultural selves” through every interaction with the “cultural other.”
The more we cultivate such an intercultural perspective, the more we discover that challenges are profoundly reframed into opportunities for personal and professional development. We reorient from being a “victim of circumstance” to a “creator of experience.” The most simple of interactions and experiences become fodder for our learning.
Facilitating Our Experiences
As expatriates and repatriates, the intercultural field offers a context for our personal experience. We can take comfort from research literature, pull strategies out of theoretical frameworks, and identify a bigger picture for our own life development. This has very practical ramifications. While we may still have to engage in the process of transition, we can do so feeling less entangled in the content of it all, in our grief and disorientation and the innumerable logistical details. Culture shock becomes a useful learning opportunity rather than something we want to hide from under the covers.
As we encounter people different from ourselves—be they host country nationals or members of the multicultural expatriate community in our overseas posting, or be they home country peers who sometimes seem the most foreign of all after we repatriate— an intercultural perspective helps us bring a particular intention to the way we communicate. Instead of automatically assuming others’ differences to be wrong, our learning orientation allows us to engage the ambiguity of each particular encounter. It reminds us to take a breath, maybe even two, and from that place of mindful spaciousness find the best way forward.
Living our Purpose Taking an intercultural perspective is not simply about building a knowledge base of culture-specific information (business or social protocols in Malaysia, for example); doing so is about engaging life practices for self-reflecting, self-managing, and co-creating across cultural differences.
At its core, taking an intercultural perspective means becoming an intentionally creative and generative force as we live and work among cultures. It begins with knowing ourselves. It encourages us to envision the life we want to live, and guides us in crafting a life in alignment with that vision. An intercultural perspective is a natural for expatriates and repatriates, living as we do at the interstices of culture.
Barbara F. Schaetti, Ph.D., Principal of Transition Dynamics and Senior Associate of The Crestone Institute, has consulted, taught, and coached in the intercultural field for more than twenty years.