I have been working with expats relocating to other countries for many years and even though they come from different cultures, they actually ask very similar questions. They check my website, so this post is written to answer some of their questions beforehand, maybe even give you and them some insights about my work too, and will be one of many. It’s not possible to cover such a vast subject in only few minutes read, it would simply be too much for you to digest in one go. Trust me, you do not want to feel overwhelmed. If you have questions which are not answered here, let me know in the comments section below to make sure that I will get back to them when writing next parts.
This post is divided into 3 pieces. The first one is to answer questions I am asked about the role of the relocation and intercultural communication training, coaching, mentoring and how it can help in professional career, as well as personal life. Seasoned expats realise its importance, for many people, especially coming from “similar” areas of the world, it’s something unnecessary. Interestingly, they change their minds before our work together finishes. The second part is about life in the UK and how strange it is for them when compared to other places. It does not cover every possible subject, obviously. These are just some most frequent questions my clients ask me at the beginning of our sessions. It’s almost childlike curiosity which needs to be contented as quickly as possible. The last part is about the services I provide – how can they explore these subjects even deeper and how can I help them in their journey.
Please, bear in mind that these answers may not be definitive. They are supposed to give you a quick and condensed “light” explanation for things which are complicated. You will see that under many answers there is a note about further posts being published on the subjects. That’s where I will expand the area more broadly.
relocation training, coaching and mentoring
Moving to live and work in a different country is tougher than you expect it to be. At the beginning your family is mostly excited, after all who wouldn’t love to travel. And moving abroad, unfortunately, is nothing like travelling I’m afraid. True, at first, it’s amazing. The temporary housing situation is usually taken care of, in many cases there is a relocation package involved, so money is not a problem. It’s almost like all-inclusive holidays. And if you are on your own, it stays this way for quite some time.
It is a bit different when you are travelling with your partner and/or your kids (depending on their age they are either crazy excited or grossly offended by the idea of relocation; we will keep them aside to another time then). Your significant other, on the other hand, is a person we like to call a trailing spouse (some rather call themselves an accompanying partner, just to let you know). They normally come to help you with your career move, but, especially at the beginning, have no “security” network around them. Unlike you, they do not go to work on a regular basis and meet other people. They stay at home, trying to organise your new life. And it’s a substantial job. They think they have plenty of time to explore new country, maybe take language classes, visit museums, they even would love to take you with them to show what they discovered – mostly on the weekends, when you actually would rather relax at home after the whole week of work. And if you’re lucky, you may even go together… once or twice.
This is called a honeymoon period. It’s all about the excitement. Just like every other honeymoon, this one ends too. In some cases, after a month, in some after 2-3 months, but it always does. And there’s nothing wrong about it. It happens to everyone. The training part is supposed to prepare you for inevitable; “better the devil you know”, after all. The coaching sessions help you to discover the options from resources you already own, but may not have realised it. And mentoring, is just like a private class with a person who’s “been there, done that”, me.
Culture is much more than language. You may speak fluent English, it may even be your mother tongue, but you may still not understand much after you relocate to another place. That’s why intercultural communication is core part of every relocation training. There is a famous quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw about the United States and Great Britain being two countries separated by a common language, and indeed, my American clients are usually the ones who are the most surprised at the end.
Think of it in terms of your own country. You often, though not always, speak the same language, but there are many stories about people who live in the capital city, or the oldest city, or maybe somewhere in more secluded areas. People are different and if interregional differences can be observed, it’s even more noticeable when it comes to nations. There is different attitude towards cooperating with authorities, working as part of a team or individually, responding to critics, communicating ones’ needs. You may speak the same language, but do you really understand each other?
Short answer is: it depends on you!
A little longer… Let’s imagine you are moving to the UK. First, I highly recommend a one- or two-day training so you will become culturally aware. It means that you will be able to pick up the nuances of other cultures (at this point any culture, really) from actions which were caused by either universal or personal characteristics. Then, we switch to answer to your particular needs and discuss how living among the British is similar or different to living in your home country. You decide to have the training scheduled before you relocate or when you are already here and it depends on you how long the session would be. When it’s in the UK it’s better to have it face-to-face, but we have all learnt how to work online, haven’t we?
Coaching and mentoring are usually scheduled when you already relocated so you can benefit from them the most. They are usually held online, unless you move in to London and prefer conversation over cup of coffee. Each session lasts around 60 minutes and, with my experience, 10 coaching sessions are more than enough (you pay only for the sessions you had, obviously). Mentoring relationships keep going longer, depending on your requirements.
Training, coaching, mentoring programs run independently. You can either chose all of them, with a price discount, or decide on having only some of them. Before we sign the contract, we always discuss your needs during the chemistry session (free of charge), when we decide if and how we want to work together.
If you’d like to discuss your options, let me know here.
life in the UK
Yes, it may be – England ≠ the Great Britain ≠ the UK.
The UK has been created as a union of 2 kingdoms – England and Scotland in 1707 and there are still many significant differences between its parts – especially visible in separate legal, education and health systems. Why Wales is not mentioned? At the time, it was simply considered a part of England and many areas are actually still the same there now, as they used to be centuries ago.
Apart from the Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales which combined create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there are some areas which, for many, seem like they are part of the country too. Naming just a few: Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Gibraltar; they are not and there will be a post about this subject for sure.
Just remember, never call anyone from Glasgow, Belfast or Cardiff English. In the best case scenario, they would think you’re ignorant.
I know, this one is confusing. Many people assume that since the UK is a left-hand driving country, it should also influence the way people walk. I wish! Most of the people walk on the right-hand side, unless there is a very interesting shop window when they tend to cross right in front of you regardless of a general walking direction.
To make things even more complicated, sometimes the “mysterious they” want you to walk on the left. It usually happens in crowded spaces, like London Underground tunnels, airports, or railway stations, to regulate the traffic. Thankfully, on those particular occasions, there is usually a sign. And sometimes there isn’t. Go with the flow!
Ps. There is always a very strict rule about using the escalators – stand on the right only and move on the left (but only if you really need to, even then think twice, if the answer is still yes, think again, the escalator moves on its own, after all).
Long story short: it isn’t! Just give it a try. It is true that the British food lacks the finesse of many French dishes (sorry, call them in French, make them look fancy, demand pretty penny for them – the escargots are still disgusting!) or the lightness of the Mediterranean cuisine, but it does not mean it’s not good. The food which was made by the British was their culinary answer to climate and traditions. It must have provided enough energy for the whole day of work, because there was no such thing as a long lunch break even in the heat of the summer midday. Being very efficient and pragmatic, the British tried to use as much of the product they could – including the parts which make haggis so uninviting for many – the pluck (by the way, haggis is very tasty, we use pluck in Polish cuisine too, it’s just pork, not lamb).
And the British are quite innovative in the kitchen too! There is much more than “fish and chips” or “full English breakfast”. They are responsible for inventing the sandwich, a staple in many cultures, their Cornish pasty just tastes right after a night out, and the Eton mess is simply divine (my love to meringues is inversely proportional to their weight and there will be a post about them in cuisines of the world for sure). What’s important, they are not afraid to experiment. There wouldn’t be a modern, palatable version of curry if it’s not them. Yes, it is true, this curry may not be the most original, but ask your mum to eat proper vindaloo. What mine said: the water has never tasted so well!
There will be a post about the British cuisine here, so come back to check it out.
The British love their traditions and they are proud of everything to be done the way it was before the Danelaw. If it was good for Boudicca, it clearly must be good for John Smith or Hyacinth Bucket.
In case of separate hot and cold taps, the answer is a bit more complicated. In older days the only way you got the hot water at home was when you boiled it and kept in the tank. Have you ever visited a pond? If yes, you probably could smell something “funky”. Any stagnant water, either in pond or tank, is an incubator for bacteria or parasites. Especially if it is contaminated with animal faeces or carcasses. Cold water, on the other hand, normally came from the mains supply (not necessarily in year 1000, but relatively early, at least in the UK). Mixing water coming from different sources with different pressures, may lead to incorrect flow across the network and cross-contamination. That could affect more households than the one responsible for malpractice.
Why is it still done this way? Again – if something works, why change it? The only people complaining are foreigners, anyway, the British got used to it already. And they are proud of the way they solved the problems and like to remind everyone that they did it ages ago.
I’m sure now, when you know the answer, scalding and freezing both your hands at the same time will be definitely more pleasant than yesterday.
Definitely not! Oyster cards has been introduced as a payment method by the Transport for London in 2003 as an integrated way of paying for all travel modes. And it was very useful at the beginning. There were daily and weekly caps, you could top it up when needed, and after registering, in case of losing it, you got a new one back with all the money.
Transport for London gradually phases out the Oyster in favour of contactless payments with debit cards. You still need to touch in and out to record your journey, but the fares are exactly the same. Just remember to create your TfL account so your debit/credit cards are connected to you in case of any issues (I’ve been living here for the last 10 years and only had minor problems so far), also, you will benefit from the capping.
Regarding the fares: working 5 days a week was enough to switch to a weekly card, now it does not make sense anymore, stick to pay as you go, use your phone/smartwatch and enjoy London.
The English? Yes, they do! Quoting George Mikes, whose book How to be a Brit, I cannot recommend highly enough, “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one”. Not everywhere though. Good luck with queueing in London! On the other hand, good luck finding an Englishman here. Anyway, post office, bus, any form of gated entrance – there’s never chaos, there’s always order. And you know what? After living here for a while, you would love it and wouldn’t imagine your life without it, trust me. It’s so convenient.
Have you ever been to Japan or South Korea? These countries do not believe in having addresses the way other countries use them. I suspect that also the British authorities still live in a cold war world and do everything they can so the foreign secret agents would not find the right place.
The address looks normal. The first line, the one with a number and street name, is important, at least that’s what they say. You find it on google maps, you get there and it’s not where you were supposed to be. You would not believe the amount of people who end up in Barking instead of St. John’s Wood when looking for a crossing from the Beatles album cover. Also, I used to live on West Heath Road, which was right next to West Heath Avenue, West Heath Close and West Heath Drive. That brings me to the most important part of the address – the post code. We all heard about letters delivered to “the red building right next to the crossroad in the city centre”, but do we really know any? I didn’t think so.
And word of advice, if you have a flat number in your address, never put it into the first line. In many cases it’s omitted by computer systems (it’s you Uber Eats I’m talking about!) and whoever needs it, ends up with flat number and a post code. No, it’s not enough, unfortunately.
Are you familiar with aforementioned Mrs. Bucket? The British do not pronounce the words the way they are written. It’s all bout the history. My international clients get lost in London looking for Hoborn or Totnam and when they finally comprehend the fact that if the name ends with -ster, whatever stands between the first syllable and the last is omitted (e.g., Leicester – Lester, Gloucester – Gloster, etc.) they try to buy a train ticket to “Chister”. And the problem is that since the English “invented” the language, they are still convinced that everyone should know these details. Don’t try to fight, let them think they are right, that includes Mrs. Bouquet. The next time, try to mimic their pronunciation. I’m afraid it’s the only way which works.
about the services
Majority of intercultural communication and relocation specialists work on their own, even though sometimes you can buy our services through an agency. Simply speaking, the agencies market and sell services and they have many individual trainers and coaches working on their behalf depending on their expectations. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am my own boss just using the middleman for a commission. They basically look for jobs for us. I cooperate with numerous companies bringing me clients and taking care of all the details, but I also work independently.
This kind of business requires constant personal development which is done best when meeting other specialists. That’s where the “we” part comes. If you relocate to places, I know nothing about, like Germany or China, I will connect you to people I worked with and I can guarantee you would be satisfied with the results, because I know how they work, we have even probably worked together at some point already.
I’m a native Polish speaker and, like many people around the globe, I took some English classes. Then I went to live in the US and my accent got messed up. Even though I have been living in London for 10 years, in many situations I still prefer US English pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary. I used to be ashamed of it, but then I’ve learnt that for many of my clients it’s actually better to work with someone whose English is not perfect. And my accent means only one thing: I’m at least bilingual and that’s something I’m very proud of.
According to wordpress, this post is already almost a 15 minutes read and I think it’s enough for the time being. If you are interested in learning more, let me know in the comments below or fill the contact form so I could get back to you.