International Relocation – What would a framework for success look like?

International Relocation – What would a framework for success look like?

I’ve moved location 7 times and house 12 times in the last 17 years. I know this is not a winner in terms of number and frequency of moves amongst the international community, but it does mean that change has been a pretty big constant in my families lives. In fact, having now been back in the UK for nearly three years I do find myself gazing interestingly at international removal lorries and wondering, with a modicum of jealousy about their upcoming transitions. There is something addictive about new beginnings…. Book Cover

International relocation is a massive undertaking, one that is not always recognised as such at the outset – you can’t know what you don’t know. In this podcast this week, Evelyn and I talk about how our experiences lead us to write our book THRIVING ABROAD, which is launched today. 

I (Louise) remember our first move to Madrid as an exciting but challenging time. My early euphoria at not having to get up for work, soon morphed into a sense of aimlessness. There are only so many times you can go to the gym in any one week, and with a husband who was working looooong hours I was initially home alone far too much. Spanish lessons were a distraction -but I soon found verb conjugation on my shady balcony was no substitute for real conversation.

Relocating to live in Lisbon several years later, admittedly not a huge distance away, was enough to unsettle and mean starting all over again. We battled with bureaucracy and unpleasant neighbours (a very long story) – suffice to say it was not the best start. We were responsible for the entire move, no company support at all… yep it was a stressful time. 

What I realise now looking back is that over time we developed a process and way of coping with the change. Each move is bitter sweet, saying goodbye is sad, not easy way around that, but fortunately it is balanced with the excitement of new beginnings and opportunities. While the emotions are never easy, over time the template for relocation grows and each move becomes more automatic and hopefully organised.

Our greatest relocation moment was when we managed to organize a move out from one house in 24 hours, from phoning the removal company, to packing up furniture, possessions and kids – all gone overnight – we were seriously impressed with ourselves. And no, we were not running from the law, well not directly. Our landlord was about to have all possessions repossessed by the bailiffs and ours were not differentiated from hers. My husband managed to sweet talk the bailiff into returning just a few days later – giving us time to make a very quick exit.

But I digress, back to international relocation:

There is a flow to the whole process. A rhythm and sequence of practical and emotional ups and downs. No two moves are ever the same; culture, location, jobs and life stages account for that – but there are similarities and we can learn certain things from one move that can be applied to others.

THRIVING ABROAD the book was born from this experience of change and the lessons learned along the way. It is the book I would have loved to have all those years ago in Madrid. The Framework for Thriving Abroad reminds us to put ourselves at the centre of the relocation process. To gain clarity about what makes it a valuable experience for us from a professional, personal and family perspective. Professional clarity would have certainly helped me in those early years, I drifted for more years than I care to remember.

It also emphasises the importance of setting realistic expectations. Ensuring that the decision is founded on an understanding of both the opportunities and challenges of such a massive life change.

Written with input from expat experts, experienced expats and global mobility professionals, THRIVING ABROAD offers a guide to thriving professionally and personally through the experience of international mobility.

It is relevant to anyone who is:

  • considering embarking on an international relocation with their organisation as an international assignee.
  • considering embarking on an international relocation with their partner.
  • preparing to relocate abroad.
  • living abroad already but wondering where the experience will take them next, professionally and personally.

Also, available to all owners of the book is the accompanying workbook – a helpful tool to support you through the relocation process.

You can learn more about THRIVING ABROAD: The definitive guide to professional and personal relocation success HERE

What people are saying:

‘I wish this book had been written sixteen years ago when we first relocated; it could have saved us learning a lot of lessons the hard way! This book will prove invaluable for anyone considering an overseas move and will help them organize their thoughts in what can be an entirely overwhelming process.’ Suzanna Standring, Chartered Accountant, USA.

It’s an indispensable read for the assignees and their partners, a book to keep handy in the messiest moment of a family’s life. With its check lists and adaptation strategies, it’s a great tool for coping with rationality and order to change and transition.’ Marta Guarneri, expat with 20 years of experience both as assignee and partner

You can listen to the authors: Louise Wiles and Evelyn Simpson talk about the book HERE on iTunes

Go straight to AMAZON to buy the book online.


What should expat organisational support include and does it really matter?

What should expat organisational support include and does it really matter?

When managing home based employees the extent of the employee, employer relationship is usually clear. The organisation may run a few family days, invite partners to celebratory meals from time to time, but generally work and family life have clear(ish) boundaries.

Put an international relocation into the picture and suddenly the delineation between work and family begin to break down. The employees work and role takes the lead and in a way that impacts on every family members lives. The partner often takes on a supportive role, facilitating many aspects of the relocation. That is not to say their career necessarily dies, but for the majority it is put on hold. In this weeks podcast, Marta Guarneri shares her research into the impact of family dynamics on the expatriation cycle, and how organisations can better support the relocation process.

The future of the whole family, their expectations and lives become inextricably linked to the assigning organisation. The psychological contract; the unwritten set of expectations of the employment relationship, encompasses not only the now more complex expectations of the employee, but also those of the partner and family. Denise Rousseau talks about the psychological contract including informal arrangements, mutual beliefs, common ground and perceptions between two parties. It is something that is not fixed, but evolves constantly based on communication.

So, imagine the impact these two different perspectives on HR involvement and connection with partners might have on the psychological contract and the level of engagement and commitment to the assignment experience.

  • One HR manager was clear that they needed to know people so they could offer the best support. They wanted to know what they were dealing with, to offer support that was valued, develop family loyalty.
  • Another HR manager was loathed to create an open channel of communication with anyone other than the assignee. They feared that should they encourage a connection with the partner, the partner would exploit it and become a nuisance.

Which opinion was right?

Well, in my opinion the first, although I am pretty sure the second HR Manager would do a good job at justifying the need to keep the relationship at a distance. After all, the written contract is with the employee, lines should not be crossed and resources are not limitless.

And yet, over the years I have heard partners talk so many times about the role they play, the support they provide, and sadly in many cases the absence of any recognition. Often it is the small gestures that make the difference.

Marta’s research: The Impact of Family Dynamics on the Expatriation Cycle, aimed to understand the common factors that foster the success or failure of international assignments and to isolate some of the best HR practices that could impact performance, retention and organisational commitment. 

Her results were fascinating. Here are some soundbites to spark you interest:

  • It is the ineffectiveness of organisational support that is the issue.
  • The key is to know what makes an efficient package, to maximise it, not waste it.
  • Understanding the needs of the assignee and family is key.
  • Relocation support in situ so often is inadequate and represents wasted resources.
  • Flexibility is key when meeting the needs of a new generation who expect flexibility.

Want to listen to more PODCASTS? Head over to the Thriving Abroad Podcast channel – HERE.

Please feel free to share amongst your networks. My goal is to grow this podcast audience 10 fold by the end of 2017.

How to Support Elderly Relatives While Living Overseas.

How to Support Elderly Relatives While Living Overseas.

Supporting Elderly Relatives from Abroad.

One of the more challenging aspects of relocating internationally is the need to leave loved ones behind. Sometimes this involves leaving children at boarding school or at university. Often it means leaving our parents and relatives, and as they age the challenges involved in caring for them from afar can become increasingly complex and stressful. Of course, we want the best for them, but it can be difficult to know how best to support them when we are not available to visit regularly.

Of course, we cannot future proof our lives and the lives of those we love from all adversity but we can put in place contingencies that will support us and our loved ones in difficult times.

On the Podcast today, I talk to Alison Hesketh from Time Finders. Time Finders exists to provide:

‘Practical and emotional support for older people and their families in changing circumstances.’

Twelve years ago, Alison’s mother found herself no longer able to manage the house she had lived in for many years. Alison helped her to sort through a lifetime’s possessions and settle into her new home in a new community. This experience lead to the realisation that there was a pressing need for a service to help others in a similar position and so Time Finders was born.

This conversation is pertinent for you if you:

  • Have parents or elderly relatives and don’t want your sense of responsibility for their care to prevent you from relocating or continuing to live abroad.
  • Want to better understand the issues and challenges that may be encountered as your relatives age.
  • Want to be prepared for a crisis with a well thought through, and most importantly agreed contingency plan.
  • Are a silver surfer yourself, over 50, yep that would be me too, and want to think about how you can prepare for your more senior years responsibly.

As Alison says during our conversation:

‘If you have a contingency plan it can reduce immeasurably the level of anxiety you face when somebody becomes ill or an emergency happens….. A contingency plan is not just about your parents or relatives it is about helping you to avoid the blind panic that comes at the point an emergency arises.

You can learn more about Time Finders HERE, where they are happy to offer a complimentary consultation and you can sign up to receive their regular newsletter.

Global Mobility Viewed from Multiple Perspectives: An Interview with Jana Gál

Global Mobility Viewed from Multiple Perspectives: An Interview with Jana Gál

This month marks a slight change to the remit of the Thriving Abroad Podcast. I have decided to broaden the scope of the interviews to one that encompasses the subject of global mobility from both the perspective of the organisation AND the assignee, partner and family.

This week’s interview is with Jana Gál. Our conversation investigates these different perspectives on global mobility, I introduce our conversation later in this blog post.

Working in the field of global mobility it can at times feel there are two worlds co-existing, sometimes a little uncomfortably. On one side, there is the world of the global mobility practitioners, who make the relocations happen from a technical and functional perspective. They create and implement policy and support the whole relocation process practically. Essential support, without which international mobility could not happen. This support can be variable in its provision. Some organisations have highly sophisticated programmes, others not so much.

On the other side, is the lived experience of the international assignee and family. The practical and logistical aspects of the relocation experience are important to them, but there is also an emotional/psychological experience that relates to the transition and adjustment process. When assignees feel their needs are not being fully met, especially when practical aspects go wrong there can be a perception that support is not appropriate or sufficient. This can impact negatively on the adjustment process.

Over years of experience and observation I have concluded that where there is a breakdown in perception of support it often stems from mis-communication between the global mobility teams and the assignee and family. The perception of the experience can be so different from each side that mis-understanding can easily arise.

When I think back to our first international move I realise there was a lot that we did not understand, appreciate or even contemplate as a potential issue or challenge as we prepared to move. In some ways we muddled through, but in others we paid the price, it was not an easy transition. Assignees don’t always understand the world of the global mobility in terms of the complexity of compliance, legal and tax related issues. Indeed, how could they if they have never relocated abroad before?

As a result, global mobility teams can feel frustrated by what they see as the endless demands of the assignee and family and do not always appreciate the lived experience and challenges of the assignee. As expats, we know it is often the little things that break us in the end OR make the difference in terms of support. That unexpected phone call to check in with us, the quick card that says welcome, please get in touch if we can help.

Our forthcoming book: Thriving Abroad: The Definitive Guide to Professional and Personal Relocation Success, aims to bridge these two worlds. Written for the assignee and partner, the book guides them through the relocation process, emphasising the value of preparation and a proactive approach to their move abroad. The chapter on global mobility provides an overview of what an employee can expect from their global mobility teams, with suggestions about how to work together effectively. We hope that the process outlined in the book will provide the basis for conversation between both sides of the relocation equation, one that starts from a point of common understanding about the challenges and opportunities of international relocation.

This week I talk to Jana Gál about her expat experiences, which comes from multiple perspectives of overseas living. Jana worked in HR management as a global mobility advisor, supporting international assignees, was an international assignee herself, and most recently relocated to Brussels as an expat partner supporting her husband’s career move. These different perspectives made for a fascinating conversation, we talked about:

  • The challenges Jana faced when working as a HR professional responsible for international assignees.
  • The ways in which, given her different perspectives, she believes assignees and their families can be better supported. I wonder whether you agree?
  • How living abroad as an expat partner has led to a personal redefinition of the word ‘proactive’. Can you relate?

I hope you enjoy the podcast. You can listen to more if you wish on our iTunes channel HERE if you are subscribed. If you are already listening via iTunes please leave a review. It is my intention to build this podcast into a valued resource for expats and I would love your support in raising its profile. Thank you


Going Home: An Interview with Dr Cate Brubaker

Going Home: An Interview with Dr Cate Brubaker

‘There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.’

C.S. Lewis

What will 2017 hold for you? For some it will signify another relocation, either to a new location or a move ‘back home’. This can be a bitter sweet experience as I know only too well.

In this week’s podcast, I interview Dr Cate Brubaker, author of the ‘Re-entry Relaunch Roadmap, a Creative Workbook for Finding Happiness, Success & Your Next Global Adventure After Being Abroad.’

I’ve moved ‘home’ from abroad twice. The first when I was seven months pregnant with my first daughter, and while I was pleased to be surrounded by the support of my family I remember finding the first year and my experience of that time surprising in various ways. The second time, I resolved to ‘get it right’ after all I was experienced in frequent relocation by then. The result; an even tougher transition. I was shocked, surely if anyone should cope it would be me. I wrote about transitions, I supported others through transition. Surely I could short cut the process…

What I learned was that no one is immune from the impact of the process of change that comes with international relocation, and repatriation is very much a part of that process.

In this interview, Cate and I talk ‘re-entry’ or if you prefer ‘repatriation’. It is the one area of global mobility that is frequently highlighted as woefully under-supported by many international organisations. There is an assumption that it will be the easiest move, often it is the toughest.

Cate first moved abroad as a teenager when she went to live in Germany to study for a year. Cate caught the travel bug and started a process of regular sojourns abroad which resulted in an intense restlessness when she returned ‘home’ after each trip. For Cate excitement and adventure were synonymous with a life lived abroad.

In this interview Cate talks about:

  • The challenges she faced in coming ‘home’.
  • Her process for identifying what she calls, her ‘global life ingredients that would apply wherever she was in the world’.
  • The questions that will help anyone returning home after time abroad to think through the re-entry experience.
  • The importance of building a life around WHO you are now. Not who you were before moving or who your friends and family expect you to be.

If you have repatriated recently or will repatriate in the future, then this interview will provide valuable insights and advice.

For further support relating to re-entry you can access Cate’s Book HERE

Cate is also running a Relaunch – Virtual Re-entry Retreat. For Global Adventurers Who Don’t Want the Global Adventure to End. This is a free virtual event running between the 23rd and 27th of January. Every day there will be three interviews aimed to support you as you navigate reverse culture shock, process who you are now and move towards your next global adventure at home or abroad. Go HERE and register for this valuable free event.