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Building Cultural Intelligence with Trisha Carter


Expats and goal achievement – or, why you might have given up on your New Year’s resolutions.

Recently I was re-reading one of my favourite books about goal achievement (by Heidi Grant Halvorsen) and was struck by the thought that expats - especially new expats - have things stacked against them in achieving their goals.  

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“If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything” –The Princess Bride

We often casually acknowledge the importance of health –“if you haven’t got your health then you haven’t got anything” as Count Rugen said in The Princess Bride movie.   Maybe it’s just me, but it’s not until I’m on a hospital bed with people taking repeated vials of blood for testing that I really appreciate that truism. 

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Holidays -who needs them?

Like many of you I’m looking at my schedule and planning what needs to be completed between now and the holiday season.  The countdown is on.  Each year it seems that the race to festivities and celebrations begins sooner.  Here in Australia Christmas decorations are already in most department stores and many of the large shopping malls. 

It’s easy to become cynical and negative as the festivities combine with end-of-year pressures creating a pressure cooker effect.  Work tasks combine with work related celebrations and events and leave little time to consider family needs or to reflect on the meaning behind celebrations. 

For expats there are the added challenges of adapting to a culture that may not acknowledge your celebration, or where the climate is opposite to your usual festive triggers, or where your favourite food or decorations may be absent.   

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Bloom where you are planted

The pohutukawa tree in my front yard bloomed from July to November.

That may not mean much to you unless you are from New Zealand, the home of the pohutukawa.  There it blooms from November to January peaking from mid December and consequently, with it’s beautiful red flowers and dark green leaves, it’s known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.


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What is happening in the expat brain?

We know a lot about the brain, about how it learns and how it embeds the learning, building new neural patterns and pathways as it does so.  We know the optimal conditions for learning to be retained and remembered.

We know that this is exactly what expats need. To learn fast- and to retain the learning. 

It’s continuous learning over a whole range of aspects. From day-to-day learning like new currencies and driving rules, to spatial learning – creating the mental maps to orient themselves in their new environment, to language learning and different styles of communication, to work effectiveness with adaptations to management styles, appropriate ways to lead, influence and relate with each level of the organization – so much to learn!

The beginning of an expat assignment is continuous, non-stop, learning.

But it’s not just absorbing content –it’s also having the insight to recognise when to adapt and when to operate as you might at home. 

Neuroscience has uncovered some of the optimal conditions for learning to be retained and remembered.  How can this research help the expat brain?

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