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Building Cultural Intelligence with Trisha Carter


This wasn’t what I signed up for 

When the early days of an overseas posting go wrong

In the past month massive floods have inundated many areas of Australia. 

In Queensland alone the flood zone covers an area larger than France and Germany combined, or for those of you in the USA, an area greater than the state of Texas.   97 towns or cities have been affected by flooding or isolation. Since Christmas Eve tens of thousands of houses have been flooded to varying degrees with many uninhabitable. Around 6,000 people have moved to evacuation centres.  As at January 21st 33 people have lost their lives with more still missing. 

These are the facts that describe much hardship and sadness for thousands of people. 

Like most people in Australia my thoughts and prayers are with those I know who are affected as well as those we have met through the tragedies shown through the media. 

In addition my thoughts are also with those expats who I know will have recently arrived in Australia to begin work with their employers, to set up their homes and establish their families in their new locations.

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Manage the stress of moving

So you’re moving! A new location, a new home, new places to explore, new friends, a new job. Exciting and challenging at the same time. Your home is for sale or being prepared to rent. Belongings need to be sorted, discarded, packed or stored. And the do-list with 1000 items is constantly demanding your attention.

Yes, moving can be stressful. Even when you are 100% positive about the move, the things to be done can become overwhelming. And the emotional side of saying goodbye and leaving can be difficult. If you are less than positive about the move, perhaps feeling it is a move that has to be made to meet the needs of a partner or work requirements, then the stress can be even higher.

How can we manage these challenges to relieve some of the stress?

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Bridging the distance in times of sadness

There are times when electronic communications don’t go anywhere near to making up for the face-to-face, walk alongside you, and give you a hug sort of communications. Sometimes it’s celebrations.

My Mum’s 70th birthday party was while I was living in China and we had to make a choice to be back in New Zealand for that celebration or my brother’s wedding. We missed Mum's birthday. Even the annual celebrations can be tough, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Spring festival - times I have wished - or seen friends wish - for “home”.

But I think in many ways, the sadder times are even harder. When you can’t be there for the funeral of a loved one, or to help someone who is ill, or to share the load with those experiencing the clean up after disasters then it really hurts. In the last couple of months as my Dad has been ill, two of my favourite Uncles have died and earthquakes have rocked one of the places I call home I have wished I could do more than send my love, donate, or call to chat.

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Running in the wind

It was blowing a gale when I went for my run the other day.  Truly.  Gusts ranged from 60 knot winds through the 70s and at one stage it was even 80 knots.  Running in a gale is quite fun when it’s behind you but my route is an “undulating circuit”.  So I turned the corner at the bottom of the first hill and it hit me full in the face and left me gasping for air.  And sort of running on the spot.  It immediately took me back to when we lived in Wellington (New Zealand).  I ran my first fun run there and the training involved a lot of hills and a lot of gales.  If you didn’t run in a gale in Wellington, you didn’t run very often.

It got me thinking about places I have lived in and adapted to exercising in.  Perth (Australia) was hot, at least for someone who moved from Wellington.  It was midsummer when we first arrived and the 35-45 degree days were too much for me to run in. A swimming pool in the backyard was a continuous joy! But gradually it cooled somewhat and my need to pound the pavement overcame my fear of heat collapse.  I learnt to run carrying a water bottle and never left home without a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Hefei  (PRC) was humid in summer and freezing in the winter.  But the greater inhibitor there was my desire not to be regarded as an object of curiosity by the locals.  Or perhaps it was an object of insanity.  My bright red jogging face was a great concern for the locals.  Again I tried other forms of exercise but the jogging shoes were calling and eventually I put my embarrassment aside and learnt to run in the humidity, ignoring the stares.

When we think about moving to different places we often think of the bigger stuff we’ve learnt.  Languages, cultural insights, relationship skills, cooking styles, but sometimes the little things can be important too.  Each little adaptation makes it easier to live in the new location. Changing small but incremental aspects makes the bigger adaptations more likely.  

And for me, making changes that enabled me to continue doing the things that were my joy, that took me into flow and brought stress relief – this brought me far greater satisfaction than the effort required.  This was flexing my adaptation muscles for real strength development!

What little things have you adapted to in different locations that have made your life better?  Let me know in the comments below!

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