Check out these books about life overseas and let me know what you think.
When by Daniel Pink
I decided to listen to the audio version of Daniel Pink’s book When after hearing an interview with him on my favorite podcast, Good Life Project. Pink describes this work as a “book about timing” that focuses on the “when to” instead of the “how to” of life. I was particularly interested in the fact that Pink examines research from across disciplines as a basis for the book pulling together information from studies in psychology, business, and anthropology to explore issues of timing.
As I read (listen) to books, I do so with the lens of “what might this mean to people living internationally?” What does the issue of timing mean for people thinking about moving overseas, in the process of an international transition or in the middle of their expat assignment? I found a lot in this book that is pertinent to the expat experience.
Pink’s book is divided into 3 parts. The first section, “The Rhythm of a Day” examines the timing patterns of everyday life. Pink looks at research about what times of the day are best for analytical versus creative tasks. He explores the “peaks, troughs, and rebounds” of energy and mood we have throughout the day and whether we are at our best earlier or later in the day. He makes strong arguments for the importance of breaks, eating lunch and taking short naps to boost our performance. I particularly liked the idea of the “napachino” — a cup of coffee followed by a 20 minute nap. Upon waking the caffeine has fully kicked in and you are ready to go again.
While I feel that exploring the rhythm of a day could be helpful for expats trying to create daily structure in a new environment, it was sections 2 and 3 of the book that I felt reached deeper into the complexity of the expat experience.
In section 2, “Beginnings, Endings and the In Between”, Pink delves into the starting points, the middle and the ends of our lives, our tasks, our days. The topics he examines range from school start times to mid-life crises to end-of-life relationships. Pink discusses “temporal landmarks” or those days of the year that we use to redefine ourselves and start fresh (New Years, birthdays etc). He explores how mid-points can either spark you into action or cause a slump. His section on endings looks at how we evaluate our experience and the life “editing”, or review of our life and our choices, we do when time is winding down.
I found myself thinking a lot about beginnings, middles and endings in international life. How do we decide when it’s right to move, and how do we do it well? How do we end our time abroad and reflect upon our experiences? How to we avoid the mid-contract slump and not fall prey to the promise of something new/better in the next location? How do we explain the feeling that time is moving slowly and quickly all at the same time?
In the last section of the book, “Syncing and Thinking”, Pink examines the science behind group timing. He examines the ins and outs of people working together towards a common goal. He explores the language of timing (the actual words we use to describe time) and the impact it has on how we think about the world.
Again, I felt this section gave me a lot to contemplate as an expat. I wondered, if working together towards a common goal is so effective, how do we do that as expats when we are starting over so frequently and are often separated from our close friends and family? Are there new ways we can think about starting together, supporting one another and moving towards a common vision?
I plan to explore some of these questions in my blog over the next few weeks. Take a look (or listen) to When. I was happily surprised by how many ideas it sparked and how much looking at “when to” can provide a fresh new perspective on life.
The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
One of the most interesting and rewarding aspects about living overseas is the ability to interact with people from different cultures on a deeper level. Expats are able to go beyond tasting new foods and observing cultural festivals. Because we work, interact, shop and socialize with people from other cultures, we have the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective, and learn about ourselves at the same time.
This is why I always gravitate to books that help me understand cultural differences. When I was in an airport bookshop, Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map caught my eye.
I will admit, I almost didn’t buy it. I was worried it would be standard cross cultural fare — a simplistic analysis of differences between the East and West or anecdotes about how ideas of personal space vary across cultures.
Fortunately, this was not the case. I thought this book moved beyond the basic understanding of cultural differences and provided real strategies for living and working in a cross cultural environment.
Meyer outlines 8 scales of cultural variation and discusses, chapter by chapter, how differences in these scales manifest themselves. Meyer’s research allowed her to place countries on scales that describe differences in concepts such as communicating, leading, trusting and scheduling, She explains that the importance is not where your country falls on these scales but where your country is relative to the culture in which you are living and/or working. She provides specific strategies on how people can work together when their cultural expectations differ.
This book is engaging because it reinforces information with anecdotes that are interesting and humorous. One of my favorites was that of a French woman working in the US. Despite the fact people from US have a “low context” or very direct and explicit communication style, they are often indirect when delivering negative feedback. The French use a more straightforward style when criticizing performance. Therefore the French woman walked away from her evaluation thinking she did well despite the fact that her US counterpart was dissatisfied with her work. This example was fascinating because I gained insight into the cultural habits of my own country — I considered Americans as direct in all aspects of their communication styles.
So give it a read. And let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.