Check out these books about life overseas and let me know what you think.
This Messy Mobile Life by: Marian N Ottimofiore
This Messy Mobile Life is a delightful look into the complexities of multi-cultural, multi-lingual and highly mobile families. Author Mariam Navaid Ottimoriore uses the metaphor of a mola, a form of South American textile art, to help readers express and make meaning of international lives that can often feel scattered and disjointed. She reminds us that, without reflection and intentionality, it is difficult to fully appreciate the challenges and opportunities living abroad can offer.
Ottimiore explains the inspiration for the book when she asks, “Where was all the real, honest-to-goodness advice that dealt with just how messy your life could be come, with no easy answers.” She goes on to explain, “ I wanted a book that dealt with all the messy factors in living this global life, not just one or two. When I could not find it, I decided to write it.”
The result is a highly readable handbook about how to embrace the paradoxes that a life overseas embodies. Each chapter (and each letter in MOLA) examines a different aspect and focus area for these mobile multicultural families. Ottimiore provides activities, conversation starters, tips from experts and “rules” that help families define, shape their stories.
Most importantly, This Messy Mobile Life is a book that sparks ideas. The author’s energy and enthusiasm shine throughout. I found myself thinking of new and creative ways to process feelings about mobility with my family, with students at our international school and with friends at home. Highly recommended!
A Great Move: Surviving and Thriving in Your Expat Assignment by: Katia Vlachos
Katia Vlachos hits all the right notes in her book A Great Move: Surviving and Thriving in Your Expat Assignment. A comprehensive examination of the factors to consider before making an expat move, her book is filled with concrete steps to take and questions to ask during the process. Vlachos encourages the reader to explore their idea of “home” and the specific reasons/motivations for making an international move. She addresses the logistical and emotional factors as well as the joys and challenges of making such a big change. Vlachos also examines the impact a move can have on every member of a family (as well as singles) and walks us through each step of the adjustment process.
I highly recommend this book for people considering their first international move as well as for more veteran expats who need a reminder about how to make their next assignment feel like home.
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.