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Expats and the Bridges Transition Model

I love hearing stories of expat transitions…any career transitions for that matter. There is something in the way that people recall their experience that evokes how they felt, what they noticed and the challenges they overcame.

This is one of the reasons the podcast was created. We speak to real life expats about their experiences. In Episode 12 (published 07/03/2023) of The International Career Couple Podcast we hear from Stacey and Adrian who planned a wedding in 4 weeks in order to make their first move together as a couple. In Episode 6 we hear from Becky and Sam who first transition went quickly from a CV being placed on a desk to a double international career move.

In interviews and workshops with expats it is fun to hear people recalling the weeks running up to and the weeks following their move. In all cases, expats find it cathartic to share their story and to note the quirky things they learned as they moved from one country to the next. Invariably, these stories are interspersed with the moments of overwhelm (l’ll spare you the story of when our move day got postponed due to projectile vomit, which was also the day I met the fabulous friend who helped me deal with it – we had each other’s backs from that moment on).

So how does this all relate to the Bridges Transition Model? The Model shows three stages of transition that people go through when they encounter change: The Ending, The Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings. The Model enables us to consider our emotional response to the change and aides our internal transition.

So, storytelling is cathartic because it is a way of sharing and letting go of the transition. It honours ‘The Ending’. Here are some reflective questions that you might find useful when you are facing a change and going through a period of ‘sense-making’.

The Ending

In ‘The Ending’ there is a sense of reflecting on a current way of doing or being and then letting go. For expats, there is a whole lot of letting go – letting go of country, position, personal life, culture, identity – within a plane flight, there is a huge shift.

So, before you leave and when you arrive you might find these reflective questions useful.

The Neutral Zone

Before too long (note that for expats the model can be truncated and merged), we enter the Neutral Zone.

From a career perspective, in the Neutral Zone there are stories about how we arrive in a company.

A myriad of obstacles await…from simple language (I’ll spare you the story of when I asked for a rubber in my 1st week in Houston) to more confusing cultural misinterpretations. It takes time to adjust and it takes time for the company to adjust as well. The level of readiness will vary depending on the host manager and the expatriate management system.

New Beginnings

Eventually, the times comes to truly start the new beginning. Now, with more knowledge and experience, we can begin to look forward.

And what about the International Career Couples Perspective?

From this perspective, both of you will be settling into a new work environment with new colleagues, new work responsibilities, new working conditions, new culture, new language. Career moves can be stressful and you can consider how to support each other within this. Companies may offer support but many do not so consider what level of support you need to enable you to adapt. Doing what you can to understand and work in the culture will help but so will understanding yourselves within the transition period.

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