Florentine: Hi Anne, thank you so much for taking your time to help us help our members. Just so our readers know a little bit more about you; how did you embark on this journey, that ultimately led you to become an expat coach?
Anne: I’ve never considered starting my career in France, it wasn’t simply an option for me. After I graduated from business school, I was looking for a job in Shanghai. I booked my flight ticket, found my apartment on the internet. My roommate was named Ségolène. That’s all I knew. This is how my expat journey started in 2003.
I thought I would be in Shanghai for just a couple of years, but then life happened. I met my husband, and I had my two children.
At the beginning of my career, I worked for different companies and after 10 years I started my own business in art with my friend—and loved it. In 2015, we moved, as a family this time, to the United States. I changed my career path and became a certified coach to help expat mumpreneurs start their nomadic business as well.
I realised through my own experience that a move can affect us more than we think. Indeed, what was blocking my clients was more personal than professional: confidence, mindset, stamina… because what we’re doing is NOT easy.
So when I arrived in Switzerland, I revamped my business and I created Expat Coaching Corner to empower expats and help them to bring their talents abroad with confidence and find the new career path that truly excites them.
Florentine: Wow, you have been travelling around the world for a long time. Understandable that you have so much knowledge and expertise on the topic of being an expat. I think it always helps when your advice is given to you by someone who has actually experienced the same issues!
Anne: Some things you cannot learn in a book. We have to live it to know what it takes. Everything I’m saying is coming from my personal experience, from my clients or friends. The first thing I would like to explain is the expatriation paradigm or, as I call it, the "expatriate life cycle.” The 4 phases are Preparation, Transition, Adaptation and Settling down. In a nutshell, having these phases in mind will allow you to reframe your expectations and structure your move as a whole; allowing you to better prepare for the unknown or an unclear future. Every move will always include those 4 phases that can’t be skipped (even when you return to your home country). Each phase has its own challenges.
Florentine: Interesting! What would you say are the most common struggles you see when expats move abroad? Is it the loneliness or the fear of approaching complete strangers?
Anne: It’s a combination of both and more. Let me explain: After all the excitement of the arrival and the novelty, very often we experience a low which happens during the adaption phase (you can google “the expat curve”). And because we are down, re-creating a social life feels suddenly overwhelming. We tend to feel lonely, lost in the crowd, vulnerable, like a free electron (even if we are working or studying). We go through the motions of life but with no real drive, wondering if we made the right choice. We miss our family and friends. Some days are better than others but overall, we feel something is missing. That struggle is draining, and as a result we don’t have the engaged energy necessary in life to re-create it. We are watching the expat game instead of playing it. During the adaption phase, the biggest struggle is loneliness because we don’t have the energy & confidence to get involved with others (which is totally normal to experience).
Indeed, we often experience some inner and outer blocks like: “I have no time, I’m tired, I don’t know anyone…” all these excuses are good because the reality is that we are the newbie, feeling vulnerable, out of our comfort zone. Fear can be paralyzing when taking the first step to get out. What fear? The fear of speaking to strangers. This belief is ingrained in us since childhood when our parents warned us “not to speak to strangers.” It served us well in the past, but not today.
Florentine: And would you say these issues affect all ages? So not only expats that moved countries because of their spouses’ work but also young professional expats, like in our coliving community?
Anne: Yes, you are not alone! As you can imagine, loneliness affects all of us as we all experience similar cycles. We might be misled to believe that moving alone and young is easier compared to moving with a family. The difficulties are the same, but we experience them in our own way according to our personality, background, and the filters we’ve developed in life.
At any age, the ability to connect with new people and recreate your circle of friends is the key to a successful expatriation because it allows us to adapt. And I think we are just not aware of that. In other words, to be part of the game, you need a team. And to create a team, it requires you to get out there and meet with new people. If you are finding it difficult to engage in conversations with strangers, why not check out some conversation starters I devised just for you! Check them out here and use them to break the ice.
Florentine: Actually, we recently had a member discuss this expat topic for one of her university courses. She was interested to see how moving abroad affects young expats. Her research did show that there were a few issues young expats had when moving abroad, especially when it came to forging new friendships.
Anne: Of course, we all must adapt first before feeling settled (phase 3 and then phase 4).
But, how do we do it? Not by staying alone, right? We adapt when we are with the people, through our conversations. These people will transmit knowledge about the country, the culture, the dos & the donts and all these interpersonal experiences will inevitably change us: our habits, our behaviors, our way of thinking...By creating new social circles, we create real links with the country we live in. We feel part of it; we feel settled down. And this is true for kids, students, young professionals, and families.
Florentine: We don’t want to give away too much as we have a little Q&A session coming up for our members, but if you would give your top tip to help our members and any other young expats out there on how to help them step out of their comfort zone, what would it be?
Anne: Since you know now that making friends is the secret to a successful expatriation, you should start as soon as possible. Get rid of this old belief of “stranger danger” which is a fear-based thought and replace it with “these strangers are potentially my new best friends.” The positive effect of it is huge, it’s a game changer in the way you live your expatriation. And not only that, if you want to play the long game. The people you meet today will be my network for life, professionally and personally. You’ll create a special bond for having lived in the same country. Extremely powerful, trust me.
Florentine: Anne, thank you so much for the advice and tips you shared with us. I do think this is something that expats don’t talk about a lot, at least the ones that I am around on a daily basis. It’s completely normal for us to go through these things but it’s also important to recognize that these skills we make, by stepping out of our comfort zone, can be applied to so many other scenarios, not just to make friends.
To our members, we have organised a special partnership with Anne and are always on the lookout to plan Q&A sessions. If you have any suggestions please let us know. Otherwise have a look at our community page and reach out for more information on this partnership. You can learn more about Anne and her sessions by checking out her website, here!
If you are looking for new housemates and don't know how to go about it, why not check out this blog by Redfin? 14 Top Tips for Living with Roommates: How to Find the Perfect Match.