Seven ways to thrive in your Expat Transition

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And we’re back! Happy New year everyone, I am so excited today – Not only is this our first article of the year but we have the lovely Katia Vlachos as our guest author of the month. I met Katia on instagram, and we have been appreciating each other’s content since a while now; she is a transition coach and understands the pulse of how you feel when you make the big decision of MOVING! Without further ado, here’s her first post on My Swiss Story guiding you on making the most of your next move. The article really spoke to me, since I have felt the feels some 5 years back when we had taken this huge decision to move to Switzerland and I was NOT jumping with joy!

It feels odd to be talking about moving and transition when the world – and our lives – seem to be in a constant holding pattern. Still, global mobility is not going away, even if it is adapting to changed circumstances. So if you are planning a move, focus on making the most of it. Whether you’re a lifelong expat or are considering your first expat assignment, here are some essential strategies to keep in mind.

#1 Have a clear intention

That’s where it all begins and ends. Being intentional about your upcoming move means asking yourself questions such as:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What would make this move a great move for me? (A thriving professional career? A happy and balanced family life? A satisfied spouse? Well-adjusted children? All the above?)
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My Swiss Story: Seven ways to thrive in your Expat Transition

A clear intention gives you a sense of direction. It guides your actions and keeps you grounded in your ‘why’ – your reason for making the move – and goals. Your intention also helps you stay on track when times are challenging, for example, when you feel overwhelmed (which, let’s face it, is likely to happen during a transition). I recommend you write down your intention and put it up somewhere where you see it every day.

#2 Make sure everyone is on board

Surveys show that unhappy partners and children are the most common reason expat assignments fail. That’s why it’s crucial to start with getting everyone on board with the initial decision. If you’re moving with a partner:

  • Do both of you feel empowered to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this move?
  • If it’s a ‘yes’, are you both committed to making the move a success?
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My Swiss Story: Seven ways to thrive in your Expat Transition

Take the time to discuss and align expectations, aspirations, and needs. I can’t stress this enough. Misaligned motives are a common source of tension and resentment. They can severely damage or destroy relationships.

#3 Know what to expect

Do your homework, starting with what you and your partner/family, if applicable, need:

  • What are your non-negotiables? (Professional opportunities? A strong local community? Specialized health care?)
  • What are your most important priorities? (Schooling for the kids? Reliable internet for your home-based business?)
  • What are your ‘nice-to-haves’? (A garden? Language lessons? A coffeehouse at walking distance?)

Then rigorously assess whether you can get what you need in the new location. Think through the implications of the move. Consider all areas of your life: health and physical wellbeing, family, friendships, career, home environment, financials, support system, etc. If you’re moving with a partner/family, do the same for them.

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My Swiss Story: Seven ways to thrive in your Expat Transition
  • What challenges are you likely to face? (How different is the culture you’re moving to from the one you’re used to? How easy will it be to learn the local language? Will your partner be able to get a work permit?)
  • What kind of support and resources can you line up to compensate for those challenges? Can you secure some of them before you move? For example, can you organise cultural training, language lessons, career coaching, or others?

#4 Know what transition feels like

Most people go through predictable stages when they move to a new place and culture. They’re called stages of adjustment or culture shock and usually unfold like this: honeymoon, then crisis, recovery, and finally, adaptation. It helps to familiarize yourself with each stage and helps you manage your expectations and anticipate potential challenges. It can be comforting to know that everyone goes through similar stages; you’re not alone, and this, too, shall pass.

#5 Know yourself

Your personality influences how easily and quickly you adjust to new environments. Flexibility, openness, willingness to take risks, resilience, entrepreneurship are just some of the traits and skills that make a ‘good expat’. Assess how ‘fit’ you are for expat life in terms of the traits and skills you already have and those you need to work on. Doing so will help you manage your expectations of adjustment. It will also allow you to focus on developing the right skill set to thrive in your new environment.

#6 Know what you need to feel at home

Together with intention, home is the foundation of every expat transition. Moving is all about creating a home wherever you are. But home means different things to different people. For you, it may be a specific location or landscape; your partner may need to have a circle of close friends to feel at home; for your children, it may be as simple as family pizza nights every Friday. Do your best to assess what each of you needs to feel at home in every phase of the move. Use those insights to create that home, and your transition will be much smoother.

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My Swiss Story: Seven ways to thrive in your Expat Transition

#7 Stay connected

First and foremost, stay connected with yourself. Planning and making an international move requires a lot of effort and energy. That’s why it’s essential to eat well, sleep enough and get sufficient exercise. Assess your energy levels regularly, so you know when you’re getting depleted. Tune into your state of mind and emotions. Be mindful of how your body reacts to stress – symptoms may include headaches, irritability, insomnia, or other physical signs. We all have different outlets for stress that help us get rid of physical and emotional tension. What works for you? Maybe that’s going for a walk, visiting family or friends, meditating, getting some exercise, engaging in a favorite hobby, or taking a spa day. Be proactive about scheduling those activities to make sure they happen. Taking breaks – to de-stress, unplug, relax, and recharge your batteries – will help you stay fit to meet the demands of each phase of the move. Establishing daily or weekly self-care rituals and routines helps keep you grounded and energized. And if things get rough, don’t hesitate to ask for help – from your family, a friend, or a qualified professional.

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My Swiss Story: Seven ways to thrive in your Expat Transition

If you’re moving with a partner/family, make time to connect with them. Moving can be overwhelming, and sometimes we get caught up in our own experience and don’t realize that those closest to us may have a completely different one. Check in regularly with each other. Be mindful of their feelings and needs, but also open and honest about your own. Ask for and offer support. Help each other stay energized and grounded.

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Katia Vlachos is a certified co-active coach, supporting her globally mobile clients to navigate life’s transitions and design thriving lives abroad. Katia is also the author of A Great Move: Surviving and Thriving in Your Expat Assignment, a guide for making successful international moves. She has written, among others, for the Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Thrive Global, and Medium, while her work has been showcased in the Financial Times, New York Times, and numerous articles and podcasts. A Greek by birth, and an ex-pat for the past 25+ years, she currently lives in Zurich, Switzerland with her family.

You can visit her website for free resources or connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram.

Have you downloaded our free ebook – 21 Hidden Gems of Switzerland? If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to download it while planning your next Swiss Getaway.

To read posts from December, click here

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