Find your groove

Struggling to feel at home at your expat location? Social integration support can help you with the finer points of adaptation, says Global Connection consultant and intercultural trainer Sybille Kenny.

Everyday encounters

The South African regularly speaks with expat partners who are really struggling with culture and cultural differences – even after six months or longer at their expat location. “I’m not talking about the great and obvious differences,” she explains, “but about small, simple, everyday cultural encounters that they’ve had and that they are unable to figure out. After all, you only see what you know: if two people are talking loudly to each other, a German person will probably think nothing of it, whereas a South African may assume they’re having an argument.

Customised support

Social integration coaching can help expat partners understand a little bit better how things are done in their host country. For example, is it culturally acceptable to invite another mum and her children to your house for a playdate, or should you meet at the park? If a dinner invitation states 7.00 pm, are you expected to be there on the dot? Are you supposed to buy your neighbours a gift at Christmas, and how much should you spend? Whatever questions an expat partner may have, social integration coaching is entirely designed around his or her needs.”

Insider’s tips

“The support also extends to very practical issues,” continues Sybille, who provides social integration support in her native Cape Town. “If I’m working with an expat partner for whom it’s important to get out of the house and she loves fitness, for example, then my local knowledge and social integration expertise will help her to select the right gym. I will point her to one that is in a safe neighbourhood, offers lots of classes and has a cafeteria – because that will help her meet like-minded people and make new friends.

Solid foundation

Social integration support can give expat partners a solid foundation on which they can build their life abroad and save them a lot of heartache. After all, it’s reassuring to have someone who validates what you’re going through; someone who will tell you: ‘I understand why you’re struggling to find your feet – you’re not losing your mind and it’s not your fault.’”

Photo: Sybille Kenney in her native Cape Town

This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.

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