I recently enjoyed a gig as a consulting “American/Swedish Experience” expert.
I know, right? I’m all that. Plus a bag of chips.
An independent cultural trainer in Boston, Massachusetts contacted me. She was working for a relocation company who helps corporate clients who have relocated abroad. She had a new client–a Swedish family consisting of two teenage sons, a mother, and the father who had taken a job in Boston. The family moved from Southern Sweden to Boston in August. The large pharmaceutical company he worked for invested in cultural training for the family. Companies understand that they need to support the whole family of expats because if the family isn’t happy in the new situation, then the new employee is going to have a harder time of it.
For the record, even though I came to Sweden with a job offer in hand, I did not have any of this cultural training. Everyone’s arrangement is different and I suppose it also depends on the size of the company.
This particular relocation company likes to bring a “guest speaker” into the cultural training to liven things up and offer another point of view. The guest needs to have knowledge of both cultures and needs to speak on subjects like “communication style, hierarchy, sense of time, individualism, materialism, competition, etc.”
So I video-Skyped in at a designated time and the family and I, along with the cultural trainer, discussed the differences we’d observed between the American and Swedish cultures. Much of what we talked about has been covered in the posts of this Expat column over the last year and a half.
It was fun to talk to people who had down the mirror image of what I have done, moving to a new country and all that. They even moved their dog from Sweden to the US. Sound familiar?
Cultural Training in Sweden
Cultural training exists in Sweden, too. Claudia de Leeuw-van Wijk moved to Stockholm with her family in 2008 . It was her first experience living abroad as an ‘expat spouse’. After discussing her struggle with other expats, she discovered that others had gone through similar experiences. She opened the Global Expat Centre in Stockholm in March 2011. The center offers on-going support and a meeting place for expat families, along with culture and language training, spouse support, and social and business training. Large companies pay for the services for their relocated employees.
Someone to Talk To
Sometimes expats need more than cultural training. Sometimes just being an expat can feel overwhelming. The Turning Point counseling centre in Stockholm offers Sweden’s international community services such as personal development and coaching, as well as counseling and psychotherapy services. Lysanne Sizoo, the Center’s Director comments on their website, “Sometimes we need to stop and reflect over our experiences, especially when we believe we are the first and only foreigner in Sweden to find the process of adjustment harder than we thought!” Groups include a divorce group, women’s circle, international couples (“the challenges and rewards”) and “Building global identities.”
There have been times this past year when it was so easy to believe that I was the only one struggling with the various expat issues I struggle with. And then Kate, the previous Expat blogger would write something that would make me realize she felt that way, too, at one time or the other.
Always good to know you’re not the only one in the boat…