What Soldiers and Expats have in common

landmines sandboxOne fearlessly accepts a challenge, moves to a foreign land, learns to dodge bullets, not step on landmines, and is afraid for his family's well-being, and the other is a soldier.


Both go abroad

Kidding aside, I'm not going to equate avoiding cultural landmines with avoiding actual ones. Still, many expats find themselves in so-called crisis posts or on hardship assignments. Depending on how sensitive you are to change, the adrenaline rush may even be comparable.landmines visual

Leaving your friends and families behind to serve your country or your corporation is a tremendous change process. You'll be cut off from your usual cultural cues, your living arrangements will be different, you may not speak the local language, you may not have access to your favorite food or entertainment items.

All of these changes contribute to brain shock. First, you'll have a reaction to the external differences. Then, later on, you may find yourself wondering about how you are the one that's different on the inside.

Both need training

Soldiers I've spoken to received an overview of local customs. Granted, their missions may not always involve connecting with the locals, but thankfully, e.g. the US Army is recognizing the importance of understanding your enemy at a cultural level. The following are quotes from the CNN article, "'Smart power': Army making cultural training a priority":

While physical conditioning and live-fire exercises certainly help prepare troops for deployment, they're culturally blind if they don't understand the people among whom they'll be fighting. In the 21st century, when the U.S. is at war with ideals as much as -- if not more than -- foreign armies, this blind side can be as dangerous as your M249 jamming.


Currently, anthropology, language and 10,000 years of heritage are squeezed into troops' curricula a few weeks before deployment, what Dowling calls "cultural training on steroids." Between pre-deployment paperwork and drills, they are handed a small pamphlet outlining some history and cultural no-nos to avoid.


Col. Jeff Broadwater said efforts to craft a more culturally savvy Army is an effort to foster more symbiotic relationships across various regions.

(...)The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated how cognizance of cultures, ethnicities and religions was essential to understanding the source of conflict, Broadwater said.

Dowling added that the training alone can help a soldier better understand the lay of any land. Even if troops received cultural training specifically for African nations, it would be better to use that unit in the Middle East than troops who weren't culturally aligned at all, he said.

"Anthropologically, socially, economically, they'll have to reset what the answers are, but the right questions will already be in their mind," he said.

Most corporations also understand the positive impact cultural awareness can have. The following are figures reported in the 2012 Brookfield Global Relocation Survey:

  • 81% of companies provided formal cross-cultural preparation. 44% on some assignments; and 37% on all assignments. Where cross-cultural preparation was offered only on some assignments, 51% made it available based on the type of assignment; 28% based on host location; and 21% based on other criteria.
  • Where cross-cultural training was offered on all assignments, 60% provided it to the entire family; 27% to the international assignee and spouse; and 8% for employees alone. There was an 11% increase in offering cross- cultural training on all assignments from the 2011 report.
  • At companies where cross-cultural training was offered, it was mandatory at 24% of companies.
  • 85% of respondents rated cross-cultural training as having good or great value.

As you can see, we're still far away from 100 %.

Both will face Reintegration issues

And this is what I want to take this week to explore a little further. I'll reference the "Introduction to Type and Reintegration" book by Elizabeth Hirsh, Katherine W. Hirsh and James Peak.

Thanks for joining me.