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Home Country

Expat life is interesting, but there's no place like home. I'm currently on vacation visiting family - want to see where I grew up? All photos taken with an iPhone, no filters, no edits.

Do you recognize the places?

Lots of puffy clouds and greenery ahead, enjoy:


Sex Ed Across Cultures and Types


Sex Ed Across Cultures and Types

CreativeMornings is a global, free, open to all, monthly breakfast lecture series. The theme this month is sex. If you haven't already, go visit your local chapter. In New York, we had the great pleasure (yes, pun) to hear Cindy Gallop, founder of If We Ran The World and Make Love Not Porn.

Her talk inspired me to start a survey - participate here (linked again below). 

Real-world sex is funny, messy, and responsible.
(We are) Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference.
— Cindy Gallop

Not only is Cindy a compelling speaker, her message is affirming. Sexuality is as human, as natural as it gets - yet there's hardly any unembarrassed, unbiased, or transparent public debate about real-world sex.

She shared the struggles her company is going through (morality clauses make everything from financial backing to web hosting nearly impossible). She also shared her vision of a world where children and teenagers can learn about sex as they would about any other subject, and where adults can talk openly about their needs and desires, finding ways to make putting on condoms mid-passion seem sexy while embracing all the accompanying squishy-sweaty farting noises.

You'll be able to watch a recording of her creativemornings talk here, or view her TED talk, or her SXSW talk

Afterwards, I went up to her and asked about cultural differences. Growing up in Germany, I remember seeing naked women (fewer men though) on soap and shower gel ads - the body wasn't sexualized but shown as something you want to wash. In Cindy's experience, however, people of all nationalities have this in common:

Fear of what other people think is the most paralyzing thing - in business and in life.
— Cindy Gallop

Free and open as I always thought my mind was, I think she's right.

If I start blogging about sex, what will "they" say?

Well, "they" are you, so, this is where you come in: I'm curious, and have put together 15 questions (plus demographics) about how you learned about sex and sexuality. Please fill it out - completely anonymous - and share with your friends. Thanks! I'll post aggregated responses soon.



Ireland's Other Patron Saint is a Lady


Ireland's Other Patron Saint is a Lady

Next Monday, most of the Western world will probably drink Guinness and kiss people wearing green.

Why does St. Patrick get all the credit? He wasn't even Irish!

Born in Scotland, Patrick was abducted as a teenager and sold into slavery. He herded sheep in Ireland until he escaped, aged 20. He became a priest and eventually was ordained Bishop, and returned to Ireland. Legend claims he rid the land of snakes, but what people probably meant was St. Patrick worked to get rid of Druids and Pagans. He died on March 17th, 461 in Saul, Downpatrick. (1)

Two of the many Irish people he converted were parents to Brigid. She was friendly with St. Patrick, and took the veil "in her youth" (2). St. Brigid went on to found a convent (the first in Ireland, where she served as Abbess), several monasteries, and an art school.

Not to be confused with St. Brigit of Sweden or Brigid the Goddess, St. Brigid of Kildare is not only patron of Ireland, but also: babies; blacksmiths; boatmen; cattle; chicken farmers; children whose parents are not married; children with abusive fathers; children born into abusive unions; dairymaids; dairy workers; fugitives; infants; Ireland; mariners; midwives; milk maids; nuns; poets; poor; poultry farmers; poultry raisers; printing presses; sailors; scholars; travellers; watermen (3)

She died on February 1st, 525, and is buried in Downpatrick, together with St. Patrick and St. Columba. 

St Patrick and St Brigid stained glass at the St Francis' Abbey in Kilkenny, Ireland - by CaptainOates on flickr, Creative Commons license

St Patrick and St Brigid stained glass at the St Francis' Abbey in Kilkenny, Ireland - by CaptainOates on flickr, Creative Commons license


Valentine's Across Cultures


Valentine's Across Cultures

A popular origin story for this day of friends and lovers is that Valentinus went to prison for marrying soldiers and tending to persecuted Christians in Rome.

It became the romantic feast of chocolates, flowers, and jewels not through Hallmark, but with the help of poets like Chaucer in the 14th century. 

If you're a teacher with a diverse class, make sure providing hearts or cards for all other children is optional, as parents with a Muslim faith may have objections.

I hope you take this day to appreciate and love yourself, as well as your friends or partners.  

It's true, American schmalz has largely taken over and most of your stores will have at least one pink and red aisle right now. 

Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. (Wikipedia)

The British Empire included Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Sudan, and other African countries at the time, so it's no wonder it's widespread and celebrated. 

Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and mainland Spain celebrate Valentine's same as most Anglo-Western cultures, with the exception of Cataluña - here it's on Sant Jordi (April 23rd) where boys give girls a rose, and girls give boys a book.

In India, different states and different religions have different customs. Many celebrate Spring Goddesses around early February, and traditionalists see Western Valentine's as yet another commercialized event.

Estonia and Finland call it "Friend's Day", so getting a rose doesn't mean he loves you.

The Greek have another Saint to protect lovers, Hyacinth of Caesarea, and she's celebrated on July 3rd. 

In Spanish-speaking South America it's a hybrid día del amor y de la amistad (day of love and friendship), so nobody has to feel lonely. 

Guatemala calls it día del cariño (affection day).

In Brazil and Portugal, it's dia dos namorados (day for lovers / those who are in love).

The Philippines and Sweden call it heart's day or all heart's day. It's the busiest day for florists. 

South Korea and Japan have joined the feast in the 20th century. Japanese boys give dark chocolate to the girls they like on February 14th, and the girls reciprocate with white chocolate on March 14th. Days and chocolates are reversed in South Korea. 

How are you going to celebrate this year?



Image by terren in Virginia, flickr, Creative Commons License


Your Brain on International Assignments, or: Wired For Connection – Improving Expat Adjustment


Your Brain on International Assignments, or: Wired For Connection – Improving Expat Adjustment

Scientific evidence is piling up that we’re indeed social animals. No matter what your personality type, your brain will light up when you feel like you don’t fit in, or when you’re being excluded. In international settings, this social pain is often called “culture shock”. Those feelings of exclusion and different-ness activate the same neurons that fire when you break your foot and experience physical pain.

What does this mean when you’re in a new country?

You look different, you talk differently, you probably dress differently, too. When a local looks at you, and wonders whether you can be trusted or not, their brain function will change accordingly. The same is true for you. If you like and want to collaborate with someone, your brain will release oxytocin, aka “the love hormone”. If you don’t like someone and see them as a competitor, you’re less likely to empathize with them.(1)

For international teams, that means work may get sabotaged, because crucial information might not be shared. At any rate, your (and their) brain will be flooded with stress hormones like cortisol, which limits your ability for creative problem-solving and optimistic future-planning.

Love is the Answer

(…) being pushed out of social relationships and into isolation has health ramifications. In fact, there was a book done by health advocate Dr. Dean Ornish, called Love and Survival. There has been study after study done on the positive impact of loving relationships. What he had said at the time in that book was that if we had a drug that did for our health what love does, it would far outsell anything that has ever been made. The efficacy is that potent. But we downplay the importance of love and connection in a culture based on the success of “the rugged individual.” People in our culture need to understand that healthy connection can reduce pain on all levels. (2)

No, you don’t have to start romantic relationships with all the locals. But you should try and find things you have in common with your new colleagues and neighbors.

You should try and understand their culture and learn that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Teach them about your culture without trying to impose it.

Your brain can learn; the more you expose it to the new culture, the more it will get used to it by rewiring existing connections and creating brain-maps (representations of the new terrain) for easy access.

You can teach your brain to recognize strange-looking faces, street signs, or produce labels as something you can handle.

Know someone who could use some help?

If you’re finding yourself a little more depressed than usual, you might be experiencing culture shock.

If the partner you relocated with isn’t sleeping well and has a shorter fuse than usual, they might be experiencing culture shock.

If your team isn’t working effectively together, they might be experiencing uncertainty of how to deal with the different cultures within in the team.

The neural link between social and physical pain also ensures that staying socially connected will be a lifelong need, like food and warmth. Given the fact that our brains treat social and physical pain similarly, should we as a society treat social pain differently than we do? We don’t expect someone with a broken leg to “just get over it.” And yet when it comes to the pain of social loss, this is a common response. (3)

You can snap out of social pain or culture shock about as easily as you can mend your broken foot by willing it stop hurting. Healing takes time, and support can help. Contact me to see if working together might help you to come up with strategies of how to re-wire your brain faster.  


[1] Rock, David, SCARF – a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others


[3] Lieberman, Matthew D, Social – Why our Brains are Wired to Connect

Image by pshutterbug, flickr, Creative Commons License


Which is more American, Texas or New York?


Which is more American, Texas or New York?

When someone says, “I’m American”, what do they mean?

According to CIA Factbook statistics, it means there’s an 80 % chance they’re white, 75 % chance they’re Christian, 33 % chance they’re obese, and they’re probably around age 37. These numbers totally make sense for where I used to live in Texas, but they don’t really describe New York.

Growing up in Europe, I learned that America is the land of the free-flowing gold and honey. Dallas and Dynasty; Hawaii 5.0 and Beverly Hills 90210. Cowboys wearing white hats, upholding the law with a cigarette in the corner of their mouths. But then Marlborough Man got lung cancer and in the 80s, people like Donald Trump took his place. Everyone’s a millionaire, or at least they should try to be, because by God, isn’t that the American Dream? Anyone can make it there – if they just work hard enough.

Culture research has shown that Americans value individual freedom, capitalism, and productivity. They express these values by focusing on self-reliance, competition, and self-improvement. Time is usually money. America is a big place though, and time in Texas moves a bit slower than time in New York. For example, people at the grocery store will chat with you, especially at the check-out. They’ll always ask if you found everything, and how your day is going. In New York, you’re hard-pressed getting a “hi”. In restaurants, Texan waiters introduce themselves and say they’ll be taking care of you today. They stop by a couple of times during the meal asking if everything’s to your liking, most often with a friendly smile on their face. New York waiters might also smile occasionally, but you can tell they’re more concerned with turning their tables over as much as possible.

Texans have more space to show off the fruits of their labors than New Yorkers, if you go by square footage of housing at least. Showing off the fruits of your labor is a side-effect of the protestant work ethic. In ye olden days, if you worked hard, it is believed that God bestowed riches on you as a reward. Doing well, in other words, wasn’t just a direct result of working hard, no – it was also a sign that God favored you. Not showing it off would be ungrateful. But then it’s all about location location location, as this recent Bloomberg survey showed.

Incomplete and not-all-too-serious list of State differences

Incomplete and not-all-too-serious list of State differences

Texas also boasts with its mega-churches: Joel Osteen attracts over 43,000 people in Houston, and T. D. Jakes over 17,000 in Dallas into one single building. New York, on the other hand, is home to exquisite architectural gems like St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity Church.

I would also compare walking styles between the two States, and note how fast New Yorkers are on their feet, but I’ve rarely seen Texans out of their cars, so it’s hard to tell. Yes, that was cheeky, but it’s true – urban Texas is so vast and it gets so hot that you wouldn’t want to walk anywhere. New York has a public transportation system and it’s easy enough to hop on and off subways and walk the rest. That's not even to mention the amount of jogging, skating, skipping, and bike-riding that goes on in Central Park. Which might be why I have seen many more fit individuals in New York than in Texas.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, especially portion sizes in restaurants. When I first arrived I was amazed by the free soda refills, and by how everything can be done drive-through style. Laundry, bank, food, coffee – you don’t have to get out of your car if you don’t want to. Convenience above all. And yet, only in New York have I been able to give my laundry away in the morning and get it back ready and folded at the end of the day.

So, in your opinion – with 50 States in the Union, can one be more American than another?

Image by RCB, flickr, Creative Commons license.


The Weight of a Snowflake


The Weight of a Snowflake

I just tweeted about watching snowflakes out of my window instead of doing some work. Of course, the snowing stopped not five minutes afterward. But my friend Jim Peak over at just sent me the most beautiful story in response, origin unknown, and I have to share it with you: 

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coal-mouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coal-mouse said.

“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow-not heavily, not in a raging blizzard--no, just like in a dream, without a wound and without any violence.  Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch.  Their number was exactly 3,741,952.  When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say- the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the coal-mouse flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for awhile, and finally said to herself, ”Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

In the spirit of the holidays, wishing you and your loved ones a peaceful, joyful, and blessed season. 


The Evolution of Cross-Cultural Trainings


The Evolution of Cross-Cultural Trainings

Pic Credit: jannoon028

Pic Credit: jannoon028

Since cross-cultural preparation is widely accepted to improve expatriate performance and 83% respondents believe it has good or great value, the lack of a practice that makes the benefit mandatory is disappointing.Brookfield Relocation Report

As you know, I’ve been offering cross-cultural trainings myself, and facilitating programs for global service providers since 2009. I have yet to meet a single expat who thinks it wasn’t worth their time. On the contrary, the feedback is very positive all-round, with both assignee and spouse realizing that investing one or two days in a training has saved them weeks of worry and misunderstandings in settling-in time.

Interestingly, “35% of respondents provided media-based or web-based cross-cultural training – an all-time high. More companies (25%) use it to supplement formal training, and its portability is cited as a chief reason (20%) along with cost (20%).” (Brookfield GRS)

That’s 60 % of respondents using some form of web-based cross-cultural training.

Are you one of the 10 % who exclusively use or have exclusively experienced media-based or web-based training to prepare for your assignment? How effective did you think it was? I can imagine video-conferences and delivering the training in a conversational style. Trainer and expat would see each other, and have some freedom to communicate non-verbally (provided the webcam connection is smooth). I also know that when I’ve facilitated a training where a presentation was given by over the phone, the participants nearly always suggested in-person presenters as an improvement.

When I think about webinars - printed material and narrated slideshows may certainly be appealing to the introvert* assignee, or those who prefer to learn by reading and listening. What about experiential learners or extraverts* though?

Virtual, by definition, is lacking actual human interaction. Can talking to a screen ever be as satisfying as the welcoming handshake, getting up to doodle something on the flipchart, and simple face-to-face communication? The topics we’re dealing can get quite personal in nature, so the relative anonymity when training online might act as a barrier or a lubricant to trusting and sharing, depending on the personality of trainer and assignees.

I wonder what your experience would be comparing online vs. face-to-face. I know that I’ve coached online and it’s worked like magic, but training is not coaching.

The above is assuming there is a live trainer involved in the media- or web-based training delivery. What if they include or allude to self-study courses though? Talking from the extravert perspective now: How, when it’s tough enough to get them into a room with an engaging, personable, experienced professional, are you going to convince your assignees it’s a good investment of their time to go read and do some exercises online? Can you call it a training if it’s tantamount to reading a book?

In summary, using online material to periodically repeat and practice what was learned in a face-to-face training, is something I can get behind. What about you? Looking forward to your comments below!

Thanks and have a good one.

*introverts – one half of the first dichotomy of preferences for energy source as defined by the MBTI®. People with a preference for introversion get their energy from and focus their energy on their inner world of thoughts and experiences. Dealing with the outside world can be draining their energy, they like to think things through.

*extraverts – one half of the first dichotomy of preferences for energy source as defined by the MBTI®. People with a preference for extraversion get their energy from and focus their energy on the world of people and things that surrounds them. Left to their own devices they might get antsy, they prefer talking things over.

(From the archives, first published in April 2010)