Relocating Overseas? Don't Leave Without this Guide
As an award-winning trainer, educator, consultant and author, Robert Kohls has lived, worked and traveled in more than 90 countries, as well as serving as a cross-cultural trainer for more than 70 Fortune 500 companies. Originally published in 1979, a new and revised edition of Kohls' Survival Kit for Overseas Living has just been released by Intercultural Press, now part of Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Written for Americans who are or will be experiencing their first extended period of living abroad, Survival Kit for Overseas Living offers straightforward concepts that are crucial for understanding and thriving in unfamiliar cultures: goodwill toward all people, compassion, humility, effective expression and community building. The book is intended "to help you become aware of your cultural baggage and suggest ways in which to avoid tripping over it too often," Kohls writes.
Kohls uses specific examples and structured exercises to help readers get through the exciting, rewarding, and often frustrating experience of working in new lands. Overcoming stereotypes - about the people you meet and from the people you meet - is a constant in overseas travel. Three guidelines that Kohls offers for combating the stereotypes facing the "ugly American" are:
- Resist becoming angry or defensive.
- Avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes.
- Persist in being your (sweet old) self.
Americans must make an extra effort to bring their American-centric attitudes - and the outdated, demeaning jargon that accompanies it - under control, Kohls writes. "Bring it to the surface, look at it, and shift the emphasis from cultural inferiority and superiority to cultural similarities and differences," he advises.
To accomplish this requires a close look at the underlying nature of culture. Kohls challenges American perceptions of right and wrong by making comparisons with cultures where completely different standards dominate. By comparing and contrasting cultures and value systems using recognized sociological models, Kohls demonstrates the innate differences in thinking faced by those stepping outside their national boundaries. Making the most of his cross-cultural lessons requires self-evaluation, which, he writes, is easier than most people think. "By lowering our defenses," he writes, "and viewing ourselves through the eyes of people from other cultures - from what is called the 'cross-cultural perspective' - we can get a strikingly refreshing view of ourselves." Getting beyond cultural baggage is nearly impossible, but recognizing it for what it is, he advises, will help the newly relocated accept the reality of what they encounter in their new pursuits, and grow.
Strangers in a Strange Land
To get the most of an overseas adventure, Kohls helps readers evaluate their objectives in traveling abroad, identify their "identity reinforcements" and learn to "neutralize the negative impact of being a foreigner." His strategies for being a stranger in a strange land include becoming oriented; avoiding the prejudices of other Americans abroad; asking questions; seeking information; learning the native language; and getting "comfortable with feeling a little stupid when you're overseas."
Kohls' straightforward, clearly organized strategies for adaptation and acceptance provide accessible, eye-opening help for both seasoned and inexperienced expatriates.