Sundae, you've lived in various locations around the world: what have you found most challenging about being an expat?
I have lived in multiple locations over the last 20 years: the most long-term being Switzerland, Burkina Faso, and South Africa. The challenges have changed as my life has taken shape, contexts shift and time passes.Perhaps the earliest challenge, and the one I was least prepared for, was a crisis of purpose and identity. When I first moved to Switzerland to be with my partner, I had given up my language, my job, my social network, and my security. Although I was happy to be there, I grappled hard with this loss and felt a new and foreign-to-me desperation for things to finally take shape. What I realize now in hindsight is that they were taking shape the entire time, just not at a pace with which I felt comfortable.
Is moving abroad different every time, or have you faced similar challenges in each place you've lived?
The challenges have changed with each context and changing life circumstances. The bright side is that I have built skills along the way to make what some would call “challenges” feel more like “realities.”
Moving to Switzerland presented the challenge of recreating myself professionally and developing deep cultural and language skills. What was once an unwelcome mountain has become one of the greatest gifts of my life – one that I can now pass on to others. This is also where I learned how to nurture my relationships with loved ones who were far away, something that has made the subsequent moves bearable.
Burkina Faso was challenging because it marks when I left a secure corporate career to start my own business. Simultaneously, I moved my young family to the third poorest country on the planet, where we faced realities of less reliable health care, more challenging infrastructure, and the occasional political turbulence.
In South Africa, we enjoy modern infrastructure and amazing landscapes. A challenge that took me off guard was how isolating it can feel when you get in the “expat bubble rut.” In our first year as we were adjusting to the varying security risks in the country, I found myself in withdrawl from the rich cultural interactions I was lucky to experience in Burkina Faso.
On your website you talk about how living abroad requires a 'tectonic shift' – tell us more about that.
Tectonic shifts are movements away or toward something. And when you want to live abroad without regrets, it requires you to be constantly in flux.
It looks like this:
• You nurture your relationships so that you can feel like you are moving toward your loved ones even when you are away.
• You put in the hard work to move toward your professional goals, when the constant transitions and global mobility would be an easy reason to let them slip away.
• You bring your children toward your culture and values when their outside influences are simultaneously moving their behaviors, mindset and practices away from how you grew up.
Standing in these spaces and remaining committed to your life abroad is what I mean by tectonic shift.
What is your favourite thing about living an international life?
How dare you ask me to only name one! Perhaps it is that when I navigate international life, I feel alive. Nothing is taken for granted. Nothing is, as they say in German, “selbstverständlich.” Nothing is a given. You must remain mindful, intentional, maybe even vigilant. The unconscious is forced to be brought to consciousness. And that makes me feel alive.
You describe yourself as an 'intercultural strategist' – tell us more about what you do and the services you offer.
I help people find the best strategy for them as they cross cultures, geographies and life phases. That means I guide my clients through their heftiest challenges. I coach them to:
• Build the right relationships
• Reach goals faster
• Be resilient and resourceful
• Fast-track adaptation
• Battle expat fatigue before it goes too far
• Find more purpose and meaning
Together, we fix what is keeping them up at night and holding them back.
I work with both organizations and individuals. Organizations appreciate the scalable support I offer to help their employees adapt and succeed abroad. Individuals appreciate the high-touch support they get through programs like Year of Transformation.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who's about to move abroad for the first time, what would it be?
Don’t wait to reach out for support when things get tough. There is rich adventure waiting for you on the other side of your struggle.
What are your plans for the future? Are there more international moves coming up?
For next few years, we will be in South Africa. And yes, there are more international moves coming up – we just don’t know where. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.