Friday, March 26, 2010

Images of spring


The willows are budding,


The speed traps are sprouting,


The bicycles are in flower,

and Dutch light glows through rainstorms at sunset.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Expat personality types

French_Foreign_Legion3Why do people seek out expatriate opportunities?

I think that there are a lot of positive reasons: surveys often cite people wanting to experience foreign cultures, expand their travel opportunities, further their career or academic development, or just seeking novelty and adventure.  A substantial number have married foreign nationals.

Still, I have a nagging suspicion that people firmly attached to their home communities or satisfied with their lives are unlikely to make the break to expatriate living.  Does this imply that we’re more likely to feel alienated or dissatisfied with life prior to leaving?

  “I was left with a feeling – a restlessness, a yearning for a place to call home…which could be the homeland we long for and which lies truly nowhere, or elsewhere, or everywhere, or perhaps only somewhere deep within ourselves.”

Natasha Gunn, Expatica Netherlands

   “I need to throw away my cup of sorrows and forget: and the best way to do that, apparently, is to join the French Foreign Legion.”

all1rog, The Experience Project

The literature isn’t very helpful.  Studies of successful expatriate managers (Jordan 1998) and behavioral inventories (Costello 2005) focus on adaptability rather than motivations.:

Expatriate managers

Expat Inventory

Caligiuri (2000) has recently studied expatriate adjustment using the “Big Five” personality traits (Goldberg, 1993 defines them as those which account for a majority of the variance in personality measures):

  • Extroversion:  The degree to which a person is talkative and sociable and enjoys social gatherings.
  • Agreeableness:  The tendency of a person to be interpersonally altruistic and co-operative.
  • Conscientiousness:  The degree to which a person is strong-willed, determined and attentive.
  • Neuroticism:  Negative emotional stability, showing characteristics of nervousness, moodiness and a temperamental nature.
  • Openness to experience:  The extent to which a person is
    aesthetically sensitive and aware of inner feelings and has an active imagination

Caligiuri’s results suggest that Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability are traits most positively related to expatriate success.  Yet I would think that they would also be those most related to success in the home environment.

So, my question remains:

  What are the personality traits that distinguish those who sojourn from those who stay at home?

In the Big Five context, are they people who are more dissatisfied (neurotic, perhaps, but wouldn’t that also make them less successful abroad?), or people who might have the easiest transition (openness, but why would they leave home?) .

Or perhaps some secondary characteristic, like confidence and curiosity, that isn’t part of the Big Five? 

Or perhaps it’s determined by social context rather than personality type?

Note: If you want to read further, Rutgers maintains a public archive of Dr. Caligiuri’s papers and other related HR topics.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stepping back for perspective

Problems Today has been a tough day for solving problems.

It’s not that the problems are inherently hard, but that they are intrinsically large.  That means that they take time and fill the day, yet fail to close with a final solution.

Riding along the riverbank in the early summer sun to take a break, I reviewed my strategies.  I must be making this harder than it needs to be.  There are the inductive “Sleep on it, ignore it, wait for your subconscious to deliver a miracle” approaches; there are avoidance strategies like “Time will solve it, a bit of benign neglect will help, why not delegate”. 

But if its my problem, then I only have two deductive strategies: appeal to principal or decompose to simpler chunks.

Divide and conquer is usually my approach, but I decided to try the  alternative, appeal to a higher power, and called a friend working with startups in the entrepreneurship programs at MIT.  He’s got a lot of practical experience and runs his own consulting business, so I feel like we share a lot of the same experiences.

On the positive side, he thought that the analysis and actions I’m taking are largely the right ones.  My focus and task prioritization seemed right, and I hadn’t overlooked many things that needed to be in the mix. The UK project, in particular, seemed well defined and things were appropriately delegated: I’d just need to hang in and see it through.

My concerns about the Dutch business, that consulting was overwhelming development, and that I was spending too much time working for the business rather than letting it work for me, were more true.  Part of the solution is to accept that consulting work cycles through peak and trough workload, and to be willing to push some tasks off into the coming quiet times without guilt.

The other was to be careful about respecting the boundary between consulting and contracting.  I tend to be very hands-on, doing real work of analysis and reports, yet estimating time and pricing results as though I was simply and conversationally advising and connecting clients.  In the future, I have to get the right distance and value set for each job and respect the scope of the tasks.  Where “I’m here to help” was often the right stance in the corporate world, it invites mission creep as an outsider.

I do think it’s important to have a mastergroup or advisory board to turn to for occasional encouragement or reality checks in running a business.  It’s probably especially important as an expat, where  the social isolation is more pronounced.  It won’t stop my having the occasional bad day, but it will help to keep things in perspective through the rough times.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Entrepreneuring with Expatica

I happy to have been selected as the Expat Entrepreneur this week in  It’s nice to be able to give them an acknowledgement in return: I have long subscribed to their RSS feed for local Dutch news in English, and consider them a reliable source of information and tips about life in the Netherlands.  They sent a questioneer a couple of months ago and it’s great to join friends like Amanda and Tiffany among their profiles of folks making the effort (and taking the risks) to start new businesses here.  (Expatica mentioned that I was the only male to answer the questions: surely I’m not alone on this?)

If you are interested in the topic more generally and are a member of LinkedIn, we maintain an Expat Entrepreneurs in the Netherlands group where you’re welcome to post questions, tips, and news.  The conversations wax and wane but we try to keep the level of signal well above the noise: no job tips and no spam.

Pictures today are along the Maas river north of Maastricht at the Belgian border around sunset.  It’s across the water from Itteren; I’m still trying to make up my mind about whether I’m ready for village life.

I have, however, found a little pied ‘a cottage outside Cambridge to use as a part-time space during the roughly 45% of my time that I’ll need to spend in England in the coming year. Right on a village green with good connections into town, furnished, and the price was (very) right.

And, besides and apartment, I’m still looking for a car here…

Monday, March 22, 2010

Replacing the steeple

De Basiliek van Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Tenhemelopneming is one of Maastricht’s more ancient structures, dating back to the 11th century and crowned with twin towers that are a signature part of the skyline across the Maas river. For months, though, its been without the turret over the south steeple while the western side of the cathedral is reconstructed and cleaned.

This morning an immense crane poked up from the square below to replace the missing cone.  This is a truly impressive piece of construction equipment, extending far above the rest of the town’s buildings and churches.

The first task was to hoist a workman to clean the cross on top of the northern turret.


Then it swung around to pick up the rest of the church.




By noon, everything was bolted down, the crane snaked back down between the turrets, and the skyline was whole again.  Amazing stuff to watch.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Winding down Sunday

The day dawned warm dark and rainy today, so there wasn’t a good reason to get up at 7 am.

Instead, there was a simple, leisurely breakfast, then catching up with some reading, writing a couple of notes to friends.  A close Dutch friend celebrated her birthday yesterday, so we shared lunch today to wish her well and to catch up on stories and pictures from their recent vacation.  Their son was playing in a band in-town during the afternoon, so we all went in for music and conversation (and a couple of beertje’s). (Click the picture for video).

Almost like normal life,  a relaxed and aimless day.  As a Sunday should be.


A link for the day: researchers are teaching computers to understand stories by exposing them to annotated blogs.  We tried to do this ten years ago, teaching computers to parse and classify medical narratives as paramedics handed patients off to emergency room physicians.  These experiments are much more general, but directed towards data mining instead of narrative comprehension.