The Power of 3: What Successful Expats Have, And Others Simply Wish For
The Power of 3
Not everyone who has these three qualities is an Expat, but if you look around you, you’ll agree the most successful Expats have cultivated these three qualities.
I’m talking about Curiosity, Commitment, and Community.
Those of you who have been around the expat life awhile, you’re no doubt nodding in agreement- you’ve seen it. These qualities seem to be the nucleus of success. Most add in other characteristics according to their own skills (leading a group, teaching a skill to others, nurturing newbies, and so on), but these seem to be in addition to, rather than instead of, our trio.
Mr. G had no intention of becoming an expat at his age- at most he was a visiting director with a 10-year old “surprise” son at home. But when he visited Baku, something happened. He found it was not at all the hardship posting his men had led him to believe. (Ok, to be fair, they had gone ahead of him and smoothed out considerable bumps in the road, and had asked me to get him oriented once he arrived.)
Mr. G, to his credit, was quite keen on life in Baku once he got involved in the inner workings and leading the office (meanwhile, maybe his men were cursing me for taking my part a little too seriously?)
Enter Mrs. G. Having seen his visits extended more often than not, Mrs. G decided that she and their son would join dad. Mr. G called me and asked if I could “work my magic” again as the Mrs had arrived and was nonplussed at the comforts of the bachelor staff flat. Could I find some nice western style bed linens to make her feel more comfy?
I knew just where to go. But… it was pricey. I showed her a few local options along the way to set the “real value” stage. When we got to the import store, she was so thrilled to see real European style bedding that she bought the entire boudoir to the tune of over $500- new pillows, sheets, comforter- the works. I had hoped she would see that life here was do-able, if she wanted to.
Imagine my (non) surprise when less than a week later, Mr. G called and said the Mrs. and son had gone back to their passport home. Mrs. G wasn’t committed to this posting as new home vs old home- this was never going to be “home” -it was just a stopover, a place where dad was at the moment.
As a family, Mr. and Mrs. G weren’t set on being expats- there was no curiosity, no commitment and no community. There was no will when she said no way! They were resigned to being separated and contending with the stress those issues bring instead. And, that may have been the right call for them.
By contrast, take Dave & Connie. As a geologist, Dave was comfortable looking at charts and maps searching for oil. What makes them great examples of successful expats is that they jumped in with both feet to connect the place with the data. As a family, they would lead others into the desert, so to speak, talking about rock formations in a way that was so interesting it made the data come to life. Their curiosity made others want to know more. Their curiosity was contagious and launched many other such endeavors by others.
Early on in Baku, there had to be an advance team to lay the groundwork for others who would need to follow. To be one of the first of anything, takes commitment. But to be first in a developing market, especially one rising from the ashes of a failed state takes vision, faith and commitment in buckets.
I played softball on an expat team and found many of the “original 16” families represented, including the first couples on the ground for the what was to become the AIOC, the largest bloc of expat talent.
M and his wife would regularly regale our group with “beat this” stories at lunch after practice or games- we always went to some hole-in-the-wall place that he knew served beer and that forbidden/coveted meat, pork, preferably in the form of ribs or sausage served up with Czech beer. One special place was a clandestine converted garage at the edge of town that served up luscious grilled mounds of the forbidden meat- but you had to know someone to find it. And, fortunately, we did.
One of the things that impressed me was the number of other expats M and his wife had served with in Cairo, Dubai and other locations who all ended up in Baku together. These folks were committed to getting the job done and their companies knew it.
There were two camps of expats in Baku in the early days. Please don’t take offense or have false pride if you fall into either of the two groups, this is just how locals described the state of things.
There were the “Ayoc wives,” locals said, (said as a word not as an acronym) who “rode with drivers behind tinted glass” and deigned to touch the world as it existed outside the compound.
Then, there were the герой (geroy), the heroes.
Igor was a герой. So was Geoff. And Jaye, and Birgitte, and dozens of others- hundreds by now.
These folks looked around and saw need-whether it was company mandated social responsibility work or not.
- Igor as the head of Pennzoil Caspian’s Baku office was a well-respected figure in Baku when I met him, a legend in his time according to everyone I met. He had a connection and was truly committed to making the place better and safer for the families he worked with. The work that he committed Pennzoil to doing at the Children’s Bone Tuberculosis Hospital was mind-boggling. And showed real commitment, not just the effort to write a check.
- Geoff was another герой. I first met Geoff at softball and we became friends. Geoff was friends with lots of people. He spoke Azeri, learned the history and even offered tours of the once-grand-now-restored historic home that housed his oil company offices. He knew the back story and was committed to preserving what he could, even as some remodeling needed to take place to make it function as an office. It was grand and beautiful. I remember going to a reception in the home and being awed by the meticulous way the painting and artistry had been matched and brought back to life.
- Jaye and her colleague Pat started a program for students. They enlisted other expats to go to a number of secondary schools to read, talk, teach- whatever we could do- with the students to give them practice in English and prepare them to someday be FLEX (Future Leaders EXchange) students doing study abroad school terms. Jaye had been in charge of the program in Uzbekistan and knew the importance of having a cadre of educated young people in this young republic.
- Birgitte and others like her adopted orphanages and really cared about those babies and young children, when no one else seemed to. Because of dozens of women and men, the numerous orphanages around Baku got improvements like indoor plumbing, washers and dryers that worked, kitchens capable of preparing meals for growing active children, safe play areas, proper heating and cooling, as well as bathrooms and showers built to handle the volume of use that a group house needs to support.
Now, of course, every expat having this trio of qualities isn’t expected to make heroic impacts on his/her temporary adopted home; yet all leave their mark, in many ways large and small, and all are noticed by someone. They leave their mark on hearts, minds and bodies for those who follow after. Later arrivals may find a Newcomer’s Handbook filled with hard-won knowledge, a cookbook that shares recipes to ease the transition, an invitation to coffee that restores, a role that stands empty but has come to be relied upon to make someone’s world brighter.
Expats get in the race, set the pace and improve, update, or otherwise customize their world a little more. It’s because they have that passion to leave the world just a little bit better wherever they go. Curiosity drives them to find out why things are the way they are; they share a commitment to the job, their families in transition, and to the people they work with or live near; they have a sense of community, and see their work as a continuation of the expat process- this is what we do.
Let me close with a wonderful quote from an interview by the folks at The Displaced Nation with Doshebu’s co-founder Sharon Lorimer, on the “Art of the Expat”. She discusses a lasting and tangible benefit of becoming an expat, adding a fourth “C” to our trio today… Creativity.
“… we called it the “art of the expat” because we find that people who go abroad tend to become more creative and have more diverse interests. I enjoy trying to foster a sense of this in our clients and their families. It can be an advantage to their companies— for instance, if they make a more creative presentation on their work; but it can also be about one’s personal journey, connecting you with your creativity.”
I wish all our hard-working expats this sense of creative accomplishment and joy in your global impact. The world is a better place because of The Power of 3.