Are you trying to make sense of your life in an unfamiliar culture? Feel like you’ve lost your real self as you transform chameleon-like between cultural contexts? Wondering how to create a life of meaning in a new reality? Wishing you had more resilience or simply a sounding board with whom to share your venting, your observations, and your learnings? Looking for different ways to frame and understand your experiences so you can get out of your head, or seeking activities to help you more effectively participate in your current cultural life? If so, here are two pieces of reassuring news: You are in good company, and you can make real progress with the expert guidance of a cultural coach.
What is Cultural Coaching?
In contrast to training, which is pedagogical in nature and focused on delivering objective information through instruction, coaching uses your own subjective experiences as a starting point for personal growth.
Cultural coaches will help you put your challenges and successes, stumbles and summits in perspective. They will promote your internal capacity for wellbeing amid cultural difference by guiding your skills development in areas such as engaging ambiguity, shifting perspectives, reading your internal state, managing expectations, and practicing new cultural behaviors and communication styles. Ultimately, through the right combination of empathy, compassionate support, and opportunities for practice and reflection, a coach can help you grow into the culturally competent person you would like to be.
Who is a Cultural Coach?
Theoretically it can be anybody, as there is not currently any widely-accepted and acknowledged international standard specifically for coaching in the intercultural field. But ideally, you will find someone whose qualifications, style, accessibility, cost, and effectiveness meet your needs.
Since that can seem vague, first identify your requirements by asking yourself what you are hoping to get out of the experience, how much time and effort you are willing to commit, and what you are willing to spend. While friends, family, and fellow expats may seem cheap and available, they may not be skilled or unbiased, and may be best suited for providing moral support rather than fostering internal development. Also, it is important to recognize that cultural coaching is not a substitute for professional mental health care. Only you can know the severity of your situation; if you feel it warrants professional attention, please seek out appropriate supportive services.
With these considerations in mind, you can start looking for a coach either through your employer, your expat network, an Internet search, or social media. When you find promising candidates, you’ll want to interview them. I recommend reaching out via email and then following up with a Skype or phone call. In addition to finding out if they are currently accepting new clients, how much they charge, how often they can meet, etc., your main goal should be to ascertain whether they would be a good fit for helping you make progress toward your goals or desired state.
Consider asking a prospective coach these questions:
1. What is your philosophy (on cultural transition, culture shock, cultural competence building, working with expats/repats/accompanying spouses, etc.)? While they may not state it in academic terms, they should be able to describe, at a basic level, their guiding light. Is there a school of thought, text, source, or experience which they rely on or which embodies their approach? Some outside resources should be involved so that you can look them up and confirm that this is a direction that suits you.
2. What techniques do you use? Here is where you can find out about the kinds of methods and activities you should expect.
3. What does a typical coaching process entail? Is it over Skype? Through pre-designed PowerPoint presentations with assignments? Practice and journaling?
4. What professional and personal background do you bring to your coaching? This is their chance to share their history, credentials, skills, areas of expertise, and strengths.
5. What can I anticipate when working with you? Their answer to this open-ended question can reveal a lot about whether you’ll have a good rapport.
After reviewing their answers and chatting with them, if you think you might work well together, consider asking for references. After all, your chosen coach will be helping you achieve major personal growth, and you’ll want some proof that he or she can handle the task. In particular, you should confirm that the coach treated previous clients with professionalism, compassion, and wisdom, and helped evoke positive change in their lives.
With some forethought, research, and a little bit of luck, you will soon be working with an expert guide. May this be the year that you develop cultural fluidity and increase your confidence and competence!