No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

If the words “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” mean anything to you, then you understand the title of this post and a smile just crossed your face. You can watch the sketch here; it’s one of our favorites (not all of us are old enough to have seen the original showing – but one of us is!!)

We want to take a moment of your time to share some thoughts about expectations. William Shakespeare once said,

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

Most of us could look back on experiences in our lives and agree with the bard. In the cross-cultural life and work world, expectations can be downright dangerous.

Consider the following:

What looks like a roadside military checkpoint could just as easily be a roadside rebel kidnapping experience.

               When you have bumped into someone with your car on a crowded market street, maybe the wiser thing to do is to drive away before a crowd (read “mob”) gathers and your life is at risk, instead of getting out, hanging around, and arguing about whether they are actually hurt or not.

               Stop signs and a red traffic signal mean you should stop at the intersection. If you stop, you may get rear-ended. If you expect others to stop, you may get broadsided!

These are just a couple of real life examples of how the expectation that life in another culture will be like life in your home culture. Trust us – it isn’t.

Our advice is to take some action now to create more realistic expectations of what to expect from life and work in another culture. You could group all of the following thoughts in the area of research. In short, do your homework!

  • Spend some time getting to know everything you can about your future home from the internet. The CIA World Factbook has some basic information worth looking at.
  • Find an episode of “International House Hunters” for the area you are headed to. Along with seeing some of the realities of the area, have some laughs at the comments of the expats featured in the program as they have some of their expectations adjusted (size of everything, location of the washing machine… if there is one at all, etc.).
  • Communicate with others from your home culture that have traveled to your target country to live, or even just to visit. Find out from them what they saw that was different or difficult.
  • Connect with people from your target culture that live in your area now. Ask them what they feel were the most difficult transitions in moving to the US. That will give you insight into what life is like where they came from.
  • Though it’s expensive, take a scouting trip to your future home. There is nothing better than real life experience to help you set real expectations. Go beyond being a tourist – be a researcher. Have your eyes open for what is different and what might be difficult.

We all know that you won’t debunk all of your false expectations, but your transition to life in a new culture can be easier if you just take the time and expend some effort to do some focused research.

If this sounds daunting… watch the Monty Python skit again and smile.

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