How to unveil your inner global cosmopolitan

February 13th, 2015

You do not have to be rich to speak multiple languages and to understand cultural change

April 17th, 2012

It is not only the global elite that are developing the skills necessary in our global economy. On a recent trip to the slums of Mumbai, I encountered extreme poverty and at the same time encountered people that spoke three languages, have lived in very different cultural contexts in India and have learned through necessity the skills of being an entrepreneur.

And yet, while poverty and illiteracy are pervasive, I met children being encouraged to learn the skills that will give them opportunities for relative advancement. For people living in one room it is not always obvious how to provide a context where a child can study and can get enough sleep. Without sufficient work, money, food or health care, it is challenging to maintain a focus on studying and getting ahead. The distractions of drugs and alcohol are environmental hazards, as they are in poor communities all over the world.  Old rules about caste and class can still be barriers to advancement.

Learning English and eventually finished college can be the keys to getting ahead. If their families can provide enough support, a challenging and different road can open up for them. While few people from the slums have the opportunity to dream about or even become Global Cosmopolitans, there are people that live out dreams of living in a different world in India.

I encountered children that were highly motivated to succeed in India’s competitive educational system in spite of their economic situation. They were also learning how to live in different worlds than their parents, in different languages and with different dreams.

Changing the notions of what women can and should do is challenging. As I left one young woman’s home, she invited me to her college graduation and her mother quickly chimed in the invitation to celebrate her wedding. This quick comment emphasized the complexity women encounter as they try to show respect and love for their families and at the same time want to live out different life dreams.

It was encouraging meeting both young men and women learning the skills that will help them in their future endeavors. They are learning how to be different, they are learning how to bridge different worlds, and they are learning how to on their own. Their experience of complexity and change growing up can teach about the sources of their own resilience and the ability to learn and grow from new challenges and opportunities.



You are what you eat! Or are you?

February 20th, 2012

On a recent book tour talking about the challenges and opportunities of a Global Cosmopolitan lifestyle, the audiences raised many issues about the complexity of living and working in multiple cultures.

People invariably brought up the subject of food. What you eat, how you eat and when you eat are elements of everyday life that mark global experience. Individuals spoke about the opportunities for exploring new and different culinary experiences and then other moments of yearning for a taste of home.

A Peruvian who had lived in Korea for three years put it this way, “I knew from my first meal in Korea, that life was going to be different.“ He had anticipated many cultural difference, but he forgot about one of the basics – eating. The tastes, presentations and even the ways of eating were different. “I felt like I had a different digestive system.  And that was only the beginning.”

One Indian went to boarding school in a country where meat was a staple in the diet. With great deliberation, he became the first person in his family for generations to ever eat meat. While his new eating habits helped him integrate into the new school environment, he frequently found himself homesick for the food he grew up with. In addition, his return visits to India were  complicated by this new “culinary” identity.

And the smell of home cooking! Early childhood memories are often stimulated by familiar smells and tastes. That was enough for one man to think about knocking on a stranger’s door when he detected the aroma of meals from home.

Some people turned their desire to have home cooking in other countries into business plans for exporting spices or opening restaurant chains in their new countries.

In a global family, these issues often require significant adaptation. No matter where in the world my family gets together, a key meeting point is around food. When our grown up children come home, they love eating what they consider home cooking. It is not unusual to discuss the transformation of childhood recipes into gourmet delights. The rest of my family has acquired a taste for spicier food than I can tolerate. So, when my Peruvian daughter in law prepares ceviche, one of her favorite dishes from home, she makes sure that I do not get too many hot peppers.

Leaving Home: Navigating The Need To Belong And The Need To Feel Different

December 6th, 2011

For Global Cosmopolitans, confronting contradictions or paradoxical needs is a normal part of living across cultures. Last week, while in Latin America, I heard people describing the tension of wanting to maintain a feeling of belonging to their childhood friends and family, while knowing that their lives away from home had changed them in significant ways.

A woman from Brazil described the challenge of moving from Argentina to Mexico City. She described how hard it was to leave home. She felt misunderstood then and, as she contemplates a further move, she wonders how her increasing difference will impact on her important childhood relationships. In further discussions, people passionately expressed their concerns about what will they lose if they travel and become increasingly different from their family and childhood friends?

One person characterized the conflict this way:

“How can I maintain my roots, my connections to the people that I grew up with, and still become the person that I want to be? I have already become different because of my global experience. Some of the changes have become significant, so much so that I feel like my sense of self, my identity, has changed. I know that I am different in ways that I do not even understand. I am excited and pleased that I am changing and want to continue a global lifestyle that facilitates change. Yet, I feel very rooted to my childhood. I know where I come from and what grounds me. Will I lose this connection? Will they still care about me, and yes, will I still care about them?”


How is technology changing the current generation of Global Cosmopolitans?

September 28th, 2011

This question surfaced at a recent presentation on Global Cosmopolitans at the Wellfleet Public Library. This generation of people in their 20’s and 30’s have grown up with significant technological advances that have transformed the world.  How has it transformed them and their experience?

When I moved to the South of France in 1973, I was starting an adventure based on discussions with friends and books that I had read. I could not look it up on Google, nor could I SMS, email or Skype my parents, friends or colleagues once I got there.

Our meager solution to staying in contact required organization and patience. We brought a tape recorder (do you remember these?) so that we could record stories about life in our village. We would then take the tapes to the village post office to send home. Sometimes it took two weeks or more before they finally made it to the U.S. It seemed to take forever to get our pictures developed to accompany the stories. When emergencies arose, I had to find solutions in a world of slower and often imperfect communications. I did not have an email address that helped people find me immediately. That world has changed.

For today’s Global Cosmopolitans the excitement of new possibilities and the sense of adventure are just as present today as they were in the early ’70s. The psychological challenges of changing cultures are still there. For example, international moves still create feelings of loss – the loss of the familiar and loss of knowing.  It can still be difficult to deal with multiple levels of difference.

Equally, the challenges for Global Cosmopolitans have not changed. It is still important to learn about a new culture and learn a new language.  Schooling for children still forces people to think about their differences in their own experience from that of their children and reflect on the values underlying different schooling options.  Do I choose the international school or place my children in the local schools?

But now, new technologies change significant elements of the global experience. Global moves can be cushioned by the information on email, the ease of flying, and the ability to be in touch with people in other parts of the world.  One can read email versions of the New York Times and Le Monde every morning or watch John Stewart on YouTube. It takes a second to send a picture around the world; it is easier to share aspects of a new life and relevant stories. Life can feel more connected and less cut off.

Today’s generation uses technology when faced with the challenges of their lifestyle. Technology is a source of resourcefulness and inventing new solutions. One couple in Hong Kong told me how they experimented and found a combination of Facebook and SMS to stay in daily contact with their American families. A Canadian explained to me that the basis of his cutting-edge ideas in technology came from his experience in Africa, working with banking over the phone.

Maybe the new skill is being able to see new possibilities beyond what we know already. But how else is technology changing the current generation of Global Cosmopolitans? Help me answer the question. Share a story or two that shows how resourcefulness based in technology has helped you find new and better solutions to the challenges of living and working globally.

Sustaining a Global Cosmopolitan relationship through complexity, difference and change

June 6th, 2011

“Is there a guidebook for making it as a Global Cosmopolitan couple?” In a recent presentation to an MBA alumni meeting in France, one experienced Global Cosmopolitan currently living in France raised this key question that the rest of audience echoed. While it is easy to give some advice about life in a dynamic and engaging partnership, the challenges require a great deal of creativity.

Global Cosmopolitans have life experience filled with complexity, diversity and change. As they discuss the on-going challenges of a global life, they articulate the many advantages and challenges that they encounter. They can feel very energized by the excitement in their lives and the amount of learning that is possible. They can love the exotic weekends enjoying a newly discovered venue together.

Yet they know that that there are no simple formulas for creating a life for themselves and their children. They know from experience that everything can change in a minute. While they can say that they love change in their lives, creating a feeling of safety and knowing in their couple can be particularly important given that they are on “the road less traveled.”

While they may have many friends, even other Global Cosmopolitans, they can feel very isolated when needing to make new choices that can impact on the life of their couple and family. Even experienced global companies have difficulty understanding or helping individuals, couples and families with decisions about international moves.

Experienced global couples know how important it is have and be able to share the self-awareness necessary to make to know yourself, hear your partner, and develop a relationship that has real dialogue and uses the same creative thinking that you can apply to work problems. For Global Cosmopolitans, the learning curve requires paying close attention to what helps or hinders them as a couple when they confront the complex tasks of dealing with significant change.

Long Distance Relationship
Managing a long distance relationship is never easy. But across time zones!? Sara’’s story is typical. Born in India, she and her now husband met in California, where they were both working. Her decision to get her MBA in Singapore, while her husband started a new job in Canada, seemed right at the time, but now she was living in a state of constant longing for the moments of being together. They had many decisions to make together about what next, and, inevitably, one of them was busy or asleep. Their best friends and family were either in California or in India, trying to be helpful, but often suggested that coming home would be the solution to their decision-making puzzle. To add to the complexity, they had to decide where to live and how to get good professional opportunities in the same city. Sara realized that in spite of the cost, they needed a long weekend together so that the longing, fatigue and anxiety would not ruin their relationship.

But it is not just distance. The challenge becomes: How can I deal with complexity, change and difference within my couple? Some changes require both individuals to look at their needs and values. Individuals in couples are not always in sync.

Anna and Stephan, both business consultants, met while working in London. They enjoying creating a life together separate from their cultural backgrounds. His parents in Germany and her parents in Italy started raising questions about when would they be coming home. Stephan started suggesting that he wanted to work in Germany now that they were thinking about having children. Anna knew that she could get work in Germany, but did not know if she could maintain the type of couple life that they had established. Stephan felt that they could withstand the pressures of re-entry; she did not think that they were ready. Their short-term solution could have been prolonging their stay in London.  After a long and open conversation and a few phone calls, they realized that they were both ready for a change and working in France or Spain would give them time to think about where they wanted to create a home.

Re-entry can have a huge impact on couples. Couples often meeting and living together in a country where their families do not live, often establish patterns of behavior that are relatively independent of their cultural background. Re-entry can also mean returning to old ways of behavior.
Global Cosmopolitans have to think about the impact of their lifestyle on the values their children might acquire as a result of their lifestyle and the choices that they make. The complexity of their lifestyle, different backgrounds and different points of view about giving their children a cultural grounding that reflect their values can require challenging dialogue and creative thinking from those around them, as well as themselves.

“”Our 14-year-old daughter wants to go to boarding school in London if we move again,” one couple told me. ”Her Global Cosmopolitan parents from two very different cultural backgrounds had never lived there, yet the school was excellent. Her parents knew that they needed to move yet again. This was not the best time to be moving a teenager, or at least this one, to another country where she would have to learn another language. Before they figured out what to do, their daughter was accepted to the same school her mother had attended. It took all the creativity of a Global Cosmopolitan daughter to find the solution!

When the personal gets political: Reflections from Eastern Europe

May 10th, 2011

Lecturing on Global Cosmopolitans in Bulgaria and Romania brought up many questions from both well-travelling Global Cosmopolitans and people considering the possibility of embarking on a global lifestyle. Bulgarians and Romanians raised a more political concept of home than I previously mentioned in my blogs: “What is my responsibility to my country of origin?” “What role can I play in building its institutions?” “Do I have a duty to invest my skills and knowledge – gained abroad – in the place I call home?”

These can be defining questions for Global Cosmopolitans in their search for meaning and their need to have an impact. They’re age-old dilemmas in Eastern Europe. As one audience member wrote to me later,

Global cosmopolitans have always played an important role in opening up those countries to the world. In the 19th century the elite in business and politics would have been western-educated, typically speaking at least three or four languages. Their contribution upon returning home was truly remarkable and was the key driver of modernization. After Eastern Europe’s implosion between 1945 and 1989, we are still struggling to establish such an elite guard of people.

Many of those in the audience were Global Cosmopolitans in the making and perhaps tomorrow’s “elite guard”. They had already learned multiple languages and were now considering doing an MBA or EMBA abroad.  The question of their personal development was already embedded in the context of personal responsibility to the country where they were born – or even to Eastern Europe in general.

Although they weren’t necessarily considering political careers in the literal sense, the importance of being able to significantly contribute to the business community back home was at issue. And they knew this would require a major personal investment in business-school fees.

The potential Global Cosmopolitans in the audience took advantage of the fact that there were more seasoned MBAs present to seek models of success. There were positive, but very varied, responses to questions like: “How did you find the money to go and what kind of return are you getting on your investment?” “What voice or impact can you have if you decide to become a Global Cosmopolitan?” “How long should you stay away?” “And what is it really like to leave home?”

There were many examples of power and success in the audience. Some were trying to find creative ways of staying connected with their country of origin and yet still take financial and emotional advantage of being a Global Cosmopolitan. One woman even has homes in two countries: Romania and France. One man had moved back to Bulgaria and was now contemplating another global move, but not necessarily for good.

Finding home in relationships was key for many people. For all the political motivations, personal relationships seemed to be a primary source of comfort and solutions to the dilemmas. One of the Global Cosmopolitans I talked to knows that home is in the key relationships in her life, her husband and her extended family and friends. She is pleased with her life and the work that she is doing in Romania, even though she knows that she could have had a successful and more lucrative life abroad.

Finding meaningful work was key for another Global Cosmopolitan who had spent much of his career outside of Romania. Along with his entrepreneurial ventures, he has been developing projects in the NGO sector. But that wasn’t the reason he initially returned. He came to fix his father’s house – and found that the construction work wasn’t simply about honoring his father. It was also about building the connection to his country.

Finding home for others is maintaining ties in the community of Global Cosmopolitans. In this way, they could network with each other and find ways to have a positive impact on the growth and development of both themselves and their country. As one women said to me, “This is the only way that we can really have an impact.”

The home advantage?

April 8th, 2011

My recent book tour to India coincided with the Cricket World Cup. I learned to arrange my schedule around the matches… and that, in the Subcontinent, cricket is a religion that brings together people of all faiths. A CNN report showed expat Indians and Pakistanis watching the World Cup together in the United Arab Emirates, despite their well-documented national neighbors’ feud. Strange that competition should be the uniting force!

When the two countries played each other in the semi-final last week, the leaders of the two countries sat proudly side by side. I was back on campus in France, where my “Global Cosmopolitan” colleagues and students of both nationalities were glued to the television – together. For my part, I was rooting for India, because I’d had such a good time at Holi, the Hindu Festival of color just a couple of weeks earlier (see picture).

I also knew that if India got through the final, they would be playing in Mumbai – and would thus have the home advantage.

As for the Global Cosmopolitans I met during my tour, they weren’t sure that being home was entirely an advantage. Some of the Indians I’d met in Hong Kong and Singapore earlier in the year (see previous blog) had been considering going back, but those who’d already returned to their roots reported that re-entry brought its own problems. They had changed while away – and so had the people and places they’d left behind for so many years.

After one presentation, a manager came to show me a picture on his iPhone of the beautiful house that he’d just sold in the US. He told me, “We could never find a place like that here. My six-year-old knows where home is, and for her it is not in India.” He explained how his daughter had absorbed cultural references in the US and missed her friends, TV programs and simply the way things are done. He could handle his own challenges at easily, but it was painful for him to see his daughter going through the transition.

“I never have time for myself,” someone else said. “When I’m not at work, or even when I am, I’m dealing with extended family issues. Now that I’m back, I have no excuses.” All that freedom and independence gained abroad was suddenly lost.

Economically, however, it is a great time to be in India. That, along with family ties, was why most of the men and women in my audiences in Mumbai and Bangalore had returned, although not necessarily to their old town or state. Many had managed to keep up their friendships with the other Global Cosmopolitans they’d met on their travels. Most were still working virtually with people all over the world. A few had even leveraged their typically Global Cosmopolitan creativity to start innovative new businesses. So, on the whole, they were learning to overcome the tough challenges ore re-entry and find that home advantage.

It certainly worked for their national cricket team. In the final held in Mumbai last Sunday, India triumphed over Sri Lanka, despite a mid-match wobble. I hear the post-match party was pretty good too. After all, not many teams can boast one billion home supporters.

There’s no place like where?

March 12th, 2011

The more you move around, the harder it is to know where home is – but the more important it feels to have roots. The international communities of Asia offer interesting lessons on resolving this paradox.

I’ve just spent several weeks in Asia, in particular, Singapore and Hong Kong, talking to Global Cosmopolitans. Multilingual, multicultural and internationally mobile, many of them had lived on different continents, let alone countries or states. But the concept of “home” still seemed supremely important to them.

The question, “Where is home?” becomes increasing important to Global Cosmopolitans. It’s something I cover briefly in the book. Understanding the complexity of this topic for my audiences in Hong Kong and Singapore took it one step further. Not content with knowing where home was, they wanted to know how to define it. And of course, there’s no single answer. They also understood that traditional definitions did not help – they had to find a creative and personal definition, knowing that the notion of home could change.

Here are some of the suggestions we arrived at together. But I’d very much like to hear others.

Home is emotion; it is where I grew up. One Frenchman was insistent about this. He said that his parents’ house represented a physical connection to the child he once was and his permanent emotional headquarters. He insists on taking his own kids there every summer, even though it’s half way across the world from the home that they are living in now – and he throws everything into making sure they have a good time. “They call it the happy house,” he said proudly.

Home is where I’m based right now. Some people seemed happy to shift the concept of home every time they moved house. For them, home was simply where they were creating temporary roots and permanent memories. For a few, home was tied to where they worked at any given time. That might not be as sad as it sounds. If you’re sent around the world or the country by your employer the workplace offers reassuring continuity in a changing landscape. The difficulty comes when you have a partner who moves around with you but doesn’t have the same anchor…

Home is where my values come from. In this case, you may never even have lived there. One person in one of my audiences even said, “It’s defined by the type of school I send my kids to.” He wasn’t necessarily talking about sending his kids to the nearest American school but to the local Jewish institution.

Home is in the relational fabric of my life. Home is where my relationships are rooted. Maybe it’s where your kids were born, rather than where your parents lived. Or perhaps it’s where you met your partner and set up house for the first time. Some couples feel it’s important to create roots in neutral territory – where they’re both outsiders. Others are even happy to have multiple homes. One western guy had settled in Thailand with his boyfriend, the place they’d first met. But he was happy to move when his partner got a better job in Singapore. “Now we have two homes,” he said. “And there may be more to come.” Another audience member, an Indian woman, had lived in a condo in Singapore for years. “But it only started to feel like home when my sister and her family moved in,” she admitted.

Home is defined by other people – most notably by the annoying ones who say “It’s great to have you home”, when you really don’t feel it all!

Home is where my stuff is. Multiple moves create a need to define and redefine home, since the physical home keeps shifting. When there is no home to go home to, sometimes home becomes defined by the objects that move with you. Home is my books, home is having a place for my soccer shirts, home is my box of stuffed animals. It’s my memories.

The definition does change, and sometimes the changing definition takes you by surprise. One woman in the audience was a successful businesswoman who had just sold her company in Hong Kong. “I never thought I’d say it,” she confessed, “but maybe I’ll go home to Delhi.”

However you define it, people inevitably like to go home when they reach a certain age. The strange thing is that so few of us see it coming!