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Corinne: Well, welcome to a new episode of Experts! Speak English! And today I have a special guest: Florence Chabert d’Hieres.
Florence: Well done, Corinne!
Corinne: A moment of panic there… I’m not very good at French. So, thank you very much for joining me today. Florence is an amazing lady. She is so talented, she’s doing so many things, I hardly know where to start, but I know that she’s working with children from six years old, right up to senior managers. So, she works across the board and that is quite rare. Normally you get an expat manager who is working with one group or the other, and it’s actually a blessing if you can find somebody like Florence who can take the whole family under your wing. So Florence, welcome to the Experts! Speak English! podcast.
Florence: Merci, Corinne. Thank you.
Corinne: Oh, my goodness, that’s fantastic. You know, I haven’t spoken French for years. I had the most dreadful French teacher at school, and she hated me, I hated her. It was just like dagger heads. And I was quite excited about doing French, you know? But the moment she walked in the room, it just, you know, you get that sometimes? (Forence: Yeah.) But anyway, I think it’s a beautiful language. And I used to have a wonderful client and she used to say, “Corrine, you must improve”, my French pronunciation is so terrible. And I never find any accent terrible, I find it beautiful. And this girl actually did say – one time she was talking about something – and she said, “Oh, it’s so beautiful”. And I thought, “You are beautiful. That is beautiful. The way that you say the word is beautiful”. And I said, “Don’t ever change that. That’s so lovely”. So, we have to be proud of our accents, don’t we?
Florence: I’m trying, even if I try to get rid of it. But yeah, I understand. I’m so glad I’m French, so I don’t have to learn French because it’s really, really difficult. But I completely see where you come from.
Corinne: Excellent. Well, it’s great to have you on the show. I want to – I’m coming out for lunchtime and whenever I talk to you, I think about hamburgers.
Florence: And I hope gluten-free.
Corinne: So, tell my listeners why I always think about hamburgers when we speak.
Florence: Oh, I think it’s because I’m French, as we’ve just mentioned. And I just love food and wine and as well, I have to be honest, and indeed, why burgers?
Because working with children and working with top managers, when we talk about culture, it’s sometimes difficult. We have such amazing intercultural concepts. But I really wanted to make sure that each and every one could use it on a basis, on a daily life, and also to make sure that they can create their sense of identity and create their own cultural profile.
So, I created the burger, the burger metaphor of culture.
It’s quite interesting, I had some kids yesterday and they were like,
“Do you have like gluten-free burgers?
Do you have like vegan burgers?”,
“That’s the beauty of it. We can do any burger you want, the one that really resonates and makes you happy. Because the most important thing is that you are this burger and I know it’s nearly lunchtime, so the goal is to really build a juicy burger.
And to do this it’s really cool because the bread/bun will be your home country, your passport country. So obviously it never changed or you can add a nationality, for example, but it never changed. So, in my case, we talked about my French accent, but you don’t see me, but I am from Sri Lanka, I was born over there, so I was adopted. So, in Sri Lanka I would say that on my bread there are some curry seeds because it’s part of me. And so, you know, like, you can really draw and I think it’s very important also to visualise all the emotions and to put them inside this beautiful burger because all the ingredients you put are the values that you have raised during all your expert experience. And the more ingredients you have, obviously, the more juicy your burger will become.
(Corinne: More interesting, right?)
And more interesting it will be because I really, I’m so glad I had the chance to meet with Ron Reagan, who is a pioneer of this Subculture Kid and she wrote amazing books about it. And really, when she read my book, “I’m A Citizen Of The World”, when I met her in Bangkok, she was like, “This is great”, because sometimes the kids from our generation, they have moved so many times. So, they’re just like, “I’m not a subculture kid in the sense of number three because I’ve moved like maybe six or seven times”. So that’s why I wanted to show them that it’s not a question of number. It’s really a question of food and of ingredients you put in.
go with an open heart,
Corinne: Oh, that’s fantastic, because I know that a lot of children, when they come back from another country, even if it’s in their own country, right, they feel like a fish out of water. They feel like they have a new one, everyone’s looking at them, everyone knows their name, everyone knows where they’re coming from. And they might be asking you questions about where you come from. But often I think children feel a bit intimidated by somebody who’s been to live in another country.
Florence: And sometimes they don’t know or they don’t understand and it’s very difficult to communicate. So that’s really the heart of the cross-cultural communication on how you explain or try to explain what you lived abroad. And for the kids who didn’t move, how abroad can be amazing, but it can also be a rollercoaster ride. So that’s why you have like so many interesting conversations. And yes, they are like a fish out of the water, but they are also beautiful chameleons.
Corinne: Yeah, that’s true. And I think there’s a lost opportunity with adults and children when somebody comes back with all these new ideas and experiences and often, you know, mild traumas as well. You know, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, is it? When you come back, you have a richer personality. And yet very often, whether it’s that big companies – I’m not going to name many – but I know of some companies that they have some somebody coming back and then that’s it, “Here’s your password, here’s your computer. Get on with it”.
There’s no opportunity to share:
what they experienced,
who they were working with,
what were the conflicts that they had,
where did the communication breakdowns come through?
What were the misunderstandings that they never thought for a million years would be different from one country to another?
And the same with kids, very often when they come back after two or three years – you know, wouldn’t it be nice for the teacher to say, “You know what, it would be really wonderful if you would help me create a very special lesson today”, and then make them the sidekick for that lesson. And that would be a wonderful experience and I know that not every child wants to be on the stage or in the limelight, but if you did it as a sidekick thing, it doesn’t have to be so intimidating. And yet that happens so rarely.
Florence: Definitely. And that’s why I really, really try doing the training to see how those experience shaped them. And it’s also a question of mindset, in which mindset you are. And that’s why I always say “You’re not going back. You just go because you’ve changed so much”. Both the kids or the senior manager, “You’ve just changed, it’s just a new you in a country where you used to live, but it’s really you! You have to go with an open heart, open eyes because you have to put all the mechanism of living in a new country as if it was a new country, basically. It might be your own country, but you have to see it as a new country. And in this case, you will feel much more at ease, because you will feel like the newbie, even if you have some vague memories. So, it’s really, I think, the question of mindset, of global mindset, that you can bring to this new experience.
Corinne: Yeah, absolutely. I think it really helps to treat it like a clean slate. (Florence: Exactly.) And okay, you might look the same, you might have the same curly hair or whatever. But yeah, you will have experienced a lot of things and, you know, I think it’s a great opportunity if you can involve the kids in some way, because I know in a lot of schools – well, there’s certainly a lot of lip service around cross-cultural awareness – but in reality, I think there’s very little.
Florence: Of course or non-existent, yeah. Because some wonderful people in the field of intercultural are doing it really, really well. They try to train the teachers, they try to train the schools about this to make sure that – it’s so rich, so both the kids who are there for behind the school for so long. And the newbies, they can really learn from each other. So it’s very important to really try (..) or also as a parent, you know what I do when I move from one country to the other, obviously it’s my job, but it’s also my passion – but I really go to see the head teacher and I say, “Would you like me to hold your workshop so we can talk with other international families, explain them the concept of the Burger, explain them how they can communicate with other kids, how your kid can feel better?”. I think also it’s helped us as parents, we can work alongside with the teachers because sometimes they don’t have the resources basically.
Corinne: That’s right, yeah. And it can be a bit scary, can’t it? Talking about these things, especially these days, there’s always this, you know, this anxiety around using the wrong terminology with “Are they black or brown”, you know, nobody wants to kind of get themselves into trouble. So, a lot a lot of this political correctness, I feel, exaggerates the situation sometimes.
Florence: Definitely. And that’s why I think one of my mottos during my trainings is to say, “We don’t manage nationalities, we manage personalities”.
Corinne: That’s so true, yeah, that’s so true. And I think very often when managers go to another country, the first thing they ask (me at least) is “Do you have a list of do’s and don’ts?”, and I’m like, “Well, even if I had, I wouldn’t just give them to you like that”, because that would be almost setting them on a slate for slaughter because if you just give them do’s and don’ts, they think that they’re protected, don’t they? And they’re not open-minded, they’re not cautious. They’re a bit like a bull in a china shop and I think that’s what we have to avoid, really.
Florence: Definitely and I think also it’s very important and even more we’ve seen that with the pandemic, how we can really recreate a face-to-face relationship and let our body talk and have the body language and the non-verbal communication also and not just like, “Okay, I need to do this, I need to behave like that because they are Indians or because they are French or because they are Americans. No, we all have this mindset and we have just to make sure that it becomes a global one so each and every one can have this sense of belonging, both at school, inside the family and, of course, in the workplace. Definitely.
Corinne: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Cool. Do you ever work with whole families then all at one go like you’re dealing with like the mum, you’re dealing with her this way, the dad may be the breadwinner, the children are maybe at different ages, they need different things. How do you manage that, you know, like with so many different parameters around that?
Florence: Of course. What we do most of the time is we do have a family session, so we see who is where and what the feelings are of each and every one, because most of the time the spouse doesn’t want to complain that much to her husband if he’s the breadwinner because her husband is already stressed by his work and she and the kids are like, “I have no friends, why did you just bring us here?”,
(Corinne: “You hate me”)
So we kind of have a family session with games and open discussion. And after of course, we’ll go more into a business side of the cultural training with the spouse if she wants to work and reinvent herself in the new country.
And of course, with the husband, if it’s like a traditional expat family and afterwards I do have the kids on their own and it’s so it’s interesting to see brothers and sisters together because they don’t have the same vision and they don’t have the same maturity sometimes so it’s so interesting to share and have them play together and talk about it.
So basically, I have one big family session and afterwards it will be divided by two or three, depending on the needs. And after we end with another family session and each and every one will share and usually it’s so fun because they feel much better and they really, really are in the, what we call, “the benefit mindset”.
Corinne: Oh, that’s wonderful, because I think actually very often siblings can be squabbling all the time and something but something like this can bring a family together, can’t it? (Florence: Definitely.) Because each one of them will be suffering and surviving and striving and excelling at different stages. You never have the situation where everybody is euphoric, or everybody is upset. Everybody is going through their own emotional journey, if you like. So, your daughter might be soaking it up and making friends and she’s come home and “blblblblbl”, but, you know, she can’t stop talking to you and she thinks it’s all amazing and your son might be really suffering. And then, of course, you feel as the mum like,
“Oh, my goodness, this is awful”, you know,
“I feel really torn now, between the two siblings”.
Florence: And even you, because you might not feel at ease already because you are supporting each and everyone in the family and at the same time, you have to deal with your own emotions. They want that “Okay, I need to create my new environment”. We have this joke, I don’t know, people are going to think I really love too much alcohol, but I think you are really, really at ease in a country when you find your drinking friend.
Corinne: Right? It makes sense.
Florence: Yeah, it makes sense because this is where you really can energise yourself. Just have a drink, a chat, and this is where you can really, like, be you, not being the spouse or the mum, just you.
I’m a strong believer and I’ve seen this about eight or nine times now that if I feel at ease and happy in the new country, it will just like glow and everyone will say,
“Okay, it was tough, mommy also had to make new friends and she had to create her new network. But at the same time, we’ve been in the same situation when we entered the class and we didn’t know anyone.
When the husband would enter the meeting room and didn’t know his team but we just like,
“Okay, what are the tools that we can bring on the table to make sure that we have the right resource?
And we also we lead by example, I’m sure you agree with that. And it’s just to say “It’s okay. Sometimes you cry and it’s also okay to be so happy”, (Corinne: Or scream.) or scream, definitely. I was screaming this morning, you see? It’s screaming and it’s okay because we accept the emotions of everyone.
Corinne: Yeah. And I think as well isn’t it the case that very often when you relocate the partner that isn’t working, whether that’s the male or the female, it doesn’t matter, but the one that isn’t working tends to be the one dashing around, you know, getting things sorted out. All of the logistics of, you know, schools and uniforms and all of this very boring stuff, actually but it has to be done. And whilst that person is running around doing all this stuff and make sure everybody else is okay, then very often she doesn’t really have a chance to even think about her own feelings. So, it’s like a delayed reaction. So, the mother often doesn’t really get a chance to actually go through the process until the kids are already – not really settled, I mean, that doesn’t happen overnight – but you know what I mean, they’re more kind of “in the groove”. And then suddenly, very often they land in a like, “Oh, what about me?”.
Florence: Yeah. And I think we are right in the middle of it because it’s going to be half term or it is already half term.
So, the kids are pretty much, you know, settled, and this is where “Okay, there is half term and I can be sure”, and please reach out because this is the most important:
Don’t stay on your own and alone and in some countries will be winter so the lack of light doesn’t help, to be honest, but it’s very important after half term, this is when, you know, you’re just like, “Okay, and what about me?”, you know?
So, after there is a run to Christmas but I think, yeah, November is really the month where either you make the most of it or you’re just going to go and hide behind Netflix waiting for the kids and your husband to come out of school and of work. So this is a crucial period that really needs to be taken care of and take care of you at this moment, definitely.
Corinne: That’s right. And I think it’s fine to find somebody that you can speak to in your own language, but I think it’s very dangerous to surround yourself by too many expats.
I’ve been in a few very acidic or toxic expat situations where I felt completely trapped, right?
When I went to Finland, I was the only one learning Finnish, so I had different friends. Like, I had a group of expat friends and I had a group of other friends and they became very, very upset if I couldn’t do what they were doing because I had my Finnish friends or I had some Swedish friends as well. So you have to be very careful not to get too locked in to this expat bubble because it is a bubble. You can’t really speak in another language, you’re trapped in that bubble.
And language is a key thing, right? I would say that because I’m a business English trainer and coach and communication coach. But it’s true.
All of the friends that I have who are married to a German guy, for example, and speak English, they never feel comfortable here. And likewise, if they speak German at home, they don’t really want to go home. They feel this is their home. So, language is very, very critical and not to be underestimated.
And yet so many experts say to me, “Yeah, but I’m only there for three years. German is so difficult”. And I’m like: “German isn’t difficult. You should try Finnish or Chinese or Japanese or…
(Florence: Arabic) –
exactly. You know, so it’s easy to hide behind that, and especially in a city like Berlin or Munich, there’s lots of them.
In a city there’s lots of people are very happy to practice their English, yeah? Or maybe practice their French, whichever language you speak.
But that doesn’t really help you. You can hide behind that, but you’re often in a comfort zone that isn’t all that comfortable.
Florence: Yeah, and I think learning the language, it’s also a way to integrate into the cultures.
Corinne: Of course, yeah. And very often as part of the language course you get introduced to little cultural situations, you know?
Actually, I just have to tell you about this. Yesterday I had this a cleaner she came around, I am on this incubator at the moment for a start-up and it’s crazy busy and I thought, “Oh my God, I can’t”, so I got these cleaner to come around and she arrived and she was all in a fluster. And I said, “Look, it’s okay, relax” and so she calmed down, had a drink, and she was shaking, poor girl, because she got lost and everything.
I asked her in and everything and she was a lovely girl and she saved me 4 hours of cleaning, that was fantastic, I probably wouldn’t have done 4 hours.
Florence: Well done of you, I’m jealous.
Corinne: I probably wouldn’t have done 4 hours, I would probably have done an hour at the most. But anyway, our house is looking lovely now, all sparkly and gorgeous.
And as she was leaving….
, I noticed that she’d left the toilet seat up.
Now, in England, this wouldn’t be a problem, but in Germany it’s not seen as the done thing to leave the toilet up. So, I said to her, I said, “Just a little cultural insight: In Germany, always close the toilet”.
And she went, “Oh, oh my goodness. I didn’t realise that”. I said, “Look, it’s okay, you know it now, it’s fine”. You know, something as simple as that can make a big difference, can’t it?
that very often in England when you go to the toilet, women are very kind of self-conscious about making the wee-wee sound, so they’re like “Hold it in as long as possible until people have gone out”. And it’s like, “Ooh” (Relief), and in Germany, very often the women will go to the toilet it’ll be like a really loud “Pssss”. And it’s like, “Oh my God (not lady like)”. So that’s just like a complete different cultural thing, isn’t it?
Florence: I didn’t know that. Thank you so much, Corinne, I didn’t know that. So, I will use it as an example thinking of you doing my trainings differently.
Corinne: Awww, that’s nice! Well, fantastic. Well, I don’t want to end on the topic of toilets, so let’s think about something constructive to give our listeners to do.
At the end of every episode, I give my listeners a communication challenge, so when I have an interview guest, I like to involve the interview guests, so what can we give our listeners as a communication challenge that is inter-culturally aware?
Florence: I think there’s a challenge that could be interesting. It’s to discover – because I’m a firm believer of learning through movements – okay? (Corinne: Oh, me too.) So, we’re going to move – even if the weather is not optimal – but I think, I don’t know if you know about brain gym, but this could be really, really interesting because I think we need that for all the examples we gave and also as a challenge. So, please do brain gym, there are 26 movements that are quick, easy and of course free. And you can use – one of my favourites are the positive points – so it just, like, will help you so much. You just put, your two fingers above your eyebrows where it is quite sensible…, sensitive, sorry – that’s my French – and you can massage them and you will see it will really, really help. It’s really on the line, Corinne. You got one and a bit more up for your second one. So, this is a challenge: Please put your two fingers above your eyebrows and massage them away of the sensitive points and this will help you to make sure that the emotions that are stuck in the back of your brain will go in the front of your brain and you will have a wonderful winter.
Corinne: Wow, so easy.
You know, it’s a while since I’ve done anything with brain gym. I do a lot of exercises like that when I’m outdoors with my clients because I do this “Walk and Talk” -programme, especially with women with their buggies now.
And I do like them to get them touching things and moving around and trying to combine what they’re saying with what they’re doing. And what I quite like to do is if I find a nice log that has fallen down and it’s lying flat, then I get the ladies to walk along and tell me what they do and why they’re so brilliant at it. And they’re like, “What? I can’t do that!” and I’m like, “Come on”. And they’ll do it brilliantly, I mean, it’s amazing. And they get up and because when you stand on a log, you have to stand up straight, right? And get your balance, so your arms are out wide, so you’re open, like you’re opening yourself up. And because we’re outdoors they’re having to project their voice, otherwise we just wouldn’t hear them and they’d have to do it all over again. So, they walk up this log and they all think they’re going to fall off the log, right? And we’re not all great at balance and I’m certainly not good, you know, if I go to yoga I’m the wobbly one, you know? But because you’re kind of – you’ve got your arms out and you’re thinking about what you’re saying, then amazingly, hardly anyone falls off the log.
Click here for a video of Corinne demonstrating
the wobbly log exercise
Florence: That’s a great exercise, yeah. So either you walk and you stand on the log if you’re in the forest or if you are sitting or on holidays, you can just, like, do this challenge of really trying to find the right balance whenever you want.
Corinne: Isn’t that fantastic? What a great way to end the show. I’m going to get you to send me a link to some of those brain-gym moves and I will put those in the show notes. So, you would go to englishspeakingexperts/144 and then you will find everything for this episode from Florence and myself. But before we go, the most important thing is to tell people where they’ll find you, Florence. So, I found you in LinkedIn.
Florence: Exactly. I think LinkedIn is really my favourite one. And also you can find some brain-gym movements and more about how our brain functions and more about the global mindset on the Instagram account that is: Your Coach 4 Expat.
Corinne: Okay, well, I will put links for that in the show notes as well. So, connect with Francis, she’s always very open-minded, always happy to speak to people. And if you’re an educator, feel free to get in touch with her, too.
So before we go then, there is a theory around a roller coaster. Would you like to share that with us, Florence?
Florence: Yes, definitely, because what we’ve seen is I love food and burgers, but I also love to have fun. We can have fun hours by just movement and by playing, but also there’s something, as we said, it’s not always the honeymoon when we change from one country to the other, but it’s also this rollercoaster ride that we have to be aware of. When we leave the country, we are most of the time very nervous, also excited and happy, it’s really a mix of emotions. But little by little, you know, when you go down of the rollercoaster, that’s when you arrive in the new country. And as we mentioned, we are tired, still happy and adventurous, and we have to be careful and use the brain gym or use all our communication skills to make sure that we avoid confusion and that we really add up to this new environment. This is when we feel sometimes lonely and after that, when we are at the bottom of the rollercoaster, this is when we start to have our new routine. But sometimes the fear of the unknown is here because we know we are going to go back up on the roller coaster. But this is when you have to have the right mindset to make sure that you are ready to learn a new language, as we said, that you are ready to have fun, that you enjoy your family at home, but also the new relationship that you have built. And also something that’s very important is to make sure that if you want to fit in and be ready for the next ride, it’s to travel. Travel with an open heart and an open mind to make great connections and get out – as you’ve mentioned – of the “expat bubble”, so you can meet some locals. And this is where, thanks to this rollercoaster ride, you will learn about yourself, you will learn about your values, and this will really help you to be confident and at ease, to be ready either, as we said, not really go back, but go in your home country or just go into a new country for a new adventure.
Corinne: Oh, that’s wonderful. Yeah, I like that. I mean, I Love rollercoasters, so… So, Florence, thank you so much for your time today. We met on LinkedIn and I know that you have an amazing Instagram account as well. Now please spell out the Instagram account for us nice and carefully.
Florence: Yes. So it’s: YourCoach4Expat.
Corinne: Oh, right. Great. Love it. I’ve got it in my phone but I couldn’t tell you what it is off the top of my head. That’s fantastic. So yes, you can connect with Florence on Instagram or on LinkedIn, she’s very active on LinkedIn.
And all that remains for me to say is: Thank you for listening today and I will see you guys next week for another episode of Experts! Speak English! Go out there, explore something new, do the challenge, and be the very best communicator that you can be.
Take care now! It’s Corinne Wilhelm and Florence Chabert d’Hieres.
Florence: Thank you, Corinne, for having me. You said it perfectly.
Corinne: Okay. Goodbye!
Well, that is the end of today’s episode. Thank you so much for joining us, Florence
And until then, I would say to each and every one of you, have a fabulous week! And remember:
“Be the very best communicator that you can be!”
You’ve been listening to Experts! Speak English! brought to you by Corinne Wilhelm.
Take care now and be sure to check out my shownotes at englishspeakingexperts/144.
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