Extraordinary Experiences: Tales of Special Needs Abroad
Tales from a Small Planet Book
Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at diversophy.com
This book is a collection of first-hand reports, stories of how particularly challenging situations and conditions in the lives of expatriates and their families have been experienced and dealt with in unfamiliar cultural contexts. Many of those contributing to this volume are “serial expats”, namely those whose organizations or occupations involved them in multiple moves, often a few years here and there.
Many of my colleagues and I have been long engaged in offering orientation to departing or arriving expatriates, usually the basics of what they will meet in everyday life and how best to manage it. Often the largest cultural challenges are faced by the trailing spouses and family members. What is often missing is ongoing coaching in the new environment and it is mostly left to individuals to find their cultural informants, particularly when surprised by unexpected conditions that create emergencies as well as ongoing challenging situations.
As an independent contractor who has lived more than half my life abroad, without spouse or children, and conducted expatriate training on request, I vacillate between isolation and ignorance when it comes to these as “extraordinary experiences” as most are either not revealed in our relatively brief exchanges or emerge after we have had our sessions. Questions related to these should be a standard part of the intake inquiries made by training providers and practitioners.
Many of those recounting their stories of extraordinary experiences had some support from their sending organizations in facing unexpected circumstances, but the challenges of illness and disabilities often lie in culturally different approaches to assessing and managing them in the countries of expatriation, some of which may even lack the infrastructure and resources to understand and work with them.
The stories are quite articulate and well written—several of the authors being successful writers—often openly introspective in such a way that the reader can connect with the experiences in an empathetic way.
The book does not teach approaches to extraordinary experiences but first-person reports on how people faced and managed them raises consciousness and are instructive. They can point us in the direction of managing and expanding our self-awareness, self-management and enabling a broader empathy for others.
The storytellers’ accounts often reveal the reactions of those around them to their experiences, perspectives that are often missing in the expatriate stories we hear. It is my opinion that we need much more actual accounting, perhaps a new genre of reporting about how others observe and interpret us from their cultural, professional and personal points of view, both insights as well as stereotypes that may affect these. This book provides a good starting point.