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 B➚➘ENROUTEIntegral Life Design is engaging in mind, body and heart to awaken in all aspects of yourself through enriching learning and personal guidance, mentorship and coaching together. 

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EXMATS STORIES

Is Your Self-Image Jetlagged? It’s Time to Adjust Yourself To Your New Timezone

Margot Stroeken


Jetlag. We’ve all suffered from it. Waking up in the middle of the night or in the early morning, after flying across time zones to go “home,” our home away from our passport country. But is your self-image jetlagged too?

Jetlag hits after life transitions

Say, you’ve lived abroad for a few years. You moved without kids and were super-active, exploring your new town every day and looking for jobs. Or you moved with little kids and had a reason to be more at home. You were this ambitious lady back home, holding a high powered job and dreaming of becoming a CEO one day. But now the explorer finds herself at home with a crying baby. The stay-at-home mum finds herself in an empty house, kids almost off to university. Miss Ambition is a secretary at the embassy as that was the only job she could get without a work permit- a very low salary and only a few days off per year.

Their confidence has taken a blow. Who is this person they see in the mirror? What is her value now the standards with which she rated herself belong in another time zone?

From Ambitious Newbie to Disappointed Leaver

Take my friend Susan* for example. Before moving to China with the love of her life, she had a successful international management career with Fortune 500 companies. Susan was eager to find consulting clients in China and started networking even before jetting off. Around the time of moving to China, she found out she was pregnant, finally, at nearly 40. She was overjoyed and couldn’t wait for her new life to start.

But when I talked to her recently on the phone, she sounded far from happy. About to leave China after 2,5 years, she felt she had achieved very little. While she is super grateful for her gorgeous son and the time she got to spend with him, she feels she has not been able to achieve any professional goals and has not had the China experience she had in mind when arriving. She felt she was “just” a stay-at-home mum, something she had never intended to become. It seemed my vibrant, confident friend had disappeared into a thick layer of Beijing smog.

I couldn’t believe it. I thought she’d be more confident now than when she arrived, instead of less.

Developing different qualities abroad

Susan’s self image has jetlag. She is still evaluating herself on the corporate career ladder that she was on before leaving her home country. But instead of falling off the ladder, Susan has shown her remarkable strength in Beijing. She has so many reasons to be proud of herself. She had a problematic pregnancy, preventing her from straying more than 30 minutes from the hospital and thus seriously impacting her freedom. Still she managed to cope, be optimistic and deliver a healthy baby boy: Great Mother. She was a frontline parent while her husband often stuck in the office until midnight due to a huge crisis at work- being there for him when he got home: Loving Wife. She spent quality time with her mother while taking her son out of the Beijing smog: Fabulous Daughter. She made new friends and flew halfway across the world to attend the wedding of old friends: Dear Friend. She did a leadership course to improve her skills and knowledge and continued Chinese classes despite travel interruptions: Determined Self Developer. She worked across time zones, fielding calls late at night, with a consulting client who is always impressed with her work: True Professional.

Abroad she showed fierce courage, determination, perseverance and above all, Love. There is no gap in her CV but jetlag in her self-image. She has so much to be proud of- not just of her son, but of herself.

Is your self-image jetlagged?

Take stock of all you have achieved in your new country, all the little things like being able to find your way to the supermarket, take the metro, find new friends. Without family and friends nearby. And all the big things. How you’ve taken on a new role as a partner, mother, a professional working in the home or in an office. How you’ve made an impact by volunteering, by working, by being there for other people, and for yourself.

Living abroad takes guts, flexibility and determination. Living abroad changes us, as a person and a professional.

Acknowledge yourself for what you have achieved abroad, rather than beat yourself up for what you think you should be and should do and should have. You have so much to be proud of in this new time zone. Now open your eyes and truly see yourself for what you are- a fabulous, courageous woman. The jetlag is over, welcome to your new time zone- the here and now.**


Margot Stroeken is a coach, trainer and mother of 2 global nomads. She has worked with clients from 9 different nationalities that lived in 11 different countries. Originally from The Netherlands, she is now based in Brunei, a country on the beautiful island of Borneo. To learm more visit http://www.copatcoaching.com/

The Ups and Downs of Expat Life

Lisa Webb

By Lisa Webb


I love my life abroad; but no matter how great things are now, I’ll never forget that moving to a foreign country was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

It wasn’t the country itself that was difficult.  As far as foreign countries go, France was a pretty easy one to live in; I had traveled enough to know that.  It was the act of leaving the security I’d created in my life back home that was the challenging part.  It was the unknown that scared the pants off me.

I was in a time of my life that I was really comfortable in my own shoes.  My days as a starving student were over.  My career was successful and climbing.  I had family nearby and a great group of friends that I’d see often.  Girls nights out and weekly family dinners were my favourite things to do.  The new house my husband and I purchased was the icing on the cake of our very comfortable life.

And then the curve ball arrived.

The call to be expats.

Take away all those things I loved: my job, my friends, my family, our house, my security.  What was left?  It left like not much.

Things were a bit bleak at first.  There was definitely an adjustment period.  Sure I was living in France, and yes, they made great wine.  But without a job, or any friends; staying home and drinking wine all day didn’t seem to me like a good path to go down.

It took me awhile to find my happy place in my new life and I now know why.   I was looking for a straight across switch with my old life; the same job, the same kind of friends, the same routine.  I was trying to make something fit that wasn’t meant to be.  Instead of embracing the new, I was trying to replace the old.

Now that I’m not the new kid on the block anymore, when I see new expats arriving, I realise what a long way I’ve come since I left my home country.

If I could Marty McFly myself back to pre-expat life, here’s a few things I’d tell myself to ease my worries.

The Cloud

You will miss your family.

The Silver Lining

There’s no sugar coating the distance.  There’s literally an ocean between you and your people.  But the good news is, family will always be there when you need them.  They will love you no matter what your postal code is; even if you are crap at remembering your nieces and nephews birthdays.  It sucks being so far away, but it makes the homecoming that much more of a celebration.  And thanks to things like Facetime, Skype, and WhatsApp the distance doesn’t seem so bad.  Heck, you can even park your computer on the table and have your family over for dinner.  I’ve done it too many times to count!

The Cloud

Each time you return home the sea of distance between your friends feels greater.

The Silver Lining

It’s not all your friends.  Old friends are the best kind.  There’s no better feeling than picking up right where you left off with a friend you haven’t seen in ages, like no time has passed.  It’s one of the best parts of going home, where ever home might be.

Some of the friends you spent time with before you moved won’t be in the same place when you return.  Things might be different and that’s okay; you’ve been gone a long time and people change.  But the ones that want to stay in your life will, because they’ll make an effort and so will you.

Plus, being part of an expat community, you will make fast friends from all over the world.  These expat friends are a special kind, they become so much more than friends and they come from walks of life that you may never have otherwise come across.  Embrace your new friendships and cherish the old.  You can never have too many friends.  Ever.

The Cloud

I can’t get _______ where I live.

The Silver Lining

Sorry, you can’t.  There comes a time in every expats life that you will pay an obscene amount of money to have comfort food from home.  Whether you find it in the international aisle of the grocery store by fluke and clear the shelf, or you order it online and get charged an extortionate amount for shipping.  It’s going to happen.

Five years later I have finally stopped smuggling my favourite cheese, toothpaste and salad dressing into the country.  I’ve broadened my horizons and finally switched my Crest for Aquafresh, and traded my love of cheddar for an array of stinky French cheeses that I now love.  One of my favourite things about going home is still hitting the grocery store with my Mom and indulging in all of the foods I miss.  And yes, even though I’ve found new favourites where I live, when I go home, I still see what I can squeeze into my suitcase.  I don’t think that will ever change.

 

The Cloud

You’re a long way from home!  Good luck with that.

The Silver Lining

Once kids come into the picture getting back home becomes a far more difficult task.  I used to search my flights by the cheapest price.  I now search by the shortest travel time.  International flights with young children is hard work and much more costly than flying solo.

This one is more of a trade off than a silver lining.  You miss out on a lot by living so far away.    You might get to do exciting things like shopping in Dubai, sipping cocktails at fancy hotels in Hong Kong or filling your belly with amazingly fresh pasta in Italy; there’s no denying that being able to travel the world is an unbelievable opportunity.  It’s not to be taken for granted.   But there are also days you’d trade all that to have your brothers wrestle with your kids at an overcrowded and noisy family dinner at your parents’ house.

Living your life away from ‘home’ has its good points and bad.  It’s surprising what you can get used to and what can become your new normal.  There are sacrifices made, and life experiences gained.  Sometimes you’re the one missing out and sometimes you’re the lucky one.  It all depends on the day, and who’s defining lucky.


Lisa Webb holds a Canadian passport, but being an expat for the greater part of a decade has made her feel like a global citizen, calling a number of countries ‘home’. She spent five years in France, where her daughters were born; has since lived in Indonesia, and currently, Congo. When Lisa isn’t globetrotting with her family, she can be found writing the bestselling children’s book series, The Kids Who Travel the World, where each book explores a new country and culture. Lisa is also the editor of the anthology Once Upon an Expat, which has been called a ‘must-read’ for those thinking of moving abroad. You can find Lisa on her blog, Canadian Expat Mom, as well as Instagram and Facebook.

Trailing Spouse Facts

Gabriela O'Malley

woman around the world.jpg

From my personal experience and what I’ve seen in over ten years of meeting, befriending and interviewing other trailing spouses/International spouses - exmats, around the world, I can tell you with confidence - she’ll instantly find herself at the epicenter of rapid and usually extreme change. In charge of overseeing every end-to-end aspect involved in the relocation – from housing, schools, new brands, to making sure everyone is safe, healthy, fed, cared for, staying connected to family back home… well settled and happy.


Trailing Spouse

Your new role in this assignment was first introduced by Mary Bralove in an article in the Wall Street Journal on July 15, 1981 that was titled “Problems of Two-Career Families Start Forcing Businesses to Adapt.” She used the term “trailing spouse.” This is currently the term that the corporate world uses, but I’ve also found other names to describe it: expat partner, International spouse, accompanying spouse, relocating partner, etc. “Everyone hates the world ‘trailing’—it sounds like a piece of toilet paper stuck to a shoe,” says Judy Rickatson (Administrator at Families in Global Transition. I agree! 

If you’re a partner who (hopefully happily) agreed to venture into relocating to support your husband’s career with the understanding that the new job would bring greater opportunities for your family and be a path to adventure, discovering new cultures, and/or learning new languages, here are the three biggest shoulds you need to know:

1.    The experience ahead of you is something you need to walk into with as much clarity, guidance, and preparation as possible.

2.    Have a list of honest, detailed advice.

3.    Expect that your relocation will make a huge impact on your life, especially if you’re relocating with children.

There’s a path a lot of us relocating spouses/partners – exmats, have traveled: we’ve left jobs or careers behind, we’ve been left alone with a load of mundane housing challenges while raising children, we’ve navigated uncertainty and battled emotional chaos, we’ve been in a vortex of learning how to maneuver through it all in order to relaunch our lives in foreign and unexplored environments, and we’ve been away from our safety network for a fair amount of time. We’ve spent so much time throwing away whole pieces of our lives…only to replace them with newer, different versions.

One of the most valuable lessons I walked away with after spending many years moving and relocating is this: as a pivotal part of successful domestic and international relocation assignments, women need and deserve to have sufficient ongoing support to thrive as individuals, mothers, partners, and professionals. Every woman has factors specific to her—career goals, special needs, age, number of children, personal goals—and all of these aspects of her life need to be addressed. Before deciding to relocate, a couple needs to openly discuss a big issue that typically isn’t talked about: what’s in it for her? How can she make the most of the experience for herself and her family?

Fast Facts Women face in Relocation:

웃    Your life changes the second you say Let’s do it! When you arrive at your new destination, expect to be absorbed by fast, prevailing, and extreme change. From that moment on, count on all your forthcoming experiences to carry tags like -  intense, brutal, overwhelmed, excitement, solitude, tiredness, adventure, chaos, impossible challenges, epic…and more.

웃    You’re taking on a new (unpaid) role and agreeing to climb the mountain (perhaps with a kid or two on your back). Sometimes, you’ll be doing all of this with limited or no support.

웃    You will face situations that are mostly out of your control, you’ll be out of your comfort zone, and you won’t have anyone close to you to help.

웃    Dealing with all of the “mundane details” means you will gain irrevocable expertise in logistics, multicultural adaptability, problem-solving, organization, resource-finding, communication within multicultural environments, and much more.

웃    Your life will be shaped by the amazing people you’ll meet and by the richness of the experiences, cultures, and places you’ll find yourself in.

웃     You’ll grow into a woman with a global mindset: more empathetic and tolerant, less judgmental, and with a more inclusive mentality and an awareness of the needs of others. You won’t realize this until later, when your life returns to “normal,” or at least, your new “normal.”

While you’re riding the rollercoaster of change, you’ll probably feel there’s too much drama and solitude in your life. That is true. Still, although no one can assess the learning part of the journey while simultaneously going through critical changes, you can be attentive and aware as you go through each experience.