How to get the most out of your investment as an expat
“I wish I could find a therapist who is aware of my culture, as the problem I am facing has a lot to do with my cultural background..”
I would say this is a good starting point while looking for a therapist while living between culture - and it applies not only to finding a therapist, but to any professional help that you are searching for. But how do you find a therapist, coach, or trainer that can help and understand you?
In Hindi (one of the official language of India), Paaisa versool means getting the maximum out of your investment or money. Similarly, in Spanish, the phrase sacarle el jugo a tu inversión in Ecuador means squeezing all the juice out of your investment.
Almost every culture has this phrase, but when it comes to living between cultures, like in the Netherlands, we tend to forget this while buying a service like training or coaching, or even while looking for a therapist!
A pity actually, because you as a consumer have every right to expect and get the maximum value and return on your investment, be it for money or time.
The risk of not collecting return on investments
While living in the Netherlands for over 26 years now, I have had my share of self-development, skills training, and career coaching. During my career coaching trajectory, I was never once asked what strengths I bring to the table from my culture or experience back home. A huge potential asset was never even considered and left unexplored. What a missed opportunity at the expense of my career profile and that of my employer, who paid for my career coaching!
Another good example is a company sending a culturally diverse group to presentation training for professionals, where the trainer gives wonderful training along with tips and tools. But, in the group, there are some who come from a culture where "grabbing the stage" is considered taboo. In the future, these people will never use the skills they've learned due to the simple fact that the cultural taboo had not been addressed in the first place during that training, and remains a threshold difficult to cross. A waste of time and money for the company as well as for the person!
One size does not fit all
In my experience over the years, I realised that most professionals who teach skills or provide services have a fixed program they have developed, usually for one audience or client - in this case, the Dutch - that they use that for all clients, in a "one size fits all" approach. It’s not because they don’t want to provide custom-made services, they are just not aware of the fact that the needs of people from various cultural backgrounds could be different to those of the Dutch.
The importance of intercultural sensitivity
Various studies have shown that professionals miss a core competency in either coaching, training, or providing therapy. For you as a person living between cultures, it is crucial to look for cultural sensitivity in your trainer, guide, or care provider, so that you feel safe, connected, and heard during your sessions.
Making sure that your therapist, trainer, or coach has an understanding of your background is essential. You should check to see what experience they have when it comes to working with different races, religions, ethnicities, genders, and sexualities before securing their services.
Working with a person who is not familiar with your background means you risk ending up having to educate them about your culture and background at the expense of your consultation time while you are also having to pay for it.
The ideal situation
In an ideal situation, you would not have to educate your trainer, coach, or therapist. Instead, they would be interculturally aware and experienced with identity development, cultural humility, and would have undergone intercultural training, working with different cultures and making them open to learning and educating themselves by working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. They do not necessarily have to have the same cultural background as yours to be able to work with you successfully.
So, how do you choose the right person for you?
It is good to be aware that a coaching or training certification may not require intercultural competency but, for you as a consumer of the service between cultures, it is crucial that you feel connected, safe, and heard during your sessions. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t judge a book by its cover.
Ask for an intake session
This is the first meeting and is usually free of cost, just to see if there is a match between you and the professional. Use this session to ask questions that provide you with the full picture of the intercultural experience of the professional in question.
Since you (or your company) are paying for the service, you want to make sure you get the maximum returns on your financial investment - never forget this! Don’t be satisfied with answers that are not fulfilling. For example, if the certification does not require intercultural competency, or if the professional argues that taking the racial, ethnic, or cultural background of a client into consideration would only point to discrimination. Believe me, I have heard this one too! In fact, not considering it and not providing a customised service is in itself discrimination.
Getting a return on your investment
So how can you ensure you get the maximum return on investment or learning?
Well, here are some questions either you or a multinational company could look into while hiring or buying a service either for training or coaching purposes:
- Has the person providing the service had any proven experience with other cultures?
- Has the person lived and worked in other countries or cultures?
- If a person has never lived or worked in another culture, have they undergone intercultural training so that they are culturally sensitive?
You could also add some questions that relate to your specific needs.
What is your experience with the services you have bought while living between cultures? Please feel free to share them in the comments below!