An Interview with Amy Morton, Expatriate Coach & Consultant

An Interview with Amy Morton, Expatriate Coach & Consultant

We spoke with Amy Morton, Certified Expatriate and Executive Consultant at AIM Coaching, to ask her about her work with expats, specifically in the US-UK space.

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1. Can you share your journey as an expat, specifically as an accompanying spouse, and how it led you to become a certified coach specializing in expat support?

I first became an expat on a military posting to Brunei, Southeast Asia in August 2020. Before this, I had worked for 10 years in London for large corporate companies, in-house within the global mobility team, organizing the logistical side of the moves for assignees UK outbound and inbound for the Americas, EMEA and Asia regions so I had a good idea of what was involved in relocating already.

Though I provided emotional support to those on assignment (predominantly the accompanying spouses), the level of disruption both emotionally and logistically that I experienced myself as an expat was a still a shock.

I spent 18 months in a country very culturally different from the UK during Covid, on my first military posting and pregnant with my first child, so a lot was going on – I learned very quickly to have resilience! Looking back, I now realize how tough it was.

Instead of spending months feeling homesick and overwhelmed, I spent the 18 months utilizing my technical knowledge of relocation support and took an accredited coaching qualification to gain the skills needed to ensure other expats would be able to move abroad with success. Once qualified, I coached executives and spouses in the oil and gas industry in Brunei and now have brought that back home to the UK to coach and support other expats.

2. In what ways do you support the accompanying spouse specifically?

  • Help create a seamless transition for the expat and their family, extending beyond just the move and ensuring long-term success and happiness in the UK.
  • Personalized support to help the expat integrate socially and professionally in the UK.
  • Practical support including professional recommendations for visa guidance, immigration, UK banking and healthcare system navigation.
  • Cultural coaching and support to minimize culture shock and ease adaptation to UK life.
  • Family and relationship support – Help the spouse understand the family dynamics in a new environment and provide strategies to support children’s adaptation to new schools and social settings.
  • Lifestyle adaption strategies.
  • Work-life balance.
  • Long-term planning and transition support.

3. What specific challenges do you find most common among expats transitioning to a new country, particularly from the US to the UK?

  • Culture shock, particularly from the US. As we speak the same language people are surprised that there are bigger differences between the two countries than expected such as shopping, housing, day to day use of words and customer service (or lack of)! Often, they have a great yearning to go home. They question whether it was the right decision to come to the UK?
  • Feelings of loneliness, loss of identity, overwhelmed.
  • How to find new social circles?
  • Navigating day to day life (opening a bank account, healthcare, finance, driving, schooling, house renting and buying etc).
  • Finding work and integrating into the UK.

4. How do you ensure you help families with children settle and aid the whole family with a smooth move?

Every situation is different, and I have seen the importance of ensuring a tailored bespoke approach to each individual, not just with the logistics of moving but also the human side of it; finding new friends, continuing a career, making the place feel like home.

Supporting a spouse is not just about making them happy; it’s about the positive impact this has on the entire family. A supported spouse is more likely to take an active role in the community, help the children adjust and create a happy home. This in turn allows the working partner to focus on their new role with peace of mind, knowing their family is content. I try to take the emotional load and the overwhelm away from the move so focus can be made on helping the children settle as quickly as possible.

5. How do you approach coaching sessions with expats who are feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of work performance, cultural differences, and familial responsibilities?

One of the key challenges is to build trust between myself and the client. Expats are already having to speak to a lot of vendors (tax, immigration, shippers) to make a seamless move and have little time to spare.

  • Understanding the underlying reason as to what is causing overwhelm.
  • Setting realistic goals to move forward from overwhelm and shift this energy into settling into the UK productively.
  • Stopping the thinking of ‘I can’t handle this; I should have never taken this on! What was I thinking?’. Often clients start to feel consumed by it all, which is then likely to impact their work performance, they might start forgetting to do things or start procrastinating with work and home tasks. All of this may impact their home life and those around them, as well as at work too. They may even give up on the idea and find an excuse to withdraw, missing out on what could be a major opportunity in the UK.

I help clients get away from this overwhelm by clearing their mind by getting all the tasks, day-to-day demands, projects, ideas, to-do lists out of their mind and onto the paper. Sounds obvious but few people do it. I keep them accountable, so we never regress but progress every day even if it is just 1%.

6. How do you help expats build a supportive network and community in their new country while also ensuring they stay connected with their roots back home?

The best way for US expats in the UK to connect and find their community is to get out of the house. Don’t focus on your phone, physically get out there.
For many expats, making new friends to not easy. The more isolated and lonelier we feel, the more difficult it is to get the confidence to go out and meet new people – we then get caught in a circle becoming more and more lonely.

However, it is easier now than previously with social media and online platforms. Look for local clubs, events or activities that align with your interests – there are a huge amount of Facebook meet ups specifically for expats and more so from just US expats. Participating in these can help you meet like-minded – people. Though it is important to speak with family and friends back home, I would advise against doing it too often and this will only create a sense of longing to go back home and increase homesickness. Also avoid socialising with people just from the US in the UK as you want to feel like a resident not a tourist and it is easy to compare what you don’t like about the UK and what you miss about the US when you are with people from the same country.

Always be open to invitations. Sometimes it is effort to get the motivation to go out, but it is always worthwhile. You must put the work in. Like any relationship, making friends can be hard work as we get older. Make meeting new people a priority.

7. Can you provide examples of coping strategies you teach to help expats manage the stress and emotional impact of adjusting to life abroad?

You need to be proactive in managing the stress and emotional side of integrating into the UK. Strategies sound easy and obvious on paper, but actively doing them on your own amidst the busy day-to-day life is challenging.

A coach helps you set realistic goals to stick to, they create a supportive environment and help you to develop an action plan to settle into the UK without the stress and overwhelm that comes with a relocation.

One of the most important things is to set realistic expectations. I educate expats about the stages of cultural adjustment, such as the honeymoon phase, culture shock, and adaptation, to set realistic expectations. We also work on resilience, patience and flexibility when dealing with challenges and setbacks.

8. What role do you believe cultural understanding and integration play in the overall success and well-being of expats living in a foreign country?

Cultural understanding and integration are crucial to the overall success and well-being of expatriates living in a foreign country. Here are some key roles they play:

Social Integration and Support:

  • Building Relationships: Understanding and respecting local customs and social norms helps expats form meaningful relationships with locals, colleagues, and neighbours, leading to a supportive social network.
  • Avoiding Isolation: Cultural integration reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness by fostering a sense of belonging in the new community.

Professional Success:

  • Workplace Harmony: Awareness of cultural differences in communication styles, work ethics, and management practices leads to better workplace relationships and cooperation.
  • Career Advancement: Demonstrating cultural competence can enhance an expat’s reputation, increasing opportunities for career growth and advancement.

Personal Well-being:

  • Mental Health: Navigating cultural differences smoothly can reduce stress and anxiety associated with living in a foreign environment, promoting better mental health.
  • Adaptation and Comfort: Understanding local customs and daily life practices makes everyday activities easier and more enjoyable, contributing to a higher quality of life.

Community Engagement:

  • Active Participation: Cultural integration encourages expats to participate in local events and traditions, fostering a deeper connection to the host country.
  • Cultural Exchange: Engaged expats contribute to cultural diversity, sharing their own backgrounds and enriching the local community.

Avoiding Misunderstandings and Conflict:

  • Effective Communication: Knowledge of local language nuances, body language, and etiquette reduces the risk of misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Conflict Resolution: Culturally aware expats are better equipped to navigate and resolve conflicts in a manner that is respectful and acceptable to all parties involved.

Enhanced Learning and Growth

  • Broader Perspective: Immersing in a new culture broadens an expat’s perspective, enhancing personal growth and global awareness.
  • Learning Opportunities: Cultural integration offers unique opportunities to learn new skills, traditions, and ways of thinking.

Long-term Adaptability:

  • Resilience: Successfully integrating into one culture builds resilience and adaptability, skills that are valuable for future international assignments or relocations.
  • Global Citizenship: Cultural integration fosters a sense of global citizenship, promoting openness, empathy, and respect for diversity.

Overall, cultural understanding and integration play a vital role in ensuring that expatriates not only survive but thrive in their host countries, leading to a more enriching and fulfilling expatriate experience

9. Finally, how do you measure the success of your coaching, and what outcomes can US expats expect after working with you?

Managing success as an expat coach involves a combination of personal development, client-focused strategies, and continuous improvement.

Client feedback and satisfaction.

  • Success for each client is different and I regularly track and assess the progress of my clients against their goals. I also frequently seek feedback from my client to understand their satisfaction and any areas for improvement.

Achievement of Goals

  • Behavioural and emotional changes such as increased participation in local activities, improved language skills and enhanced social interactions.
  • Improvements in emotional well-being noting reductions in stress anxiety, sense of belonging, homesickness and feelings of isolation.
  • The ability to call the UK home and not yearn to return to the US. I will support until the client feels happy and integrated into the UK.

 

If you wish to speak to Amy further, you can contact her at aimcoaching1@outlook.com

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