Making Yourself Anew Adapting to a new life

Issue: Summer 2013
How moving abroad is an invitation to embrace change.

When Kirstin Barton moved to Switzerland, she was looking for some support to help her adapt to the transition. In the UK she'd been a full time working mum in a managerial position. Now she was a stay-at-home mum helping her family adapt to their new life. Finding support wasn't easy, and so after settling in and building a fulfilling life for herself, she decided to provide help for others. Through her company Alive to Change she works as a life coach assisting individuals to adapt to the transition of life abroad. I went to meet her, to hear all about the inspiring work she does.

How did you get started as life coach?

I'd experienced all the emotions and challenges that relocation has, and I'd worked through them with a coach back in the UK. When I came out here, I was studying for my coaching course, and for my thesis I researched the issues people face when they relocate abroad – outside of the unpacking and administration. Unsurprisingly, people faced many common experiences, for example getting to grips a new language. There can also be an impact on their sense of identity, and level of confidence. People generally felt less confident at first, at a time when they wanted to focus on creating new support networks and making friends. Energy levels also changed during the transition. At first people's energy would often be low. Then after a while they often started to feel more confident and productive again.

I now offer a six-session coaching programme that corresponds to these different phases of adjustment and adaptation. It helps people find their own ways of adjusting to the impacts of relocation. It ends with helping people to create a new v vision for their life, and to consider what to do next.

You work a lot with mums, helping them adapt to the changes. Did this come about from your own experience of relocation?

Yes. When I moved here I realised how big a transition it was for the person who wasn't working (not always a mum of course). For the person who is working it's more or less a continuum of their working life. For the non-working spouse who's packing house, saying goodbye to everybody, and changing roles, it can be more of an upheaval. Mums in this position tend to do a lot of behind the scenes work that helps keep family life going smoothly. If we can support mums, and make them feel good about their role, it makes a difference to the whole family and ultimately to the success of the relocation.

However I don't just support nonworking mums. Some may be the main worker in a family, some the supporting worker. Some are doing entrepreneur work. Some may be on a career break, and might be ready to think about what to do next. There is a massive amount of potential out here. The wages are attractive, so for many families it's the first time it's been possible to have just one person working.

What areas of a person's life can coaching help in?

My coaching workshops focus on three main areas. The first is helping people transition to a new life abroad, and that focuses on work life, as well as practical, and personal issues. The series of 'transitions' workshops can also apply to any big changes that a person might be going through. I have another series about developing parenting skills, and balancing paid work with being a parent. I also have more general workshops focusing on communication, time management and motivation.

How exactly does the coaching process work?

In a typical session, or workshop we'll discuss where you are now and what your goals are. Together we'll come up with some workable strategies to help you reach those goals.

I don't offer advice, but instead listen and ask questions to help you get your own answers and next steps. Usually we already know the answers to our issues and just need a supportive environment to help us figure things out. People leave the sessions feeling revved up, and excited, having discovered some ways to help them reach their goals.

It must be very rewarding.

Yes. I've seen people who really struggled and resisted the change at first go on to embrace life here. They have a big circle of friends, or are fluent in the language, and they're doing something really exciting, something that they would never have imagined doing all those years ago. I remember one woman who really didn't want to be here. She was always thinking about going back home. Through our coaching sessions, we realised that the issue was she'd recently moved in with her boyfriend, and it still felt like his house. I asked her what would make it feel like her house, and she realised all she needed to do was move two bits of furniture. The next coaching session, I went to her house, and she said: "This is my living room," and now she feels at home here. Coaching is not always about making big changes. It's often the little things, that you don't realise will make a difference until you step back and take a different view.

Any tips you'd like to share with readers about adapting to a new life abroad?

"Alive to Change" refers to the idea that our whole life is change, we've got to be open to it, and ready to adapt to our changing circumstances. It's also about being positive, deciding what we want the change to be for us. So that we do not feel the victim of life's changes, but are able to see how to make the most of it.

We should also understand that adapting to a new life takes time. It's a grieving process. We lose our old life, and miss our old friends. New friends, new opportunities will come along, but it takes time.

I'd recommend doing things that help us to connect with others. Join the Basel Children's Trust, Centrepoint, or the Professional Women's group. Find something that you can take part in, perhaps more than just having a coffee with other expats. Above all ask for help when you need it; we've all gone through the rollercoaster emotions of moving abroad, and looking for support can help us to create vibrant and fulfilling lives for ourselves.

Author: Kate Orson

Kate is a British writer living in Basel. She has published articles about travel, health and parenting. She also writes fiction and is currently working on a novel.

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