2 Essential Relationships for Expat Startup Success – Part 1: The Monk

Moving to a new country is hard and many people don’t last long. Recently, I was talking to a couple who returned to the States after six frustrating months of trying to start a business in India. They hit roadblocks at every turn and culture shock hit them hard, causing them to come back to the States to decide what to do next. As we were talking, I mentioned the two essential relationships and they were blown away, admitting that life might have been easier if they had sought out The Monk and The Guide.

I first heard about The Monk and The Guide from one of my MBA professors.  The idea resonated with me because, by that time, I had unknowingly experienced both of these vital relationships.  Many times, we don’t realize how certain key relationships can be instrumental in our success.

A “Cultural Monk” can help you navigate the culture as an expat.

The literal definition of a monk is a person who has devoted themselves to a specific faith or way of life. We tend to view monks as wise and knowledgeable about the faith or way of life they have committed to. But don’t worry, I’m not asking you to go out and search temples and monasteries to find this particular person. I am asking you to find a monk in the figurative sense, a monk of the culture. This is going to be an expat, preferably from your country of origin, who has been living in the culture for a number of years and is wise and knowledgeable about navigating the culture as an expat. They are typically easy to find and will many times find you first. In many countries, once you arrive and start to connect with the local expat community, you will get many invitations for dinner. Take as many as your schedule will allow. Chances are, one of these invitations will lead you to find your Monk. If invitations don’t come quickly, ask around about who knows the culture well and would be a good mentor to help you get adjusted. Recommendations should point you in the right direction, especially if you hear a name come up multiple times.

David was my first Monk. When we first arrived in Kenya, David and his wife, Dorothy, quickly took Lauren and I under their wing.  They helped us navigate life as an expat by providing advice in many areas. They taught us that the best map of the city could be found in the phone book since it was updated each year.  They were an excellent resource on affordable travel, always ready with tips on where to go when you needed to get away for a weekend. We always knew we could ask them for tips on restaurants or places to shop.  Before the age of high-speed internet, David was even able to get his hands on one American football game a week during the season that we would watch together. They became our family on holidays when we were particularly susceptible to homesickness.

Your monk is the person that you call on the hard days.  They can explain the things that just don’t make sense, or at least give you a safe place to share your frustrations.  They can relate to your struggles and help home feel a little bit closer.  They can point you in the right direction as you take steps to set up your business.  Finding a monk is absolutely crucial to your personal and professional success as you learn to navigate your new home.

Tips to find your Monk:

  • Don’t look for someone just like you.  You aren’t looking for your new best friend, you are looking for a mentor.  Seek out someone who is older and more experienced than you.
  • Not everyone is cut out to be a monk!  Many people who have lived overseas for a long time have a hard time relating to newbies.  Look for the person who enjoys the energy and enthusiasm that new arrivals often bring.
  • Look for someone who doesn’t work with your company or organization.  Expat circles tend to be small but you will find that you have healthier relationships if you are able to seek advice outside of your organization.

If you are already living in your new home, think about who know that can be your “Cultural Monk”.  If you are not yet on the ground, make sure finding a monk is high on your list of priorities once you arrive. Check back tomorrow as we talk about the second key relationship for expat startup success: The Guide.