International travel adjustments

On my computer, it's Saturday, 12:59 PM and I don't know where my kids --or my wife--are... In reality, there's not much to worry about: it's almost 8 AM at home (in Pennsylvania), and I'm on the other side of the Atlantic, working in France for a few days. Still, my guess is that, as I am writing these lines, my wife and kids are home, and she probably has started to wonder when I am going to call.

You see, I arrived in France the day before yesterday, and between the international flight and the train trips to Lyon, and then back to Paris to give some talks and participate in a conference, I just haven't had a chance to call her to let her know that the trip is going quite well! Partly to blame is the 5-hour time difference -early in the morning, when I have a bit more time--I know it is just after midnight in the US East coast… but my largest problem is the lack of Internet connectivity that I had not experienced before!

The last time I came to make a presentation in France (almost three years ago), wireless connectivity was less prevalent, and I had enough opportunities to go online by using the dial-up account that a friend lent me for the few days I was here. Unfortunately, this time I am not visiting this friend, and I am finding that very few wireless connections or "hotspots" are open to non-subscribers --as is frequently the case in the United States.

I don't know about you, but I have gotten very much used to taking advantage of the generosity that many people exhibit by leaving their wireless access points open to the public. Wi-fi hotspots open to the public have de facto become a "common good" like parks or good weather in many communities in the United States, but not in other countries. During my domestic trips it is very rare that I pay for Internet connection charges (unless I stay in one of the "stingy" hotels that have an extra charge for using their wireless network). Traveling abroad, however, is a different story!

Earlier this year, before the trip to France, I found a similar situation in Mexico. Just by walking around with my PDA seeking wireless signals, I found that there are many wireless hotspots in many neighborhoods but I also found out that most of those access points are password-protected -a situation very similar to what I am currently facing in France.

Could it be that Latin cultures are less trustful of strangers using privately paid for services? Or perhaps telecommunications companies in Mexico and France have done a better job at convincing their customers to secure their networks than their US counterparts? (They certainly have a vested interest in ensuring that their customers do not share these products with non-subscribers!) I really don't know, but that's certainly one of my most pressing needs in my recent international trips... Sure, I know that there are several mobile phone providers offering international roaming and internet access but I am not ready to increase my cell phone bill significantly for a service that I might use only during a couple of weeks in the year!

What about you? What kinds of issues have you faced when traveling internationally? I don't mean to imply that every NSHMBA member has to travel internationally, but, the way the business world currently works, it might probably be more difficult for many managers not to have at least some temporary international assignments or tasks, if not longer-run expatriate "gigs" that might even involve taking your whole family with you.

Studies on expatriate assignments suggest that more women are nowadays taking them than it used to be in the mid-nineteen nineties (seek Nancy Adler’s articles, for example). Other interesting findings include the fact that when the "trailing spouse" is satisfied with the experience, the chances of a successful stay are tremendously increased.

But beyond Internet connectivity or familial adjustment, I have some anecdotal evidence suggesting that when ethnic minority members take international assignments, they face issues that are different to the ones faced by mainstream managers. For example, a member of my family was sent by his company to Latin American destinations because he had a basic understanding of the Spanish language (sometimes a stressful proposition as he had only taken a few Spanish courses at school and his vocabulary was not very extensive). Fortunately, after some time, study and more trips, his fluency increased tremendously but at first some of these assignments appeared to be more based on his ethnicity than his competences, and that offered a number of challenges that he was not immediately ready to undertake.
This month I invite you to share your thoughts on these issues by emailing, faxing (+1.814.393.1910), or posting a "Comment" on this blog.

Best regards!