Mr Seefeld of Lapland

In this wintry season with snow already under our belts (well, it disappeared again rather quickly here in Denmark), I thought this Postcrossing postcard is a good fit. It is from a Finnish 14 year old who lives in Lapland, who sent me a card with the Finnish part of Lapland that shows that he lives just below the Arctic circle. It pretty Downhill skiing in Laplandmuch confirms the image that I had of the region: plenty of snow, deer and winter sports.

One thing you can do well in the region is downhill skiing. The card tells me about the famous Finnish downhill skier, Eero Mäntyranta (1937-2013) – “our local big sportsman”, who won seven medals in four Winter Olympics. He even got nicknamed Mr Seefeld, after the venue of the 1964 Winter Olympics where he was very successful. A good example of a “hero” in Hofstede’s onion!

Read more about my Postcrossing postcards.

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One year in Denmark

It has now been more than a year Danish flag (by hugovk)since I moved to Denmark, and I have been enjoying it thoroughly. I haven’t been posting as much as I would have liked about my own experiences living abroad, but I guess that is part of the busy times you face when moving to a new country. Now that I’ve passed the one year mark and the experiences start to repeat itself – start of the new fall semester, Christmas coming up again (big deal here in Denmark!) – I feel quite settled.

My very own local host
When looking back on this year, the first few months were busiest because that’s when most of what is new comes your way and you have to arrange a myriad of practical details. This is where I had a lot of great help by my very own local host – one of my colleagues informally took on that role which helped me greatly in figuring out all kinds of practical stuff (especially also because I didn’t speak the language at all in the beginning).

Hvad siger du? (what did you say?)
An additional challenge has been learning the language. Although it helps that I am Dutch – especially for understanding the written language – understanding the Danes themselves is the biggest struggle for me. Language (Shawnecono)The Danish linguist Ruben Schachtenhaufen nicely put it when he said that the Danes pronounce their language ‘in a muddy way’ (1) because they leave out many of the consonants and have up to 45 ways to pronounce their vocals. But then, happily, there are also some easy things, like the fact that they don’t really conjugate their verbs. Just one form of the verb for I/you/he/we/they for each tense. That makes life a bit easier!

Enjoying the ‘hygge’
All in all I really enjoy life in Denmark. I very much appreciate the beautiful landscape, the ironic sense of humour and the emphasis on ‘hygge’ (or ‘gezelligheid’ in Dutch) – they even have a verb for it! I am curious, though, what this winter will bring – as the past winter has been so soft it might be a bit tougher this time around!


  1. Dorren, G. (2011). De talen van de noorderburen. Onze Taal, nr. 10 [The languages of our northern neighbours]

Photo of Danish flags by Hugovk  and of ‘Language’ by Shawn Econo via Flickr.

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Are you a tourist or a traveler?

I came across this great quote about the distinction between a tourist and a traveler:

A traveler and a tourist can visit the same city, but experience it very differently. A tourist’s goals are typically to see all the sights, learn their names, make and collect stunning pictures, eat the foods and observe the rituals of the city. A traveler, on the other hand, seeks to understand the city, to know and live briefly among the people, to understand the languages, both verbal and nonverbal, and to participate in the rituals of the city. At the end of equally long visits, the tourist is likely to have seen more monuments, but the traveler is more likely to know how to use the public transportation (Damiran, 1993) (1)

I think a great way to travel is Couchsurfing. I have done this for quite a few years – both surfing, hosting but also simply going Tourist or travellerto meetings – because I think it is a great way to meet the people who actually live in the area that you are visiting. I find it fascinating to get a peek at their daily lives and see how that differs from mine. In this way I have met many great people around the globe; perhaps most notably a married couple of marines in San Diego, a Buddhist priest in Portland (US), and an American children’s pastor in the UK. If you want to travel, this is a good way to go!

(1) Damiran (1993) as quoted in Oddou, G. & Mendenhall, M (2008). “Global Leadership Development”. In M. Mendenhall, A. Bird, G. Oddou, & M. Maznevski. Global Leadership: Research, Practice, and Development. Routledge, 160-174

Photo of tourists reading by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr.

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Working in Malaysia: some first impressions

Last week I had the privilege to interview eleven expats from different nationalities in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. These interviews were part of a study I am conducting together with three colleagues about the Host Country National Liaison Model. Our aim is to shift the focus from being solely on the expat to a more comprehensive view of the working relationship between expats and their local colleagues.

‘Can’ vs. ‘Can can’
So our questions focused on how local colleagues have been helpful to the expat. This can be as simple as having a local explain something about the culture. One expat told us how he asked the HR department at the beginning of his assignment to look out for an apartment he and his family could live in, yet nothing happened until he learned that he should persist in asking until he got ‘can can’ as an answer instead of the ‘can’ he had been getting so far.

Key informants
Local colleagues can also be an important source of information, about the local market and its opportunities but also about the local subsidiary and its history. Many of the expats told us about key informants they used to get the information they needed toNetwork do their job well. In some cases it was the local HR or IT/services department who knew the ins and outs of the subsidiary, in other cases it was one particular person – sometimes this was an expat who had been around longer. Interestingly, some of the expats also told us how they would sometimes bypass their middle managers to talk directly to the local workforce, because that is the only way to get them to talk about problems that need to be solved.

The expat bubble in Malaysia
We also touched upon the topic of contact with locals outside of the workplace because this can have certain benefits (see also In Touch with the Dutch). It was interesting to hear how the expat bubble seems to be even stronger in Malaysia Bubblebecause many expats live with other expats in compounds and move in different spheres than many of the locals. The expat social network is ready made and very easy to access – even difficult to avoid. Although this was the reality for many of the expats we spoke to, a few did manage to get in touch with local Malaysians, emphasizing the importance of being open to another culture and to take initiative. One way to connect with local Malaysians is through choosing to live in a compound which has a higher percentage of locals vs. expats, or simply going to the park on a Sunday where the children play with local children and then connect with their parents.

These are some of my thoughts after this intensive week of interviewing. We have gathered a wealth of information in these interviews which we will carefully analyse in the future. Let us know if you would like to be kept posted on the results of this study. Of course you can also keep an eye on this blog!

Image of a network by Jairoagua and image of the bubble by StudioTempura, both via Flickr.

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Working with Malaysians: what are your experiences?

Working as an expat has always been full of challenges. Malaysia - Petronas towersAn important aspect is dealing with the host culture because cultural differences and local ways of working can have a significant impact on the success of the expat assignment. We have constructed a questionnaire to help us more clearly understand how expats work together with local employees.

Help us learn more about this topic!
We would like to ask you to fill out a questionnaire about the ways in which host national colleagues can contribute to the success of expats and their companies. We would like to stress that it is important for our study that you fill out all the questions. This should take 15-20 minutes. Your answers are confidential and will only be used anonymously. We very much appreciate your help!

Why this study?
This research is important for many reasons: first of all, to identify significanLinkt ways to support expats in their difficult job; second, to identify important areas for host country national employee competency and leadership development, and not least, for the company to perform successfully in another national context. You can read more about our study at this blog post “Linking expats and their local colleagues: the Host Country National Liaison model”. You can also reach us at if you have any questions.

We highly value your cooperation and would like to thank you in advance. 

Dr. Marian van Bakel1, Dr. Torben Andersen1, Dr. Charles Vance2 & Dr. Vlad Vaiman3

1 University of Southern Denmark, 2 Loyola Marymount University, USA, 3 California Lutheran University, USA

Image of the Petronas Towers via Wikipedia; photo of the chain by Ruby Gold via Flickr

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Linking expats and their local colleagues: the Host Country National Liaison model

Expats are often seen as important links between headquarters and the local subsidiary in terms of knowledge transfer, especially if the expat is sent abroad to head the local operation. For this reason, much attention has been given to recruitment, selection and training of expats to ensure that they are as successful as possible.

Neglecting the local workforce

One major group has been largely overlooked in all this: the local workforce. Local colleagues can play crucial roles linking between the expatriate and the local workforce or environment. Spotting this gap, my colleagues Vance, Vaiman and Andersen developed a model of the Host Country National Liaison (HCNLinkL) (1 and 2), which highlights various ways in which host country national colleagues can contribute. For example, a local colleague can explain to the expat how things are done in the local subsidiary, clarify what another local colleague meant, or offer all kinds of local information that is important for the expat to know. It also works in the other direction: the HCNL can also pass information from the expat on to the local workforce, or help the local workforce understand the behavior of the expat him/herself. This can result in more efficient knowledge flows which ultimately impacts on firm performance, but also in better expatriate adjustment and performance.

How can a host country national (HCN) help?

Vance and his colleagues have defined five major components of the Host Country National Liaison role in their model:

  1. Cultural Interpreter: When a HCN helps to promote cross-cultural understanding associated with cultural differences between the expatriate and the local workforce.
  2. Communication Manager: When a HCN deals with individual and institutional communication issues and needs among local employees, expats, and the external marketplace (e.g., local recruitment or regulatory agencies).
  3. Information Resource Broker: When a HCN is a source of many forms of information for both HCN employees and the expatriate.
  4. Talent Manager: When a HCN facilitates acquisition, development and retention of human talent.
  5. Internal Change Agent: When a HCN works with the expatriate to effectively manage processes of change within the host country workforce.

How relevant is the HCNL role?

Based on our own observations and discussions with many expats and locals, we think a HCNL can contribute greatly to the success of the local subsidiary. We now would like to make sure that this is indeed the case, so we have developed a questionnaire which we will soon offer to expats to test this. Keep an eye on this blog for future posts about this!


  • Vance, C. M., et al. (2009). “The vital liaison role of host country nationals in MNC knowledge management.” Human Resource Management 48(4): 649-659
  • Vance, C. M., et al. (2014). “A Taxonomy of Potential Contributions of the Host Country National Local Liaison Role in Global Knowledge Management.” Thunderbird International Business Review 56(2): 173-191.

Photo by Ruby Gold via Flickr

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Global Leadership: It is all about complexity

“We cannot solve today’s problems with the same thinking OR LEADERSHIP that we used when we created them” Einstein+

Last week I attended Joyce Osland’s very insightful workshop on Global Leadership at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC). In today’s globalized world, we need more global leaders who can deal with the increasing complexity of the business world. 79% of CEOs expect a high or very high complexity for the next 5 years, yet only 49% feel prepared for this expected complexity (1). So what are global leaders and how can we develop them?

Global leadership as extreme sport

One of the main challenges for globaExtreme sportsl leaders comes from the global context of their work. This context is highly complex because of the large variety of factors that play a role (languages, cultures, institutions) and the high interdependence of everything. Also, not everything is clear cut in a global context: something can have multiple meanings which can lead you to make the wrong assumptions. And finally, everything is constantly changing. These four factors (multiplicity, interdependence, ambiguity and flux) make up the global complexity a global leader has to deal with (2). I liked the parallel Osland drew with extreme sports to illustrate the difference between domestic leaders and global leaders: ‘Simply said, global leadership is ‘extreme leadership’. You are pushed to the edge.’

Should you buy or make global leaders?

Reed college (1)

Reed College, where SIIC took place

Are global leaders born that way or can they be developed? The answer is a mix of both (3). There are certain individual characteristics such as openness to other cultures which help someone to develop global leadership skills, but these are relatively stable so it makes sense to select individuals who score high on such personality traits. Other more dynamic cross-cultural competencies can be developed, although the individual needs to be willing to learn and acquire new knowledge and skills. Developmental readiness is key.

How can we develop global leaders?

“The primary objective of global leadership training is stretching someone’s mind past narrow domestic borders and creating a mental map of the entire world” (4)

Global leadership development is a process of personal transformation that takes time. It is best accomplished through experiential learning, reflection, and multi-method designs. While in the end it is up to the individual to learn from the opportunities that are offered, an organization can help in various ways, for example through offering international business travel, international project teams, international service learning assignments, or expatriate assignments. An expat assignment is often said to be the best way to develop global leaders – as long as they engage with the culture because “just being there is no guarantee of growth’ (5). This emphasizes the importance of getting in touch with locals – both at work and outside of work – and not stay within the ‘expat bubble’.

Global leadership is still a young field and there is still much to learn. Are you a global leader? Tell us about your experiences!


  • IBM (2010). Capitalizing on complexity. Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study (downloaded from
  • Mendenhall, M., Reiche, B.S., Bird, A., & Osland, J. (2012). Defining the “global” in global leadership. Journal of World Business, 47(4), 493-503
  • Caligiuri, P. & Tarique, I. (2012). Dynamic cross-cultural competencies and global leadership effectiveness. Journal of World Business, 47(4), 612-622
  • Quote by Black and Gregersen (2000) in Oddou, G. & Mendenhall, M. (2008). Global leadership development. In M. Mendenhall, J. Osland, A. Bird, G. Oddou, and M. Maznevski, ‘Global Leadership: Research, Practice, and Development’. Routledge, 160-174
  • McCall, M.W. Jr. & Hollenbeck, G.P. (2002). Developing global executives: The organisation’s role. In “Developing Global Executives”, Harvard Business School Press, p. 184

(Photo of motorbike by William N. on Flickr. Photo of Reed College by the author)

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