Florence Chabert d’Hieres is a woman with quite a story to tell – and one she is managing to live through the support of her family while following her passion. In an exclusive interview, Florence shares some of her experiences and what life is like for her right now.
Must-know fact about Florence: she was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka and was adopted at three weeks by an Italian mother and French father. She was raised in Lyon, France and went to an international school.
Florence attended a French-American business university where she graduated with an MBA in Marketing Management. Florence created her first company, Intimate Business France, which helps businesses settle and understand the French culture. After getting married she moved to Dubai and created the company Coach4expat. Florence is now a certified coach and trainer for expats, parents, and TCKs in the Middle East.
Q: How would you describe your multicultural experience growing up?
A: It seemed natural and easy to move from country to country. I started to travel abroad when I was 7 years old and I still do it now. The only difficult thing is fitting in and finding a sense of belonging.
Q: What were your biggest struggles?
A: The fact that I looked different. Even today, I always have to justify myself from where I come from because I look different and I speak English with a French accent.
The chart below visualizes common themes individuals may feel during the expatriation and repatriation process. As noted in the book, “Third Culture Kids,” the stresses of reentry can be uncomfortable and the dimensions of change may become difficult to understand during the period of transition. We all can relate to the search for a sense of belonging, feeling confident with our identity, and seeking purpose with what we do.
The distinctive qualities of the TCK experience are what make the topic of discussion so compelling, but as more research is conducted, TCKs share a lot in common when it comes to emotional and psychological stresses.
Grief intensity → the loss and grief experienced by a TCK and how they cope with their losses.
Environmental dissonance → when moving from culture to culture, it is important to note the difference in the environment. Are they similar? How does this affect someone’s experience?
Vocational Certitude → the confidence and happiness a TCK feels with who they are and what they are doing.
Relational support → the amount and form of support that comes from relationships in the life of a TCK. The more positive support is around them, the less stress a TCK will have.
“My parents brought my sister and me back to Sri Lanka. It was very difficult for me to make the decision to go back in ‘my’ country I did not know. While I was there, it was even more difficult than expected because people thought I betrayed my country by leaving. It felt very strange being from nowhere,” says Florence.
The labels placed on our physical appearance happen anywhere in the world, and the feeling of being nowhere and everywhere is an extremely common feeling for a TCK. The more culturally mobile a TCK is, the more they may go through the emotional cycle and ask questions such as, “Who am I?” “What am I doing?” and “Why does it matter?”
Loved ones describe Florence as someone who is brave, courageous and strong. They also say she is a great mother and still ask how she manages to handle everything. “Kind of like superwoman,” says Florence. The feeling of being free and discovering new things every day is what Florence loves most about her career.
“I am proud to be a mum and a mumpreneur,” says Florence. “I am proud that I am able to raise my children and at the same time as living my passion, which is training and coaching expats.”
Q: How did you become a certified cross-cultural coach and trainer?
A: It all started when we were in Australia when I was helping expats arriving in Melbourne. I did this in addition to my other job and I really liked it. It was during the crisis and I felt like I wanted to do more with my life! My husband had a job in Nigeria and while I was back in Lyon for the first time in my adulthood I decided to go back to school and get a coaching degree. Now I specialize in cross-cultural training and coaching to help expats in Europe and the Middle East.
Q: What has surprised you most so far about your cultural experiences?
A: The fact that wherever you are…the most important thing is that as long as you are with your loved ones and that you are doing what you like, you feel comfortable with any culture that surrounds you! I am always amazed when people during their expats are not willing to make the effort to be open-minded.
Q: Have you ever felt unresolved grief because of your cultural fluidity?
A: I lost my baby and it was difficult to handle that loss while being abroad as no one in my family really saw me pregnant. I am thankful I was surrounded by our friends who supported and helped us going through this very difficult period of my life. It taught us that by being an expat you also can rely on your friends who later become family.
Q: When you think about your life experiences, is there anything you would do differently?
A: No. I believe that everything happens for a reason. Life is short, we should live every day as if it was the last one.
Q: Do you see yourself continuing the type of work you do now within the next 10 years? What’s next for you?
A: I don’t know what country we will go next, but I hope I will be able to continue my job and work in mobility or in HR. I would love to go back to Geneva!
I am also writing my second book, “Citizen of the World.” It is an illustrated book for children and expat parents on how to raise citizens of the world positively.
When asked about where (or what) home is to Florence, she simply responds:
“Home is where my family is.”