Chameleon Coaching: the difference between an expat coach and an intercultural trainer

What’s the difference between an expat coach and an intercultural trainer? Discover it with Chameleon Coaching!

Welcome to the next instalment of my expat coach interview series.

Are you a current or an aspiring expat? Have you ever heard of an expat coach? Or wondered what the f*** they actually do?

Then this is the series for you! Check out my other interviews with expat coaches below:

What the f*** is an Expat Coach w/ Chameleon Coaching

Meet Wiebke from Chameleon Coaching 👋 She is an Intercultural Trainer and Expat Coach. And before you ask, no, they aren’t the same thing. But we’ll get to that later.

1. What is coaching?

It’s magic!😊 Coaching in general is a powerful process where a coach supports a coachee to make a change, learn something new or achieve their goals.

2. Are you a therapist, a guidance counsellor or a consultant? Or none of these things? Or all of these things?

I am a certified intercultural trainer and a licensed intercultural systemic coach with many years of previous experience in international business. 

This does not equip me to work as a therapist or counsellor (we don’t have an equivalent in Germany I believe?). You need to have a psychology degree and therapist training to be sufficiently equipped to treat mental health issues. When I become aware that one of my clients might be in need of therapy, I refer them to someone from my network or to the International Therapist Directory.

A consultant is usually called when the client wants solutions for a specific problem, e.g. a company may hire a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant to help set up a program to implement necessary changes in their organizational culture. A coach could then support the leadership team through the bumps of the implementation. By definition, a coach does not provide any solutions, as we strongly believe that the answers are already within you. We just help you bring them to the surface.

3. Define an expat.

Oh dear, how to do this without offending anyone? The term expat is highly debated as it implies a privilege compared to the term immigrant or migrant. I must admit that I was totally unaware of this when I started my business. I had the interpretation of expat in mind, describing someone who is sent abroad by their company with a foreign assignment contract and expected to move back after a certain number of years. And this was exactly my main target group at first: companies who send their professionals abroad. I provide intercultural preparation training, repatriation workshops and expat coaching for corporate clients. 

After a while, I felt that so many more people would benefit so much from these programs and I designed an open blended learning course “Working in Germany” so that individuals could also benefit, not just corporate clients. 

No matter how you name it: expat, self-initiated expat, immigrant or migrant – these labels cause a lot of pain, prejudice and discrimination. I absolutely would never want to exclude anyone just because of a label. Our identities and life paths are unique and complex and I have a great passion for any multicultural life story and am happy if I can be of service.

4. What is an expat coach?

A coach who works with expats in the broadest sense of the word 😁 

Since finishing my course as an intercultural coach, I’ve worked with individual and corporate clients, who either just moved abroad or who have repatriated. Their occupations are very diverse: University lecturer, social worker, sales manager, finance specialist, logistics manager, CEO, expat partners. 

What unites them is that they are people who moved to Germany or Germans who moved abroad who struggle with expat related topics such as adaptation, culture shock, homesickness, repatriation, communication difficulties, ineffectiveness in the workplace, difficult decisions, lack of purpose, loneliness, self-doubt or a heavy identity crises.

5. What inspired you to become a coach?

For one, my international upbringing and the experiences that I have made working and living among different cultures. 

I very much enjoy encouraging others on their intercultural life path, especially on a 1:1 basis. People’s life stories fascinate me and I see so much potential in them. I am not much of a small talker. I am interested in what’s behind the “mask” and want to understand people on a deeper level. I am a good listener with quite a need for structure, which comes in handy when my clients come to me seeking clarity.

Expat coach and intercultural trainer, Wiebke a.k.a Chameleon coaching

6. What credentials do you have to support your coaching business?

I originally trained as European Executive Assistant so I can look back on 14 years of international corporate experience as an Executive Assistant, Sales Assistant and Product Manager. I’ve lived in six different countries and worked in a variety of industries ranging from automotive to banking, international trade and tourism.

In 2016, I took a course to become a certified intercultural trainer (IKUD digkt) and in 2020 an intercultural coach. I got my advanced ECA (European Coaching Association) license last year (2021).

My clients include agencies and relocations providers; professionals from multinational companies such as BASF, Continental, Covestro and WMF; and private individuals from different nationalities.

7. What do you do exactly? I mean, how do you help people?

In my approach to coaching, I see myself as a sparring partner who offers a safe space for the personal development of my clients. We explore possible roadblocks and their causes. Without prescribing solutions, I actively shape the coaching process through question techniques and interventions derived from systemic coaching.

I am transparent at all times and explain all steps we take together. I listen actively and empathetically, mirror feelings, summarize, structure and visualize. The client is accompanied in the process of self-reflection and thereby gains the desired clarity and self-awareness.

We will not get stuck in discussing problems for too long. Instead, we look ahead and explore possible solutions, the available resources, and the next concrete steps. This “help for self-help” opens up new perspectives that enable the client to expand his or her scope of action effectively and successfully.

With the special sensitivity of a “cultural chameleon”, I also have an eye on which cultural factors need to be considered and will adapt my coaching approach accordingly.

8. What do you not do? Who do you not help?

As mentioned above, I am not a therapist or a counsellor.

I am also not a consultant as I do not provide clients with solutions. I am here to help guide my clients to realise the solutions to their problems and to support them through the implementation of these solutions.

9. Talk me through a typical expat coaching session. What exactly is my money getting me?

The first session is for getting to know each other, building trust, explaining the process, learning about the issue at hand and defining the coaching goal and one small first step to take as homework. 

The next sessions consist of continuously working towards that goal, identifying roadblocks and ways to get them out of the way, reminding the client of their own resources, changing perspective, practising dialogues and working out the next steps. Sometimes, we go off track to discuss a matter that came up since the previous session and that feels more urgent to be addressed. The client decides what they want to work on. The coach is responsible for the process.

What exactly would your money get you? That of course depends on why you sought the coach in the first place. You should be able to find relief as you have someone to confide in, finally were able to make that tough decision, reach your goal much easier than you would all by yourself and feel empowered to continue on your own. 

There is one important prerequisite that the coachee has to bring to the table: The desire to make a change and work on it. 

Usually, clients seek coaching when they are unhappy in a certain situation, and they want to change that. If you have no will to do the work and are not open to changing your approach, you better save the money.

10. Do you think the expat experience is often hyped up too much online and can therefore have an adverse effect on aspiring or new expats who feel like they should be happy and wonderful all the time?

Absolutely, but isn’t that the case with everything on social media? On the other hand, haven’t you also fallen in love with perfect novel heroes only to find out that these people simply don’t exist in real life? 

Social media has not been around for too long (at least from my perspective!) and we are all learning how to deal with it as we go. Everything develops so quickly that it’s hard to identify what’s real and what isn’t.

Conversations with real people from diverse backgrounds will help you get a more nuanced perspective of things. I have had many virtual coffees with my peeps on Instagram because I was curious to see who’s behind the account. Definitely seek out serious sources before deciding to move to a different country, do your homework on the technicalities, but don’t overthink either. It’s an adventure, things will go wrong and be different than expected. Always. Anywhere. It’s what you make of it.

BONUS QUESTION – what’s the difference between intercultural training and expat coaching?

It’s funny that you ask. I have recently written an article about exactly this question. 

Its called “Instrumentenmix in der Betreuung von Expatriates – Unterschiedliche Beratungsformen im Vergleich“ (ENG: Mix of instruments in the support of expatriates – A comparison of different forms of guidance) which has just been published last month in the book “Coaching im Rahmen der Auslandsentsendung” (ENG: Coaching within the Expat Assignment). 

I wrote about 15 pages on this topic, but let me try to summarize it in less than 50 words:

In intercultural training, the focus is on knowledge transfer and the improvement of intercultural competence and specific skills that help you communicate effectively. Whereas in (expat) coaching the client is in the centre of attention with his/her unique personality, potential and resources.

Chameleon Coaching Services:

Wiebke offers her Chameleon Coaching services in both German, English and Spanish. Take a look at her offerings below:

Coming up soon: 

  • Finding Home Within – A brand new coaching program to feel at home no matter where you are.
  • Intercultural awareness workshop for coaches
  • How to prepare for repatriation

You can sign up for her newsletter here to stay informed about the new programs.

You can also connect with Chameleon Coaching here:

To finish, I would also like to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU to Wiebke for inviting me to her Chameleon Coaching birthday party this past week 🎉 what a wonderful way to meet so many other great international women!

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A post shared by Wiebke Homborg (@chameleon_coaching)

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