The Highlands Company Blog

Taking Highlands Overseas

taking highlands ability battery overseas

Initial Explorations

As we drove into the U.S. consulate compound in Karachi, I thought to myself, “I guess this is the most unusual place I will ever test anyone in the Highlands Ability Battery.” Five people were scheduled to take the paper and pencil version of the Battery. One of the test-takers had worked for the consulate for a few years. The other four were Americans who lived and worked as missionaries in Pakistan and who were friends of the consulate officer. The testing session was to be held at his home.

We gathered around a large dining room table in the officer’s house and began the testing with a great deal of anticipation. Each person in the room had a different reason for wanting to be tested. Two of the missionaries were feeling unfulfilled in their work and believed that they were not utilizing all their gifts. Another believed that there was something missing in his work, some area in which he could invest himself and in which he could be even more effective than he already was. The consular officer was ready for a change of career. He believed that, while he was competent and effective in his work, there were other career options he wished to explore, options which would better fit his personal values. Finally, one person had heard about the Ability Battery and how helpful it had been for her coworkers, and she wanted to go through the experience herself and to find out if there were some as yet untapped aspects of her life’s work..

As it turned out, the entire group learned new things about themselves. What they could not know was that all of them would soon face the reality of being forced out of the country after the attacks on the World Trade Center in September of 2001. Each of them would be forced to develop a new career track in a different place in the world, but because they had experienced the Highlands Ability Battery, all were ready for the extraordinary changes awaiting them.

After going through the testing and feedback each person did modify his or her career. The consular officer changed his career completely, moving from being a communications specialist for the embassy to being involved in ministry and theological studies. The missionaries either moved back to their native countries and became involved in various ministries, or they moved to other countries, or they returned to school to pursue additional education and changes in careers.

This is just one example of how I’ve used The Highlands Ability Battery in an overseas setting; however it is not the only example. Other opportunities have opened up as well, and it appears to me that the settings and possibilities are limitless. Here are two other examples.

In Shimonoseki, Japan, a Japanese-speaking American pastor of a small congregation heard about the power and comprehensiveness of The Highlands Ability Battery and requested that each of the church leaders be tested. The pastor wanted to make better use of the human resources present in his congregation by helping each leader identify and optimize his or her talents, interests and personal style in leadership. Since the pastor also wanted to mold the leaders into a more cohesive and effective leadership team by placing each leader in a role that fit him or her, he asked that his people not only be tested but that they also go through a Team-One Workshop.

The whole process was an ambitious undertaking, for the church leadership was made up of five English-speaking Americans and eleven Japanese, necessitating the translation of the Ability Battery and the workshop materials into Japanese. The church secretary was a well-educated Japanese woman who formerly had been a translator for English speakers, and she did an exemplary job of translating the instructions into Japanese for the various ability worksamples. Particularly difficult were the instructions related to the Generalist/Specialist and Vocabulary worksamples because none of these worksamples had been normed for Japanese people. These two worksamples also involved knowledge of common words in the local language, words which would be likely to have different meanings than they did in the United States. However, the rest of the worksamples were less limited by language because, by definition, the worksamples are specific tasks which are performed in a timed setting and which show one’s natural abilities. All of the worksamples could be performed by people of any culture and were therefore likely to be culture-fair. Only the instructions needed to be translated, though we understood that there were no Japanese-specific norms for any of the worksamples.

The testing process was complex with the participants sitting at long tables arranged in a large square. Each set of instructions was read out loud, first in English for the English speakers, then in Japanese for the Japanese speakers as the participants read along for themselves. After the instructions had been read twice, the participants then completed the worksamples according to the strict timing prescribed. Halfway through the testing session, there was a fifteen-minute break during which the participants were given time to walk around, talk and enjoy some snacks provided for them. Then the testing proceeded until, at the end of the timed portions, the untimed portions of the testing were administered. These included filling out the Myers Briggs Type Indicator-Form G which required that each question and set of answers be read aloud by an interpreter for the Japanese staff. Overall the testing portion took about four and a half hours, but scoring of tests for all 16 participants took about 35 hours. Scoring templates had to be made for the Japanese tests and each test had to be scored and checked. The scores were then emailed to the Highlands headquarters office in the United States, which provided individual and group profiles. Feedbacks were done on a group basis; the scoring range for each worksample was described both in English and Japanese. Profile patterns were also described in both English and Japanese. In addition, participants were invited to arrange individual follow-up sessions if they wished, but none accepted the offer despite the fact that individual sessions could have aided each person in personal career choices.

To say that the Team One Workshop contradicted the conclusion I had drawn earlier about the consulate’s being the most unusual setting for Highlands, would be an understatement. The Workshop was held in the main auditorium of the Shimonoseki Faith Bible church, with the participants again seated at tables arranged in a square. All of the Team One Workshop materials had been translated into Japanese, and all exercises were explained in both English and Japanese. Fortunately, the American pastor of the church was an excellent Japanese speaker, as were all the other American church workers, and all exercises were given in both English and Japanese with the pastor interpreting all the responses from the Japanese speakers. What made the workshop even more unique were some of the cultural factors which became apparent immediately. One custom is that Japanese do not wear shoes inside homes or churches, though slippers are culturally appropriate. This meant that 17 pairs of feet were extremely cold, for the workshop was held in February – winter in Shimonoseki – and the only heat was provided by a small space heater placed on the floor in the center of the square of tables. The church had no central heating. Another factor was the cultural norm of the Japanese to be rather reserved and reticent to talk about themselves and their strengths and weaknesses. Saving face is also an extremely important Japanese value, and to admit to weaknesses — or to acknowledge areas of excellence which might cause others to feel demeaned — was a cultural taboo. In addition, because Japanese society is highly structured and traditional in its social and work roles, people generally stay in the role or position assigned to them, or which has been passed down through family and organizations. To search for previously unidentified or unused abilities or to investigate other possible career options and roles is almost unheard of. It is generally inappropriate culturally for Japanese men and women to assume a level of equality in which each has equal voice and each is encouraged to speak freely. As a result-at least at first-the Japanese Workshop participants had difficulty interacting with the exercises and did not readily offer information about themselves. However, after an hour or two, everyone had loosened up considerably, and the interactions were lively and characterized by openness, unity and good will. Each person was able to learn something that would enhance his or her effectiveness in the church structure. For many, the testing and Workshop also confirmed many of the natural abilities they knew they had, and their personal skills and values were also identified. Identifying these career factors for each person individually was helpful and was greatly appreciated.

Another setting in which the Highlands Ability Battery is utilized, and which could continue to be useful in the future, is in working with Third Culture Kids living overseas.

A Third Culture Kid (or TCK) is an individual who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years in a culture other than that of the parents, resulting in integration into a third culture of elements from both the host culture and the parental culture.. People included in this definition would be children of State Department diplomats stationed overseas, military dependents stationed and living overseas, children of families engaged in international business, and missionary children. Because they are raised overseas and are educated in a variety of academic settings-boarding schools, national schools, international schools, or a home school setting-these children often are limited in their opportunities to identify and understand how they are “wired”. They also are often unaware of career opportunities available in their passport countries. They need help in identifying whether they would be good candidates for a college education or whether another or different track would be a better fit. This was demonstrated in two international schools in two different countries, Cote d’Ivoire (also known as Ivory Coast) and Pakistan. In Ivory Coast, parents of students at the school were invited to attend a question-and-answer meeting at which The Highlands Ability Battery was described and applications of the results were discussed. Parents were already aware of the limitations of testing opportunities for their children, and they were particularly impressed by the fact that the Highlands Ability Battery was objective and based on worksamples. As a result of that meeting — attended primarily by parents of juniors and seniors in the High School-there were several requests for testing of students. Whenever there was an opportunity, the parents were invited to sit in on the feedback sessions for the students, but because many of the parents worked in locations several hours from this boarding school, few were able to attend the individual sessions. However, because each session was audio-recorded, the parents were able to find out more about some alternatives available for their sons and daughters. Later, a few of the parents followed up by sending emails with questions asking which college and training programs might be best for their children when they returned to the their passport countries — not all the parents and students were from the United States. Often, after having one child tested, the parents would request that their other children be tested when they became juniors or seniors in High School. In addition to testing the students, we also spent several hours with the Guidance and Counseling staff of the Ivory Coast school.. The head of the Guidance department was thrilled to learn about Highlands and what it could do for the students, and she requested information about becoming a Highlands provider herself. Unfortunately, just a few months later the school was closed due to a war between rival political and ethnic factions within the country, and most of the expatriates — parents, teachers and students alike — were evacuated.

A similar situation occurred in Pakistan as a result of 9/11, and both schools — one in Ivory Coast and the other in Pakistan-remained closed for a few years. (The school in Pakistan has now been re-opened.) However, there are other countries that are more peaceful than either the Ivory Coast or Pakistan, and the opportunities for using The Highlands Ability Battery abound, especially at overseas schools where there are English-speaking expatriates and where there are limited resources for evaluating children objectively. Having their children tested also gives parents the opportunity to learn how Highlands can help them in their own careers. As a result, many parents who are unhappy with their careers, with their placement, or with their role in the workplace, end up requesting testing for themselves in an effort to understand themselves better and to be happier and more effective in their work. Sometimes even a slight shift in how one works can result in a significant increase in job satisfaction.

Applications of Highlands Overseas

The examples I’ve cited prove that there are many opportunities and applications available for using The Highlands Ability Battery overseas. But these are just a few of the possibilities, and it is important to understand how and why this valuable tool can be utilized in overseas settings.

First, because of the many opportunities for businesses to expand into foreign markets, one of the potential areas in which Highlands could have a significant impact is in the corporate world. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has opened up the potential for U.S. companies to conduct more business with Mexico and Canada, but it is also likely that other Latin American and South American markets will also open. The Far East has already been tapped, but it still offers many opportunities because of the low cost of living, low wages and the availability of goods and natural resources which are limited or may not be available in the States. Highlands with its emphasis on Whole Person programs can help entrepreneurs and corporate types alike to identify and utilize the abilities necessary to be successful. By having their personnel go through the testing, business leaders can identify which people in their organizations have the ability to ascertain whether a market is viable, which people are better at organizing and handling the logistics of the business, and which are more likely to be good negotiators because of their ability to see others’ points of view and to come up with creative alternatives for negotiating business deals. The Highlands Ability Battery can also help people identify, understand and utilize their strongest learning channels, help them identify the kind of work environment in which they will operate best, and help them find their most effective communication style.

In addition, by utilizing workshops which complement the Ability Battery, businesses can help people work more effectively together by understanding and appreciating their individual differences. For example, the testing could help identify those in the company who have the greatest potential and desire for learning a foreign language. This is an ability which, when used constructively, can open many doors to business opportunities, while people who do not have command of the local language are somewhat limited. Other abilities which can be identified by testing include the structural abilities as opposed to the more abstract abilities. A person with strong structural abilities may be able to oversee construction of factories or business offices; he can work with local government in community development to help people make better use of natural resources; and he can help countries that wish to develop a better economic infrastructure. Land and water reclamation projects, research and development of new crops to feed the hungry; and managing the disbursement of micro-loans for locals who would like to start a business – these are just a few examples of what can be done overseas by people whose ability to accomplish them is identified. Highlands can also help people identify their abilities in such a way that those with structural abilities-the builders and engineers, for example-can work alongside those with more abstract abilities-the negotiators, mediators and business developers. Workshops focusing on the Highlands Whole Person Technology can be utilized to help companies become more efficient and effective in their use of time and human resources by helping their workers identify their interests, values, and personal styles. Knowing and working within the framework of all these factors would make for smoother and more efficient operations. On the other hand, putting people in positions or roles or tasks which do not fit the way they are wired can result in needless losses, both financially and in lowered morale. If a man whose values emphasize helping the poor is placed in a position in which he makes a great deal of money at the expense of the poor, he will feel a growing discontent within himself. The opportunity to identify the values that people bring to an overseas enterprise would be most beneficial to the success of the enterprise. By the same token, a business person with strong structural abilities whose focus is on “getting the job done, no matter what it takes so we can make money” may become extremely impatient with workers who live in a slower-paced society and who focus on personal relationships. If individuals with widely varied abilities and values are placed on the same team, conflict is bound to erupt. Into this mix, we are forced to insert a person with negotiating abilities, someone who can be a mediator and cultural interpreter. Highlands can be used to identify such a person, and the company or corporation operating in a foreign country will be all the stronger and more successful for finding and hiring him. Placement of personnel is crucial, and Highlands through both testing and workshops, can help businesses work more effectively in a foreign market place.

Another work area in which Highlands can be used successfully is in international diplomacy. Too often, because of blunders made by high-ranking diplomats and their associates, well-meaning and hardworking U.S. citizens have been identified as “the ugly American.” These mistakes could have been avoided if a well-trained and culturally-sensitive Highlands provider had been called in to test and conduct workshops with the diplomatic staff, both prior to placement and after placement. Ongoing programs of testing and workshops would also be helpful for staff development and for more efficient operation of embassies and consulates. In addition, individuals who began on a career track within the diplomatic corps may wish to leave their jobs with the corps, but do not have a clear vision of the careers they are suited for. As in the case of the consular officer I mentioned earlier, the Highlands Ability Battery can effectively identify their options

Lastly, and one of the most significant uses of Highlands, is in the student market. With the rapid globalization of business and with the increasing presence of U.S. State Department and military personnel in countries around the world, more and more families are being placed in service abroad. Added to this influence is the rapid expansion of Western-based religious organizations and the missionaries that represent them, especially in countries that were previously “closed” but are now “open” to foreign religious influence. With this increase in the number of English-speaking families being placed overseas, there has been a consequent increase in the number of dependents-children-growing up overseas. Recently-published material has brought the issue to light. In our recent travels, we have run into several articles published in airlines in-flight magazines which have pointed out the challenges of raising children and educating them overseas. Almost every article pointed out the need for families to be functioning well if they are to succeed in their work in a foreign country, and many companies are requiring psychological and family evaluations before encouraging them to transfer overseas. Recent books like Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village and the book, Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, have shown that our world is becoming smaller and smaller and that people are developing a global perspective. The Third Culture Kids book, in particular, focuses on the challenges and benefits of growing up in a “home away from home.” One of those challenges is the issue of education. Finding appropriate educational opportunities and placements for children-and especially for special needs children-becomes a challenge and often a heart-ache for expatriate parents. One example that comes to mind is of an American high school student diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder who attended a boarding school in Pakistan. His parents were extremely concerned about what their son was going to do after graduating from high school. During his boarding school days he had suffered from poor self esteem; he had doubted himself and his abilities; and had difficulty believing he “would amount to much.” Because of limited staff resources and a lack of medication, this young man had not been able to compensate for the deficits associated with his ADD. His parents asked that he be tested using the Highlands Ability Battery. He was able to focus quite well during the testing, which utilized the paper-and-pencil version of the Battery, and his scores surprised everyone-himself, his parents and the examiner as well. And what a joy it was to see the eyes of this high school student light up when he learned that he had numerous strong abilities, some of which could be utilized in pursuing a career with computers. This was an area of great interest and one in which he had excelled, both at home and at the boarding school. Even more gratifying was the response of his parents to the results. They had frequently received reports that their son was a problem at his school. They were extremely pleased as they sat in on the feedback session and found out that he had abilities, interests and a personal style which could be channeled into a successful career. They were more than willing to find and to provide any remedial help their son might need educationally when they returned to the United States, especially now that they knew he could be successfully launched into a career in which he could be successful as an adult.

This is just one of several examples in which parents have had their children tested with The Highlands Ability Battery. Most parents have wanted their children tested not because of a learning problem, but because they want to know the options that will be open for their children in the work world. In most cases, neither the student nor the parent had been given the opportunity to identify their “personal wiring”. In some cases the parents were so occupied with their own careers and the challenges of daily life overseas that they had not been able to identify the natural abilities of their children, though they may have been able to identify some personality characteristics. In other cases, neither testing nor an organized program was available to help students make intelligent choices among potential careers or the kind of training which would be needed in order to develop a particular career. Highlands provided the necessary guidance and impetus to help their children grow and develop. A side benefit often resulting from helping expatriate children growing up overseas to identify their abilities is that their parents become aware of some areas of dissatisfaction in their own careers. Other parents realize that their stage in life requires that they return to the United States or their passport country to help launch their children successfully. The result for these parents is often a career change, even a temporary change. Other parents, again because of their stage in life or because of issues involving the family back home, decide that they no longer want to work in a foreign country. As a result, many adults-those with families and those without — singles and marrieds-have requested testing for themselves. To see depression and despair change into hope as they learn that there are other career choices has been most gratifying to me.

The emphasis thus far in this chapter has been on the usefulness of The Highlands Ability Battery in helping people be more successful and fulfilled as they live and work overseas and as they return to their passport country. But the Ability Battery is not the only tool which can be used effectively. Combining the Ability Battery with other tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the DISC can help people more clearly define their personal styles and the careers which fit them. The Strong Interest Inventory or an Interest Checklist are all an effective way of helping people define their interests and how those interests combine with their ability patterns to provide for a more fulfilling career.

In addition, workshops are an excellent means of putting together all eight factors of the Highlands Whole Person philosophy. On a corporate or organizational level, such workshops as One-To-One, Team One, and Square One can be used effectively to help individuals and teams to identify their abilities, skills, interests, personal style, family messages, values, stage of development in life and personal vision. By identifying these factors and discovering how others on the team or within the company function best, corporations can become more efficient and effective in how they communicate, how they solve problems, and how they can develop and produce a product or provide a service. Research conducted by Highlands providers in the late 1990s indicated that companies that utilized the test and the accompanying workshops found not only that their workers were more productive and efficient, but also that they were more satisfied. They actually enjoyed their work!

Corporations, companies and government agencies are not the only potential venue for workshops, however. Workshops have also been developed and applied to High School and College students. Research has shown that approximately 50% of college students are taking seven years to complete a college education, instead of the four years generally prescribed. There are various reasons why so many students are taking so long to get a degree, but one of the main reasons, in this writer’s opinion, is that when they complete High School, most students have not identified what would be a good next option for them. They have never taken the time to identify their abilities, skills, personal style or even their interests — which would give them career direction. As a result, some students who would probably be most successful in a structural career-which might mean that a vocational or technical school would be a best fit-end up going to college “because it is just the thing to do.” Others go to college with one course of study firmly in mind, only to find out that the major they picked is a poor fit or that some other major appears more attractive. As a result, they may take what they find to be useless courses, or courses that will never be used in their career, and they become frustrated when they find that they have to take an extra year or more of college. Others end up transferring to other schools, where they learn that they have to take additional credits to make up for the transfer, and again find out that they will be in school much longer than intended. The time, the expense, and the wasted energy associated with making these changes is not really necessary. If High School and College students were to go through testing using The Highlands Ability Battery, an Interest Checklist and a personality test, followed by a workshop like Future Directions, much time, money and aggravation on the part of both students and parents could be averted. For Third Culture Kids (TCKs), especially, testing and a workshop can be most helpful. There actually is a TCK profile which shows that these children, by growing up overseas, have developed values, skills, world views, and time uses, as well as appreciation of other cultures and language facility, that are very different from those of their monocultural peers who grow up in the United States and Canada. Helping them identify not only their abilities but also the other factors of the Highlands Whole Person philosophy, and doing so within the context of a Highlands-sponsored workshop, can be of great benefit in helping them appreciate and develop their unique wiring. Many TCKs have floundered when they returned to their “home” country because they felt out of place — misfits in a world in which they may look the same but do not feel the same. Nor do they look at the world in the same way as their peers. Providing a workshop in which their unique identities can be confirmed and in which they can be encouraged to pursue careers fitting their abilities, personalities and values, would go a long way toward helping these High School and College students adjust and be successful.


In our experience, The Highlands Ability Battery, in combination with other testing instruments and accompanied by the Highlands Workshops, has been the most comprehensive and helpful tool available to help individuals and families living overseas find a meaningful career. The objective nature of the test with its emphasis on using worksamples to identify abilities sets it apart from other career-development programs. In addition, the accompanying workshops which focus on the Whole Person and which identify eight different factors contributing to career effectiveness and satisfaction have greatly enhanced the power of the Ability Battery. By helping individuals identify how they are “wired” and how they can use that wiring to their greatest advantage, teachers in schools overseas, international businesses and religious organizations, and military families and government agencies with overseas staff, can use Highlands to develop and utilize their individual resources.