By Françoise Falisse
From moving to settling in the new country.
Expatriating means much more than taking one’s luggage, locking one’s door, taking a plane and landing in a new place to start a new function the next day. Though some managers actually start their career abroad almost as hastily as this, understanding and adjusting to the new environment will take place at another tempo. The acquisition, in rather short terms, of technical competences and the comprehension of new factual data are often slowed down by some change resistance or for the least by the need for some time to adjust to this new environment.
Change is an iterative process with its ups and downs, back and forth, from change resistance to acceptance of the new situation, time to integrate change is dependent on everyone’s experience and vision of life. Change process is globally characterized here by three main steps : pre-decision phase, preparation phase and moving-installation phase.
1. Pre-decision phase
The first phase anticipates change, balancing between a rather stable life in a well known context (but sometimes unsatisfactory) and the perspective of a new and unknown situation which might be a source of evolution for the expatriate (and his/her family). You know what you have, you do not know what to expect in that country ; you have professional, personal and material expectations but you do not know if you could see them fulfilled in that country. Doubts, uncertainty and hopes overwhelm this period of analysis.
Tips for a considered decision
- Get information from different sources about the job, the country, the living and working circumstances
- Involve your wife/husband as well as your children according to their age) in the decision either considering expatriating on a bachelor or a family basis: explain, argue about the motivations but also listen to their opinions and feelings, allow them to express freely
- Consider the opportunity objectively and emotionally
- Trust your intuition, the job offer has not emerged by chance, an inner change process may have already started in your mind for some time, though you were not yet really aware of it
2. Preparation phase
If you have taken the decision to leave your country for a few years, the contract has been signed, a date of departure is fixed, you are a step further in change acceptance, a count down has now started. Balancing between relief, anxiety and enthusiasm, you are now getting prepared for the unknown and you are becoming more conscious a page is now being turned. Not everyone reacts the same way facing your leaving the country : as first actor(s) of the decision, you can accept and adhere to change more easily than children, parents or friends who can react very emotionally at different levels of understanding of your expatriation.
On the one hand, leaving one’s country can contribute to personal and professional development, a way to broaden your vision of life as well as your family’s and in the other, leaving one’s country may also be regarded as a very destabilizing situation.
Some people may be very supportive and their positive arguments make you more confident in the decision whereas arguments against your departure often express mistrust, sadness or fear. These are very discouraging signs at a moment you greatly need support to go through this period with serenity.
Change acceptance is also very much linked to your national culture, your education, your motivations and values, your life and professional experience.
Tips for an efficient preparation
- Get support from people with a positive state of mind but accept not every one adheres to your project. Leaving one’s country never leaves people indifferent moreover if your native country is very much attached to long term stability and is globally reluctant to change
- Make a time planner and list different tasks in the different fields (e.g. school, job, moving, house,…) to avoid running out of time and being too much under pressure (which will anyway happen after your arrival …)
- Make sure you do not run away from your country because this state of mind is negative and the boomerang effect way be more powerful after some time. Put your departure into perspective.
- Take time with your beloved, listen to them. Express them your emotions, either positive or negative, it can in its turn help them accept better and more gradually your living at a distance.
3. Moving - installation phase
During the first three months after arrival in the new country, a positive attitude must prevail as you need to survive and get your bearings during this exhausting period. Change then transforms itself into a creative process : your energy is fully devoted to learning, understanding and integrating the new environment. So many new faces, so many things to discover, getting your bearings in a new place is a very time and energy consuming activity. However, between three to six months after your arrival, the excitement of the moving and the settlement has fallen out and the discovery of all the aspects linked to your new life give way to a more depressive period. You may feel very tired, lacking energy and discouraged sometimes or even aggressive towards local people. Change process goes through a phase of regression and your lack of positive energy leaves the door open to question your choices again ; it is time to have a break and take fresh air away from daily life.
Acceptance and integration of change is never definitive and is often submitted to self-questioning.
Tips for sustaining creativity
- Take time to rest and socialize because work pressure is usually very high for expatriates and they often work a lot. You will need to keep your head out of water for fresh air. Everyone in his/her own way : sport, gatherings with friends, discovering the country, …
- Do not obligatory urge for making new friends if it is to consider them as a way to help you survive in a new modern jungle. But more experienced expats in the country can be really helpful to guide you in everyday life thanks to their practical knowledge and their understanding of local mentalities, expatriate associations welcome newcomers.
- Free your mind and accept cultural shock, give time to time, time to understand, time to adjust, time to communicate properly with local people and time to perform. Ask for appropriate training to your company as the more adapted to the environment and better trained you are, the more stable, motivated, effective you will be.
- Further the native country and the host country are culturally distant, the bigger the cultural shock will be !
- Accept there will be ups and downs, this is part of the change process and get support from your family or from friends wherever they live.
Your personal, professional experience and temperament will greatly influence your adaptability to new circumstances making it more or less easy, quick and smooth.
Here are a few guidelines :
Searching for accommodation
- Some companies have already dealt with it before the expatriate’s arrival in the foreign country, others grant an annual budget for accommodation to their expatriates (renting, consumptions and furnishing included) and leave them search for the flat or house which best suits them. It depends on the company policy and on the real estate market of the country.
Some According to corporate culture, many companies become more aware of the necessity to develop the consciousness of their expatriates to multicultural relationships and their competences in this field, who is who and how to do with whom. Efficient cultural integration is one of the key factors of success for expat management in their assignments abroad.
However, it is still very current to notice that expat managers receive trainings mainly about the technical and factual aspects (hard skills) of the job which HR Management think expat managers need to know most to perform in their future project. They hence concentrate more on what, how to reach it, with which technical tools, how much and when (e.g. IT management system, project management,…).
Coming into contact with local staff
Establishing positive relationships as from the first days is a very good starting point as people keep in mind the first impression you leave them. Building confidence will then set the foundations for efficient work with the local or multicultural team.
Never forget that an expatriate is a foreigner in the host country! You can bring specific competences to train local staff for instance and they can show you their « expertise » in being perfectly adapted to their environment. Both parts need to learn from each other and collaborate to create synergy. A change of attitude is at stake for the ones who care for building up good relationships. More distant the expatriate’s culture (and the company’s) is from the culture of the host country, the longer and harder bridging both communication channels may be. Of course, this is a very personal attitude depending on your state of mind.
Getting residence and work permit
- Most multinational companies introduce the request for residence and work permit/visa at the Embassy of the foreign country before the expatriate’s departure ; it can take some time (minimum two weeks). It also happens that the expatriate needs to deal with it himself.
- Though most international schools are used to hosting students from everywhere in the world and at any time in the school year, sociability and willingness to adapt remain key factors for children to integrate in their new school.
- Another challenge they face is the teaching language. Children need their parents ' s support to catch up if teaching is not given in their mother tongue.
- Moms abroad usually have more time to devote to their children than dads, one reason is that most expat women work less or do not work at all and another reason is that fewer female managers are sent for long term missions abroad than their male counterparts. This fact can be explained because women are usually less well accepted in managing positions by local staff in developing countries.
Create adhesion among the family is not a matter of fact as children, more noticeable when they turn teenagers, feel they are in one way or another submitted
to their parents’ s decision and will react more or less vividly. Parents have to remain open and listen to them at a turning point of their personal development. Many circumstances can
influence their reactions and parents are challenged to make them integrate the project as their own, everyone can develop differently and at a different rythm.
However, expatriating with young children is more often easier than with older ones with the condition of good medical care services.
- Many parents living in developing countries decide to send their teenagers to a boarding school abroad or in their home country for a better academic preparation. But their choice still depends on the schools available in the host country and on the type of education parents think best for their children.
Expatriates often enjoy meeting compatriots in expats associations, but also expats from everywhere in the world. There are always good reasons to meet, sport, dinners, coffee mornings, volunteering groups involved in humanitarian projects, … and sharing living experiences.
Nationalities encountered depend on the economic interests of the companies in the country, on exploitable natural resources but also on the history of the country (e.g., former colony of,…).
As for children, sociability, curiosity and willingness to adapt are key factors to adapt in the new environment, as learning one of the national languages can help a great deal to interact with local people. Volunteering is also an excellent way to socialize with local and expat people sharing common values. In developing countries, some may sometimes feel quite hard to create true relationships with local people as cultural barries are often more important, preconceived ideas and mutual misunderstanding may also refrain both communities from getting into contact with each other. Expats feel the necessity to make their stay comfortable and need to feel reassured and you are more at your ease to share your feelings with your peers closer to your culture and who are likely to understand you better.
Living in the country
- Expats with more experience of the country can give practical information about the best supermarkets, drugstores, clinics, general and specialized practitioners and a whole list of useful information to deal with everyday life in the country.
According to the level of social and economic development of the country, the company can provide information about medical care centers or private clinics to which they can also affiliate their expats.
However, discover a country means much more than just dealing with everyday life : connect to local press and media, read newspapers, make touristic trips, visit local markets (which sometimes require being accompanied), museums, art centers,…
Feeling comfortable without being at home
- Living abroad requires time and patience. Putting your view of life into perspective, you may do things you would never do in your own country, you may even behave differently as you need to adapt to a different context. Temperament, values, education and life experience influence our ability to integrate more easily to a country and less in another and as an expatriate, you are facing this reality much more harshly than in your home land.
Under rather similar living and working circumstances, some expatriates will love a country and others will hate. Therefore, our preferences in the way we behave, think and act greatly condition our ability to accept some cultural differences and not others. In the same way, our values determine our motivations.
Would self-knowledge facilitate adaptation in a foreign country and soften our change resistance?
Your opinion ?