In the study mentioned in What contributes to a successful expatriation (part 1), employees were asked about the types of support they received during and after their assignment in areas such as language training, job skills training, cultural training, and repatriation.
Most of the subjects answered that they didn’t get any support in these areas. Those who were offered one or more types of support in form of training or coaching found it very helpful:
“There was a point two or three months in [into my assignment] where I was starting to pack my bags to go home. I felt like Alice in Wonderland and so out of place. Coaching likely could have helped me before I reached that point.”
Another survey conducted in 2014 by Munich-based expat social group InterNations, went to 1.5 million members in 390 cities and yielded 14,000 responses on everything from job security to the top countries for romance.
Many companies aren’t doing a great job preparing expats for their new lives, especially in areas like language training for trailing spouses, the survey finds. Only 5% of partners or spouses were offered any kind of language lessons or cultural preparation and just 3% were offered help in finding a job or getting a work permit.
The main reason for this is that “the traditional expat sent by a company with deep pockets to another country for about three years, is diminishing“. Moreover, many companies try to save money by “hiring employees who are local or already in the country and thus won’t expect a generous expat package”. – The tendency is that more and more expats move abroad and then look for a job, and relocate overseas for other reasons.
Those internationals who don’t work for international companies abroad, don’t get any kind of priviledge or support. They decide to live in another country for an indefinite time and for several reasons (new job, to have a better opportunity, new educational choices, political etc.). Some of them gather some general information about the host country, and try to get some training and learn the language(s) and habits before embarking into their life abroad.
If the employees from the surveys mentioned above consider support, intercultural trainings and coachings helpful to better succeed abroad, accompanying partners would benefit even more from it: adjusting in a new place is way more difficult for the accompanying partner, who has no support from a workgiver, co-worker etc.. She usually has to re-start life from scratch and find a way to adjust in the new place.
In the many years that I’m supporting accompanying partners adjust abroad, the main reason for disappointment and alienation is the lack of information about the host culture, the almost inexisting contact with locals and the general sense of not being able to embrace their life abroad.
If you would like to thrive during your life abroad, there are eight basic things you may consider. They will help you to “dig deeper”, even “immerse into the local culture”, and get in contact with locals:
- Intercultural training: learning about the host culture.
- Fluency in the local language: some knowledge of the right language to talk with locals will open many doors!
- Making mistakes: making mistakes is an important part of every learning process!
- Flexibility: if things don’t work how we expect, having a plan B or C is the key.
- Inner distance: don’t take things too personally. It will help you to avoid misunderstandings.
- Open Mindedness: “different” doesn’t mean “worse”…
- Proactiveness: nothing happens if we don’t take the first step.
- Have fun! With the right mindset, you’ll be able to embrace your life. (and this applies to everyone)
Many internationals look for groups who share the same language or experience. Sticking exclusively with the expat community prevents them from really understanding and immersing in the local culture.
50% of the internationals I interviewed for a study and who knew that they wouldn’t spend more than 3-4 years abroad, told me that they didn’t bother to learn the local language when this was a non-dominant one (i.e. English or, depending on the country they lived in: French, German, Spanish). They prefered living in a so called expat bubble and didn’t take much effort to learn about the culture. They only “scratched the surface, like tourists on holidays” (cfr. study by Ute Limacher-Riebold tbp).