You’re going on an expatriate mission? Congratulations!
This marks the beginning of an enriching adventure, full of discoveries,
most likely, some challenges and many wonderful experiences.
But before you get there, there is A LOT to do!
- Pack boxes …
- Put items in storage …
- Arrange for house search …
- Agree work contract …
- Organize visa …
No wonder, as you tick off all the things to be done and fill in all the forms to be filled, some things end up at the bottom of the pile. Understandably, in the initial stages of planning, existential questions like where you will live, can you afford the life in your soon-to-be home, is your child going to a good school and does your partner have an adequate job, weigh more heavily than how smoothly your integration in your new home country can proceed.
Then you move and the adventure channel is on, in HD and, as they used to say, full technicolor.
In a blur of meeting new people, learning new customs, settling into your job, you find yourself facing decisions every day:
- what language to speak,
- how you approach your new colleagues,
- how to approach doing your new job,
- who do you go to lunch with,
- how and with whom do you spend your free time…..
Decisions which, in the end, shape your experience as an expat.
For many expats one of the first steps on arriving in their new home, or even before getting there, is the search for their local expatriate community. They can prove a welcome fixed point at a time when life seems to be in a constant flow in all areas, providing a warm and welcoming environment with plenty of fellow expats. This is an important port of call, giving a feeling of belonging, while in a situation where it is easy to feel cut loose.
Having taken the first steps as an EXPATRIATE, you begin to feel you have found your feet, you are presented with a choice:
- remain in the expatriate community and benefit from the intercultural experience in a highly diverse international grouping, or
- take a step further and INTEGRATE into the local community, reaping all the benefits fully settling into your new life and workplace will bring in terms of communication and interpersonal skills and experience.
Neither choice is better or worse, as long as you can make an informed decision that suits you and your work situation. Based on my personal experience, I would always recommend integrating. Belonging somewhere is existentially important to humans, and expat communities tend to be very variable, with constant comings and goings, making it more difficult to settle.
Many expatriate missions, while excellently organised in terms of accommodation, legal affairs, transport, etc., do not take into account the ‘soft’ factors of such a large life-change and falter at the hurdle of integration, inadvertently adding to what is called the ‘expatriate failure rate’ (Peng, 2015), in itself a terrible word as it implies a failure which really constitutes a significant gap in the given support.
Read more in part 2 about how to best prepare for integrating into a new culture. Looking forward to ‘read’ you soon!
Peng, Mike W. (2015) Global business, Boston: Cengage Learning.