Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Expat

 

 

Going on an international assignment is a life changing opportunity. It teaches you how to be independent, how to interact with new people, how to cope up with an entirely new culture and so much more. When you come back, you’re an entirely different person than you were before; more knowledgeable, more experienced and stronger than ever.

However, it’s not as easy as it sounds – you need to prepare and make up your mind before you accept to take up this opportunity. It’s like a whole new world out there, especially when you’re travelling to a different country.

So, the million dollar question is – what are the habits of an expert expat and what helps them outshine? The answer is – Doing your home work! Here’s a quick guide that might help you in getting prepared for your international assignment

Learn About The Country:

Every country has different culture & norms; you need to familiarize yourself with it. If possible, it is best to visit the country beforehand so you know everything you need before you actually start working. Knowing the culture and people around prevents resulting in an “expat burnout”

Example: Collectivism and power sharing is more common in Asian countries than in the West, which promotes more individualism and autonomy, comparatively. Therefore, if you’re travelling from a western country to an Asian country, you’re more likely to experience high centralization and tight control over things.

Learn The Language:

Learning the language is very important. Nobody expects you to be an expert at it but knowing the basics can help you connect with people and to not depend on anyone whenever you need help. Keeping a dictionary/ translator with you so you can easily refer to it when needed can also be helpful.

Know The Organizational Culture:

Even though you might be working for the same company, culture can be different! According to research, organizations operating in eastern countries (Arab, India, China, Japan etc) usually have high context/ intrinsic culture i.e. they value relationship more and communication is usually done through unspoken gestures. Whereas, organizations in the western countries including the US, have low context and are extrinsic in nature; communication is spelled out loud, policies/ rules are more formalized. Professionalism is valued over personal relations

Make Connections:

Connecting with people you are expected to work with can help you understand their nature and also the basics that you need to know before you start working with them. Strong professional connections can also help you in dealing with any work related problems that you might face during you international work assignment. Thanks to social media and professional forums like LinkedIn and Twitter, via which, you can learn everything you need to know about your team members beforehand and also stay in touch with them.

Be Patient:

You might feel overwhelmed in the beginning but you’ll get used to of it eventually. Experiencing a cultural shock is common but once you give yourself some time to settle in, you will start to like and ultimately embrace the change. You’ll find yourself adapting to the new environment, people and culture. All you need is an open mind to accept things the way they are.

Try Out New Things:

Try out as many new cultural experiences as you can; making new friends, trying out new food, taking risks and finally, getting ahead! You might not like all of them, but you will be a better person for having tried and might also end up with great memories to cherish forever.

Research, Research & Research!

Last but not the least; research is the key to success. Get as much knowledge as you can about the country and the people you’ll be working with. You can visit the country’s embassy website to know more about your rights as a visitor and about the basics of that country. Also, thanks to Google, everything is now just a click away. It is advisable to learn not only the do's and don'ts but also the prevalent cultural values and cultural blueprints.

Remember, this is a lifetime opportunity and not everyone gets the chance to experience it.  You are starting an exciting new chapter of your life so make sure you enjoy and make the most out of it.

Good Luck!

 

 

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.
COMMENTS 4

Comments

Hi Kiran,

I enjoyed this article, thanks for writing it. In addition to what you have already covered, from my own experience, other factors include the ability to remain flexible (go with the flow) and to keep an open mind. In Western societies for example, punctuality is valued, for example arriving on time for meetings. Not all cultures share the same value, and getting upset about something that is an acceptable norm, can be seen as being frigid and unfriendly. Also, cultural sensitivity is an absolute must - know the organization but don't overlook the people who make up the organization. Learn to accept and value differences.

Interesting article, but nothing on the main reason for expatriation failure : the family! I would add then : be sure that your family members agree with all the aspects of your project and also consider it as an opportunity, and involve them in your preparation.

Hi Natashia,

Thank you for the feedback. You're absolutely right!
Culture plays a great role and is different from country to country.
Same is with being flexible. If you're not flexible enough, you won't be able to survive.. being open minded and accpeting/ embracing change is essential!

Thank you once again. You may check out other articles written by me on here:
http://blog.shrm.org/author/968

Hi Sarah,

Thank you for the feedback and for the addition.
Support from the family is a must. After all it's not just about you; it affect your entire family. You may not be there for important event, you might have to ask them to move with you... not everyone embraces change - fear of unknown is very common. Leaving everything behind, starting from scratch is not easy. So yes, be sure to consult your family members and have their buy in before you take up this life changing opportunity!

There are other blogs that might as well interest you - http://blog.shrm.org/author/968
Have a look!

Kiran

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