Your boss just offered you a promotion. Sounds about right! But the position you will be taking is 5000 miles away from home.
It probably includes a better salary, all kind of advantages but also more responsibilities and challenges -some minor, some bigger- for you and your family if they are following you on this journey.
What are those challenges and how do you handle them?In your new homeLet’s not beat around the bush: as an expatriate employee everything will be different to a certain degree.
Of course if you are French and moving to Geneva, modifications in your lifestyle will be minimum. But if you are moving to Beijing for instance, your life is about to change drastically!
Here are some tips to start getting accommodated to your expat status in the best way possible.
Things can be more or less complicated depending on which language you and your family are capable of speaking and also depending on where you will go.
There is obviously a fair chance that as if you have been chosen for an expatriate assignment, you have a decent level of English which will allow you to communicate at work and probably as far as the airport terminal.
But if you are moving to Russia or anywhere away from a capital, it might become quite challenging to find anyone speaking English other than “hello” and “bye”.
The first week might be a bit amusing making gestures to try to get people to understand you at the grocery store or in the bus but after a while, you and particularly your spouse might feel a bit isolated.
So you should:
- Take language classes.
At least to learn the basics and how to have a very simple conversation and get around.
- Watch local TV.
Check out the local channels like the weather forecast or the news. It will help you catch up some useful words.
Missing food, brands, TV programs, etc.?
As much as you are willing to mingle, you will be missing lots of things from home and not just your momma’s chocolate cake. You might end up in a country where everything is very spicy or none of your favorite cereals brands are available!
So you should:
- Go to “exotic” or “specialties” restaurants and food stores.
What’s exotic to your host country might be just regular to you! If you are Japanese for instance and living in Paris, you can find Japanese restaurants with Japanese cooks and even a Japanese supermarket. Products might be a bit more expensive but it will taste like home.
- Get accustomed slowly with local food.
Don’t be too brave when it comes to your stomach! Mix different recipes from home and from your expatriation country. Go easy on the local traditional dishes especially if the food is very different like in India for instance. Let your body get used to it!
- Ask your family to send you stuffs.
Ask your parents or your friends to send you nice packages with your favorite shower gel or moisturizer. It will feel like a real treat.
- Subscribe to TV programs from home
You can find all kind of online supports (through subscription) to manage to watch your favorite TV program from home. Also check local cable TV or Netflix. You might be able to find programs you like in your own language.
This is probably one of the trickiest parts according to many expat bloggers. Global mobility is amazing but it’s not as easy as you might think to make new buddies.
Language barrier, different habits or tastes, don’t get discouraged, it might take time but it does not mean it’s impossible.
So you should:
- Find members of your own community
Search online to find members of your community i.e. people who might share the same faith, same passion for a popular and specific sport from home, etc.
Also look for expatriate clubs or group supports from the same nationality as yours, There is usually a nice feeling of solidarity among them.
They will be able to help you on top of offering their friendship. Being an expat is at least one thing you have in common. Build up from there!
- Try to make new friends
Don’t be shy! Start with inviting some colleagues.
- Share your culture and discover the one from the country you live in.
Cook some traditional recipes from home for locals and show curiosity and enthusiasm about discovering traditions and history of the country you are now living in.
- Go to the gym club, wine tasting, pottery class, supermarket, bars, etc.
Any place where it can be easy to engage conversations with people. Go to the same places again and again. It’s all about socializing!
- Talk to the parents of your kids’ friends.
Concerned mothers are the easiest species to become friends with! From parent to parent, ask them addresses for doctors, baby sitters, public parks, etc. And start organizing playdates at home.
- Read blogs, etc.
There are plenty of tips on internet about international assignment and expat employees who have been through the same thing you are going through and who can give advice for many issues such as what do or not in terms of being polite, etc.
You will get to work every day. That might not be the same story for your wife or your husband and boredom, loneliness, homesickness might hit him/her harder than you who is being kept busy at the office.
Sometimes he/she had even given up a career to follow his/her spouse overseas which might create some frustration.
So you should:
- Get involved!
Suggest your spouse to join charity organization, to volunteer to be a part of your kids’ school trip, etc. Also help him/her with trying to find a job if the visa situation allows him/her too.
- Choose a nice neighborhood to live
Find an area with shops at walking distance, convenient transportation, where you feel safe but not isolated.
- Follow your kids’ example!
They will most probably get used to their new school and make friends sooner than you will. That’s the magic of being a kid or a teenager. Follow their lead!
- Get your family to visit
Nothing’s better than a hug and some quality time with your parents or friends from home to cure homesickness. You will also get to discover your new city with them.
- Get an unlimited phone subscription to call overseas.
So you can easily stay in touch with your family and friends.
In your new office
Getting a global assignment should be about learning new things, creating opportunities and not about getting overstressed or feeling in a hostile environment.
But it means you will need to make special efforts and invest yourself even more in the beginning to establish trust and togetherness in your office.
Deal with the paperwork
The sooner, the better! Most of it will be dealt with the support of your HR department (from home and from your new office).
Visa, tax paper or health insurance do not sound like the funniest task to handle but it will be such a peace of mind when it’s done!
Get along with your colleagues
People might see you with a little bit of mistrust when you arrive, particularly if you come with a position as a superior.
First impressions matter even though building a relationship with your colleagues will be a long-term work-in-progress on top of whatever business objectives you will have to achieve.
Try to get them to understand that yes, you are here to get the job done but also to help them in their daily issues and possible difficulties to be heard from the main office.
And no, you are not a spy for headquarters! (Or don’t let them know…)
Don’t act like you are in conquered territory.
Try to understand their needs and frustrations. Be professional but also create moments of relaxation and conviviality. Organize a night out or a breakfast with specialties from home to break the ice.
Get used to the differences of culture, habits, etc.
Every country has their own set of social rules, work habits but also specific office hours, lunch break, reachability, holidays, etc.
In France for instance, employees don’t have to answer business emails anymore the minute they step out the office, it’s the law.
Some behaviors or customs might feel way better than home (apparently work atmosphere is the coolest ever in Norway for instance) but some might get on your nerves!
You must be flexible and willing to make compromises. Check out online tips and ask your colleagues about the dos and don’ts especially in countries where gestures and attitudes are very much codified like in Asia.
Patience and dedication are the keys!