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6 Ways to Thrive as an Expat

Nowadays it’s not unusual for many individuals to expect that there will be a need to undertake an expatriate assignment at one or more points in their careers. For many, this may be an organisation-driven opportunity but for others this may be a self-driven opportunity.

Regardless of what the driver actually is, to undertake a global experience may not deliver the expected return on investment, both financial and career, if it is not managed effectively.

If you are considering an expatriate opportunity, there are some key issues that you need to consider and address prior to actually committing to it.

1. What is the impact on your career?

Whether you’re considering a global assignment to assist in increasing your marketability within your organisation or externally, you need to understand the impact this may have on your career. It may help to engage with a career practitioner and your direct manager to map out what your career may look like whether you take the opportunity or not. It will also give you an understanding of the value an expatriate assignment will have. You will also need to consider the impact this could have on your career if the assignment is unsuccessful for whatever reason.

2. What are the skills that will be developed?

Once you’ve decided that this opportunity is the right one for you, it is important to look at what skills you will need to develop whilst on the assignment or even before you go to make it a success. A lot of organisation-driven assignments will focus more on the skills you currently have that are needed in alternative locations.

However, it is important to look at how to achieve the assignment goals whilst also developing further capabilities. International experiences provide the opportunity of becoming more globally aware and cross-culturally informed which is sought after by many organisations in today’s market.

3. Am I the right person for this opportunity?

In many instances the excitement of a possible expatriate assignment, the perceived recognition that this gives you within an organisation or just the experience in itself, actually results in individuals forgetting to make sure they are the right person to undertake the opportunity. Different personalities do not adapt to change the same way and moving to another location may be more challenging for you.

Also, it’s worth considering that living standards, culture and tradition, professional environments, work-life balance, community expectations and education are different from country to country. This may impact you and your family’s ability to settle comfortably in the environment, and therefore risking the success of the appointment.

4. Pre-departure training

Many organisations understand the value of pre-departure training but some don’t provide it. Without this training some people suffer from culture shock which can risk the success of their assignment. The training needs to cover the differences between the environment you are used to living in and the environment that you will be living in. The customs, traditions and communication styles are all important in business environments and these need to be understood before you take on the assignment.

Pre-departure training for family members who are also moving is also important, as it will allow them to understand the challenges and issues that they are likely to face. For many expatriates, their partners will not be able to work and they will need to develop a social network of their own which is hard if they don’t understand the local cultures and customs.

5. What support is provided during the assignment?

Support is vital for anyone considering an expatriate opportunity to make sure that there’s an ongoing connection with their parent country and the parent organisation. That’s because change WILL occur during your assignment, and this may impact your ability to settle back in to the environment.

Monthly mentoring with a connection back home is very important as it ensures that you are aware of any changes that are happening and how these may impact your career, your lifestyle, your personal life and your job once you return.

6. Repatriation

Don’t expect your repatriation back in to your old environment to be simple. It’s inevitable that there will be a number of changes whilst you are gone and for individuals, even on short assignment, these changes can impact how you settle back in to your routine. Relationships may have changed, worked structures may be different, systems may be updated and your friendship routine may have seen someone else come in where you left off. It’s important then that you start to develop a support network for your repatriation whilst you’re away on assignment, and maintain the connections to ensure you are aware of what to expect on your return.

For a lot of individuals, the repatriation process is far more challenging than the assignment itself and it can have a big impact on relationships and your career if it’s not managed appropriately. As the global economy grows, more and more individuals are considering expatriate assignments, so it’s important that you do the right amount of research and planning before making that step.

A failed assignment can be a great hurdle to overcome but so can the impact on relationships if it is not known what to expect during this time. Whether its company sponsored pre-departure planning or personal planning, any type of international assignments need a high level of understanding and agreement even before someone looks to commit to it.

By Rebecca Fraser

Rebecca Fraser is a Leader of learning and development for organisations and individuals. She is highly recognised for her contribution to the industry and for her work in the media providing information on modern day job search strategies. She is the author of ‘How to get a job in the 21st century’, her newest release on job search and resumes.