While workers and executives have long-since received adequate training before moving over seas, the rest of us have recently been enjoying a brand new industry catering to those who wish to move and thrive abroad.
Relocating to a new part of the globe for most people is a chance to begin and lead a new and different lifestyle and gain an international experience by fulfilling the demands of multinational companies while they are at it. But with the opportunity to boost your resume, comes the pressures and responsibility to successfully manage large teams of an international character – more often than not, in a second, foreign language.
It is therefore evident that making a successful, yet fast transition abroad carries top priority; which is the direction towards which the trend in services available for expats is growing.
The Matter of Culture
With any re-location, the one factor that is very less predictable is the expats’ and their families’ reaction. While the stats for individuals who re-locate abroad on their own are far too less to come to any conclusion, the ones for workers on assignment are not favorable. Marleen Santino, an intercultural coach and herself a former expat, well-versed with the pressures of making a new start, explains, “At least 60% of expat assignments get botched due to the managers’ and families’ failed expectations.
“When I married, I left everything – job, family, and country. According to me, there can be no change bigger than that…it’s like being in kindergarten – having to learn everything from the beginning.” She continues. “There were times when I wished there was someone who could understand my position and perhaps help me ease into the new culture – which is basically what I do now.”
With an increasing number of expats relocating to different parts of the globe, intercultural training helps bridge the gap varying cultures and helps expats understand the market they are moving to. Santino, who started her company BridgeTheGap in 2010 deals with both individuals and companies, and helps expats to successfully adapt to the country she once adapted to – Belgium. “It is a different experience for every individual” says Santino.
She further states that there is always a “pressure” to adapt successfully in both professional and personal spheres. “It is certainly not an easy process”, says Santino. “And that is more applicable for certain sections of people, like the Asians. For instance, most Asians liken being direct in speech to be rude – a cultural belief which can become a problem in Belgium – while Asians consider Belgians’ speech as “rude”, Belgians in turn interpret the former’s lack of speaking directly as confusion.
Additionally, most expats move to a new country with absolutely no idea of its native language, thereby resorting to speaking English as a second language to communicate with people – and that has its own troubles.
Santino explains “Language and culture are not isolated – it is quite obvious that you cannot live in a country without speaking their language. For instance, if you’re in Belgium, you’ll have to speak one of the languages (French or German), depending on where you live. She further stated “While you will communicate by speaking English, it will be rather difficult for you to mix-up with the population… for example, those working in Belgian companies would miss the experience of being part of the team and feel left out due to their inability to take part in most interactions.” So while the ability to speak German or French is not needed to follow the daily routine, it is certainly needed to be able to reach out to people and participate socially. Connecting with people and establishing a relationship with people is as essential as finishing tasks and reaching goals by the deadline. And that – helping expats and others in the same position easing themselves in a new situation and achieve their personal and professional goals– is exactly what I do.
Training in the digital age
While the idea of training through digital means is a relatively old idea, what is new here is the way in which it is delivered. While social networking, emails, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) have certainly made the expats’ experience more bearable, adapting training and resources for expats to the internet and smart gadgets is only emerging.
“Cultural training is instrumental for most companies to help expats – and in some cases, their dependents adapt to living and working in a foreign land successfully within a short span of time, “ says Timothy Wilson, associate director of online cultural training software RW3 CultureWizard. “But there is also another side to this coin.”
Attending cultural training personally quite often requires a great deal of time and involvement. A self-paced, online tool, therefore is much more convenient for companies in terms of cost, and expats in terms of time and involvement – it is certainly a very attractive options for executives who ordinarily have very little time on their hands
Keeping in line with the expats’ demand for services on smartphones and tablets, the increase in the number of users has gone up by 25%. For Wilson, therefore, the training is as important as the individuals themselves – to keep the numbers up and ward competition off.
Services like RW3 train through videos and presentations. Targeting the preparation stage, their objective is to provide the employee with all possible useful information prior to their heading abroad. Inspite of all this, though, there still lays the possibility of expats experiencing real-time issues – all the more reason why they are resorting to online training.
Caroline Bishop, leadership and executive coach of ExpatCoach says, “If an expat would have experiencing problems twenty years back, he or she would have been sent to the psychologist to determine the cause of the problem’. Now, however, the trend is based more on identifying the solution than understanding the cause.
A South African expat herself, Bishop works “mostly – around 90% – through Skype” from her home in Lima in Peru with clients in different parts of the world. She explains, “The main function of the coach is to aid clients in setting relevant goals, and thereafter achieving them to keep pressures and stress at bay. Safe to say, it’s an absolutely solution-focused process.” While working with her clients, she often resorts to brainstorming on methods they can use to complete time-bound tasks and build better networks.
Being safe and secure is yet another obstacle faced by expats. In times when global terrorism is rather a sad reality and countries such as Germany, France and the UK are on terror alerts, services for expats that specialize in matters of security are becoming all the more essential. Within the last few years, HSBC Expat, which provides specialized banking services for expats, in conjunction with red24, a crisis managing assistant company, offers its Premier customers unrestricted access to all its products and services.
Claire Harris, who heads the travel services and business section at red24, says “The level of concern among people regarding safety is higher than ever,” whose job is to ensure services such as travel alerts, destination briefings, and occasionally, rescue in emergencies. “It is the employees who are asking their bosses whether they can keep them and/or their dependents safe. Therefore, if expats are trained in these matters, they would feel much more safe and secured – even better equipped – which in turn would have a more positive effect on their work and lives abroad.
With a massive change in the definition of “risk” for an expat on account of their moving to countries marred by conflict, the use and utility of crisis management is also moving from the conventionally associated oil and natural gas sector, which also involves people in similar positions, and is becoming more important by the day.
Harris explains that “risk” entails far more than terrorism or abduction. “For instance, if the country you’re moving to has a high level of corruption, or a low compliance of labor laws, or if the company you are working with has values very different from yours, it can get extremely uncomfortable for you. However if you are endowed with adequate training, the “risks” get considerably less.
Eventually, everything boils down to how an individual deals with the things that he/she faces. This is truer for expats, since they face multiple pressures – and frustrations in terms of work, culture, language, relocation, not to mention safety issues. While help for expats is one of the best ways to get around these pressures, that is not their sole use. Since living and working abroad, for the most part, is about improving the quality of work and life, it is only natural to accept any and all help that can further the agenda. For all you know, it can be the helping hand that can make all the difference.