The Expat Life Cycle: From Preparation to Adaptation

“Nothing is permanent except change.”

Greek philosopher Heraclitus maintained that all of us undergo many changes and challenges in life — good and bad. Nothing stays the same for long periods of time. Everyone accepts this fact. But what doesn’t get said is how each one of us needs to understand the change that happens to us — in various phases or stages of our lives. 

When foreign talents receive a job offer, a company may hire them for their skills, not factoring in what this person would undergo in terms of his lifestyle and culture. It’s up to him to make sense of his new environment. In 2020, global mobility managers will most likely need to communicate to their recruits about what they will encounter — not just with their assignment but what they can expect overall, from their host country.

The United States is at a crossroads. The country is polarized more than ever in an upcoming election year. Even if they feel welcome in northern California, foreign students and talents will find out that other cities and states don’t share the same openness. Where others may feel at home, the rest may face animosity from people who thrive on hate. 

Northern California is facing many challenges — wildfires, homelessness, high mortgage (better to rent)– that should inspire the tech giants to act and help their community and neighborhoods. It’s not a good sign that San Francisco lost the big Oracle OpenWorld tech conference to Las Vegas due to poor street conditions and expensive hotel accommodations. 

The state needs to anticipate and solve many of the challenges before many of the best talents decide to look elsewhere. Global mobility managers have their hands full in preparing their recruits for the various stages of their adjustment to living in the Bay Area.

Preparation phase for difference between work and living conditions 

The global mobility manager need not sugarcoat the problems facing northern California. It takes a few Google searches to know what it’s like in California, but what they can do to help their assignees look beyond what it’s facing is the fact that working in any of the big tech giants will give their career the boost they need for their entire career. These companies are well-oiled machines that have streamlined their work processes to perfection. Some of them offer all the best amenities  — food, gym, etc — on their roofs on top of training and programs that will help them get accepted for work in other companies in the world. 

Honeymoon phase is easy transition

This is in the very beginning, when the assignee has arrived with or without family to the new country–in this case, San Jose. California Corporate Housing can help these families make the adjustment in terms of their accommodation, as it always meets their needs and requirements. Global mobility managers work with companies to make the transition for these new recruits easier. The move helps the assignees enjoy the move, while the assignee adjusts to his new work environment. Being relieved from the responsibilities and routines of everyday life, the assignees will have no problem adjusting to his work.

Culture shock for different values

After a while, foreign assignees will eventually notice their cultural differences with their host country. This is the stage when they will feel discomfort with the local cultural values and/or norms as well as their inability to communicate in the local language in everyday life. They may have come from a country where things are faster but they end up frustrated navigating the local bureaucracy in terms of getting work permits, drivers licenses or just finding a babysitter. Not having anyone to unburden or talk to anyone may cause setbacks. 

Adaptation sets in

As Expateer rounds it up, adaptation finally sets in. Following a period of tremendous upheaval and a steep learning curve, the relocated employee has become productive in the new environment. Family members are settled and learning to appreciate the new culture and expatriate lifestyle. They have acquainted themselves with the local culture enough to feel confident. The language barriers are not a big issue anymore. They have made friends and grown social networks. They feel at home.

The expat life cycle would not be complete without taking repatriation into account. For those who have to come back to their home country, that is part of the expat life. While they may feel at home in their host country, they would need to make repatriation preparations. Families that have been abroad for some years and especially on successive international assignments, the process of returning home can be as arduous and traumatic as the initial relocation. The home environment to which they are returning may have changed considerably. 

All international assignees and expats go through these phases during their adjustment process abroad, some much quicker and smoother than others, with some experiencing all phases at one point of time. Understanding the stages of the expatriate life cycle is imperative.