Getting To Know the Assignee’s ‘Expatriate’ Community Provides Crucial Link

Global Mobility Managers tend to think that their assignees live only in two worlds:  that of the home country they temporarily left behind, and their current nation or region of employment. Rightly or wrongly, intentionally or not, they believe that their assignee (and their family, if they brought spouse and kids with them) spend 8 to 12 hours a day on the job, and then devote their weekends to their loved ones. Once on their own, this  family might take in the sights and sounds of their new home. Or if caught by loneliness and homesickness, would spend several hours on social media and video conference just to reconnect with the friends they had left behind.

All of that is true, and Global Mobility Managers are well-advised to be sensitive to the pace of progress that their assignees and their families are making when it comes to their adjustment. However, one thing they do tend to overlook is that there is another social force that can help them a great deal:  the assignee’s own expatriate community nearby.

An expatriate community is composed of foreign nationals who have been living and working in the host country for some time. While they may not be bona fide immigrants, chances are they have already adjusted to the local culture, and are at home with their host country’s traditions. At the same time, they provide a crucial link by which assignees can keep themselves rooted in their legacy, and touch base with what’s happening with the society they still call their own.

Global Mobility Managers do know that the expat communities exist, but again they might think of them only occasionally. Examples would be during the times that they need to call the assignee’s ambassador or the invitation from the community to attend the next cultural celebration. But expatriate communities are more than just the most prominent individual or an annual meeting of people from the same ethnicity or continent. They support the host country’s economy and are a beehive of activity where their members get support and not a small amount of encouragement.

The strength of an expatriate community was recently hinted by a Saudi Arabian newspaper’s musings at what will happen to their country once their foreign workers start trickling out by the end of 2018. The number actually indicates a mini-exodus: more than 2 million workers who will not be renewing their contract because of taxes and other new exorbitant fees that the government will be imposing on them. The Saudi columnist warned that several industries will be affected, including but not limited to cars, schools, airlines, construction companies, transport and relocation companies, and housing accommodations.

The Times of Malta admits in one article that its country too does feel the economic impact of having a solid expatriate community in their cities. Of the 30,000 assignees in the country, 20,000 are actively employed.

Global Mobility Managers can have a deeper appreciation of how this kind of expatriate community can work for their individual assignees if they put a human face — or thousands of them — on the statistics. Imagine an entire suburb populated by Indians or Chinese, and the assignee walking in the middle of them. They would be conversing with fellow expatriates in their native tongue, dining on authentic ethnic meals with ingredients that were properly ordered from another country, and dancing, drinking, singing, or whatever makes up their own version of happy hour.

The imagery does beat the monthly meet-and-greet with the ambassador or the parade of flags that happens in the international school once a year.

Chances are the assignee would have met some of these fellow expatriates or gone to their meetups. But the pressures of the job, along with that inner drive to integrate with the new workplace, might have occupied more of his time and emotions. It would help if the Global Mobility Manager himself takes the first few steps. They can go out of their way and accompany the assignee himself to their particular expatriate community. Dining in the local restaurants like those found in Northern California could start it off. Then using their own connections such as the diplomats and the members of the local business circle, the Global Mobility Manager can introduce themselves as well as the assignee to the expatriate community.

After the first few weeks, the assignee can do their own communicating and connecting. By going deep into the expatriate community, and spending quality time with his fellow nationals, they would be finding and setting themselves up a place in another home.