expat life

5 Ways to Prepare for the Expat Life

You have done your homework and believe you are more than prepared to handle an expatriate assignment. After all, you have prepared your own assignees more than a dozen times before you relocated them to their new country of employment. More than that, you have the network and the contacts to make your new job easier; these friends and acquaintances would go a long way in making you feel welcome. Your frequent trips to that country as a global mobility specialist would also stop you feeling like a stranger in a strange land.

So what if your expatriate assignment runs for six months? It may be more than your usual few weeks as a global mobility specialist scouting for talent, but this ground that you will soon be traveling is familiar. You’ve even grown fond of it and developed an affection for its people.

Nothing can go wrong, right?

  1. Never assume

First, things can go wrong if you automatically assume that everything will go right. Your familiarity with the place will give you a heads-up, but living in another country for half a year and immersing yourself in their culture is far different from the experience of a business tourist who flies in and out. As such, the first order of the day is that you look at things with a fresh perspective. Open your mind — and appreciate the fact that all your previous knowledge is but a stepping stone to gaining new ones. That attitude will make you more observant of behavior, mannerisms, and corporate rites of passage that might have been obscured before.

  1. Be prepare to be scrutinized

While your contacts and your network of colleagues do remain your support system, be prepared to be scrutinized more keenly. Most of them will want you to succeed. But dealing with you on a daily basis is a stretch compared to your Skype meetings done a thousand miles away. Your shortcomings, idiosyncracies, customs — all that will be measured this time according to their cultural norms. For example, you might have been polite and diplomatic in all your emails; but a public scolding of an Asian staff member will send shock waves to your Asian colleagues. And they might think twice about opening more doors for you.

  1. Adjust to the culture

To understand their behavior up close, you do have to appreciate the undercurrent of values that guides that behavior. As Expat Counselling and Coach Services illustrates in the life of one expatriate American woman, she was able to make headway with an Indian colleague upon realizing that preserving a close friendship was valued higher than being brutally honest. Don’t be quick to judge based on your own standards and culture. You may not necessarily agree with their principles and practices, but try to see it from their perspective. It will improve communications and relationships a lot.

  1. Learn the language and etiquette

Learn the language and the local etiquette; this is non-negotiable, says Country Navigator. Communicating with your hosts in their own native tongue with a certain degree of fluency can earn you their respect at the very least — and help you master negotiations and dealing with their leaders at their best. Read up on what is acceptable in their country, and follow it. Ignore a German national on a street, and he might perceive it as an insult. Honor the dress code in certain Muslim countries, or you might be perceived as an offensive alien or worse a lawbreaker.

In cases of doubt, seek counsel from the embassy, your nearest business association, or even a friendly landlord. California Corporate Housing does more than its fair share of building community ties with assignees who are working in Northern California.

  1. Document your experience

It might help to document your experience. It will help you in your learning and immersion as part therapy and part self-help exercise. Noting down the things you have understood can make this an online diary for future use. It can also make your stay in the country fun and exciting. Depending on your contract,  you can choose to make, say, a blog or vlog private or public. Who knows? Other expatriate workers will follow in your footsteps one day and regard your insights online as a useful resource to tap, in their own struggles of adjustment.