Your California Transplant Succeeds When You Make His Family Happy

Any relocation for work, whether its Silicon Valley or other cities, can be a major adjustment for anyone, local or foreigner. Pressure can intensify if the assignee brings his spouse and children with him. At first glance, it seems like an ideal solution: the assignee comes home to a happy family after a long day at the office. The dinners and downtime they spend every evening or the weekend boost the assignee’s morale and makes his after-office life more fun. Neither does the assignee have to deal with the loneliness or anxiety that comes from wondering how his loved ones are doing at the other side of the world.

Everything is tied wonderfully like a nice, attractive package, right? Not necessarily, and global mobility professionals shouldn’t assume everything will go well automatically.  There are four things to remember in dealing with assignees who relocate with their  families:

  1. The assignee’s success, contentment, and sense of belonging in his new home are influenced by the happiness that his family feels in their new environment.  For example, if the children do well in school and the wife finds new friends she can socialize with, then chances are everything will be fine.  However, if the kids seem to fail in their grades or get into trouble with  their classmates, that will add an unnecessary but all-too-real burden on the shoulders of the assignee, especially if his spouse grumbles about how she herself is unhappy because she can’t find anything useful to do in their new digs.
  2. It is the global mobility professional’s job to help the assignee, his spouse, and kids integrate harmoniously into the different culture and society they will deal with for the next few years.
  3. Living around what seems to be exotic settings can seem like an awesome adventure, but that’s only one side of the story.  Former expatriate wife and now blogger Maria of Canada writes that what many do not recognize is that the spouse in particular feels a sense of loss.  That is the trade-off.  The spouse and kids can feel that jarring insecurity that springs from being uprooted.  There is also an emotional and relational vacuum caused by separation from friends and loved ones — and that vacuum has to be filled.

In a nutshell, expatriate families look for an atmosphere that is warm, welcoming, and friendly — and the global mobility professional who relocates them must make sure that the neighborhood they move into must project those qualities.

Here are practical tips that global mobility professionals can also do to help the assignee and their families grow stronger roots in the country or area where they have been transplanted to.

  • A tour of the area is highly recommended.  Don’t make the mistake of just giving the spouse a dozen brochures and leaving it at that. The warmth and personal touch have to come from you first.  Be a friend instead of the HR professional.  Take the spouse around the neighborhood, the county, and the city in that order. Spend several weekend afternoons with the family if needed.  Introduce them to the VIPs that the assignee and the spouse will be interacting with in the next few years:  the ambassador and other cultural envoys; the mayor; the school administrator; the heads of the various country clubs, etc.  Make them feel that they belong.
  • The neighborhood where the assignee and the family will be relocated to must have a support system.  The spouse and kids must feel there is someone they can lean on, especially if the assignee is always travelling. Daycare centers, the police, and medical institutions are important.  Other support systems that foreign nationals will look for are their own expatriate community, their country’s cultural houses, and English-language tutorial classes for themselves and their kids.  Some spouses may have particular requirements, like preferring to hire a nanny to watch over their kids.
  • Dazzle them with the diverse experiences.  That sense of loss and homesickness can be replaced by a greater appreciation of the novel activities they can do in their current setting, and which they may not be able to do anywhere else. More important, show them the unique places they can visit every weekend for some family. bonding.

Northern California can be their brave new world to explore, with an adventure waiting in every corner.  Watch waves crash across the cliffs, whales surface, and seals barking along the shores of the Bodega Bay and the Point Reyes National Seashore. Wine lovers will find NCal lush wine country stretching from Napa to Sonoma. Give the kids a taste of international art in museums like San Francisco’s MoMA, Young, and the Asian Art Museum. Enjoy fresh food by picking apples in the park, sampling them in the open markets, or digging into your favorite seafood cuisine.  Take the kids to thrilling rides in amusement parks — and at certain angles high above the earth, give them a breathtaking view of their new home away from home.

Enchant your assignee and their family with what the region or place has to offer.  Keep the spouses happy and excited.  That’s how you’ll make your assignee successful in what he does.  And when the renewal of contract comes, they’d be more than happy to sign on again.