Top tips for a successful expat assignment
9th February 2011
Marcia De Wolf, author of a new book on getting the most from expat assignments, gives her top ten tips for families making a move abroad.
It is important that families are adequately prepared for the challenges of life abroad
1.The talking cure
Keep the lines of communication wide open with your spouse and children before, during and after the assignment. Talk openly about everything, and be there to listen and support each other.
Besides making sure that you maintain routines and stay in contact with home, it is better to involve children as soon as possible in the decision-making process. Let them hear your arguments and allow them to state their opinion. They are important family members and will feel happier if they are treated that way.
2. Beware the trailing spouse
If one partner is relocating for the sake of the other, make sure the trailing spouse has a support network set up, even before the actual move. Many trailing spouses leave a good career behind to accompany their partner on the expat assignment. Going from a rewarding career with many social contacts to becoming the housewife - or househusband - is quite an adjustment by itself. Combine this with setting up life in a new country with a different language and you have quite a challenge on your hands.
Most expat locations have groups, made up of people that have gone through the same process, that help trailing spouses settling in to their new life.
3. Don’t rush choosing a school
Find the right school for your children, and this will make settling in much easier for all of you. Make sure to visit the available schools and find the one that feels right, for both the adults and the kids. Take plenty of time for a tour of the facilities and ask any questions or concerns you may have.
Ensure that the school has a caring community and volunteer opportunities so the parents, as well as the child, can quickly and easily integrate. Find out as much as you can about useful resources, whether there is a welcome group for new parents, available childcare options and any other things that may help you settle in.
4. Expect difficulties
Don't underestimate the pressure the assignment will put on your family and marital life. It's much better prepare to deal with these problems rather than hoping your family will be an exception.
It is true that some locations are easier to adjust to than others. But, regardless of the location, an expat posting inevitably affects family relationships. The good thing: they mostly change for the better. Families who put in the extra effort are rewarded with closeness between family members that is stronger than ever before.
Some of the extra effort needs to be put into building excitement about the move and being positive. There will inevitably be bad days, and you have to find a way to go on. A good sense of humor will help.
5. Integrate yourself
Make a real attempt to learn the local language and culture. Wherever an expat assignment may take you, it will likely be very different to what you are used to - though an American family posted to the UK will, for example, have an easier time adapting than one that is assigned to China or Egypt.
The key to any posting is to have an open mind toward other cultures. Try to learn a few words in the local language before arriving, and find out the main habits and customs of the country or region so you are sensitive to any differences there might be.
6. Do your homework
Proper preparation is one of the keys to a successful posting. Too many people go into a posting without having done their homework and jeopardize their family’s chance at a great experience. Going into a new location without all the necessary information will lead to unpleasant surprises that could have easily been avoided. You need to be responsible enough to take advantage of the many resources available to you to properly prepare the entire family for the new adventure and significantly increase the chance of success.
7. Use your resources
Get involved in your children's school and youll find it easier make friends who share and understand your lifestyle. Some schools have groups made up of parents who get assigned new families and who will try to be of assistance before and during the move. You will find people at international schools very hospitable as the vast majority of them went through the same experience that you are about to go through.
8. Don’t keep going home
Travel to new and exciting places and resist the temptation to return home at every opportunity. There are many expats who will take every opportunity to go back to their home country. Every school vacation is spent in the country of origin and, once the assignment is over, they have not spent any time exploring the country of assignment or its surrounding regions. Exploring your new country and its surrounding areas will help you feel at ease in the new location.
9. Prepare yourself for going back
Prepare for reverse culture shock upon returning home. Many expatriates, living in far-away places, imagine how wonderful it will be to return to the familiar comforts of the life they once had. Even those who have adjusted well to the host culture and are happy with expatriate life assume that repatriation will be a breeze. However, they are in for one unpleasant surprise: reverse culture shock is the name people give to that feeling of not fitting in to your home country, and you’re especially at risk of it if you return home after living abroad for an extended time.
10. Take advantage
...of all the wonderful opportunities an expat assignment offers. Expat life is what you make of it.
Practical Guide to a Successful Expat Assignmentby Marcia De Wolf is available now from Amazon
Source: Telegraph 9/2/11