People who leave their country to work abroad not only say goodbye to their home, they also remove themselves from the general frameworks of life they have grown up in and are used to. Professionals on foreign work assignment – especially those who go for the first time in their career – are like fish out of water: Aside from the obvious and often expected hard changes – language, home search, new job, climate, cultural differences – it is the realization that an expatriate assignment is not an extended vacation.
During the first months abroad many of the everyday routines turn out to be rather cumbersome. The new home doesn’t feel like home (yet). Without consulting the navigation system every other traffic intersection becomes a guessing game. The local bank employees speak their own distinct jargon which can be hard to follow. The stores don’t carry all the items expats look for and they are difficult to navigate. Establishing new relationships and making friends overseas is different. Understanding how the health care system at a new location works can be a humbling experience. Visiting government agencies make people feel uneasy and too often transferees wonder if they really understand all the procedures.
The new environment will almost certainly surprise you, and it will stress you. Living and working abroad takes a toll on every expat’s mental resources. Most employers who send staff into foreign locations are aware of these stress factors and the risk involved with expat assignments. After all, research has shown that between 20-45% of foreign talent transfers fail, which is costing corporations millions of dollars each year. In fact, the challenges of relocation can make or break the project.
As a result most international companies are providing their expat employees with support systems which are designed to alleviate the stress of the team members and their accompanying families. Our destination services team at The Culture Mastery discovered after many years of assisting expats from all over the world that there is one thing foreign transferees need more than anything else, the main ingredient that makes expat assignments successful: Empathy.
Yes, of course it is important to help new arrivals with a detailed and well researched community orientation tour. Assisting them with the search for an adequate home and the right school for the children. Accompanying them on trips to government agencies, utility offices, banks, doctors offices, etc. Our Destination Services Agents do all of that.
And they also feel empathy for the transferees – because they were once in the same shoes. They were at one time new arrivals themselves. All of our team members have crossed cultures at least once in their lives. They know what expats look for when they enter their new environment. They have made plenty of experiences with the bureaucratic standards in the host country. They know how expats can sometimes feel lonely and isolated. They can relate to feeling incompetent in a foreign language. They know and remember what it is like to miss the smells and tastes of favorite foods and drinks from back home. And our Destination Services Agents know how to talk to people who can feel irritated by the stress of relocation.
Showing empathy is what makes the difference between a destination services provider and the personal touch of The Culture Mastery.
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