At this point, and in preparation for their relocation, the family may participate in a cross-cultural orientation to help the whole family understand the cultural differences between their home country and their host country, understanding life in the host country, managing the challenges of moving and adjusting to life to a new country and assessing individual and family needs prior to the move.
STAGE 2: DURING THE INTERNATIONAL ASSIGNMENT
Having a professional coach available to an expatriate, their spouse and family during the life cycle of the assignment can magnify the chances of success in their personal and professional lives. Once the expatriate assignee and their family is on the ground in the new country, a coach can be available to them for problem-solving, adjusting to the cultural norms of their new country, and taking a longer view as they settle into their new life.
A coach can also assist the family in working as a team during this time of significant change. Accepting an expatriate assignment requires fact-finding, brainstorming, planning, communicating with other family members and making important choices and decisions.
A coach can also assist them in reflecting on and exploring the new culture. During the initial period of adjustment to the new country, families tend to feel stressed and overwhelmed by the lack of routine and support in general. A professional coach can assist expatriates in exploring and enjoying the cultural gifts of their new country, while avoiding the tendency to adopt negative or disempowering viewpoints about their host and/or home country’s challenges as they naturally compare life in both countries.
A key role in coaching for expatriates will also be facilitating problem solving. A couple can get support in adjusting their roles and responsibilities, keeping focused on short-term goals, identifying roadblocks and obstacles, and working together to solve problems. Couples can learn ways to notice disempowering viewpoints and create empowering perspectives as they learn to integrate into their new life circumstances.
In adjusting to the new culture, within the first year of the assignment, it is often a period of maximum cultural shock for an expatriate, their spouse and their children (Copeland, 2009).
Expatriates begin to have increased difficulty in coping with the daily stresses of adjusting to life in their new country and experience a range of symptoms, ranging from homesickness, boredom and irritability to disruptions in sleep patterns and increased feelings of sadness and anxiety.
A coach can be instrumental at this stage in helping the expatriate family deal with culture shock. In addition, a coach can help develop strategies to reduce stress and gain some perspective during this most difficult time of adjustment. A trained certified coach can also spot situations in which a couple or other family members may be experiencing more intense problems that are outside the professional capabilities of the coach, and can assist the expatriate in seeking therapeutic help within the local community.
A coach can also help the expatriate family staying connected with friends and family back home to maintain a sense of balance and connection in this time of emotional turbulence, but also helping them connect with local resources and the expatriate community in their new location. Expanding their connection with the wider expatriate community through participating in expatriate clubs and other resources can be key for expatriates as they adjust to life in a new country.
With the assistance of a coach, a couple will be better able to plan for and assess local opportunities, create projects, make plans and take committed action. Travelling, going on sightseeing excursions, volunteering, building a new social network, finding a job, or building a business are all projects that require planning, problem solving and taking action.
STAGE 3: POST INTERNATIONAL ASSIGNMENT (REPATRIATION)
People who have spent a significant length of time living or working in a foreign country sometimes find that the readjustment to their home culture upon their return is even more difficult than the initial adjustment to the foreign culture. Part of the reason for this may be that this “re-entry shock” is unanticipated – why should one have difficulty adjusting to one’s own culture?
In completing the expatriation and getting ready to coming home, a coach can be used to integrate their expatriate experience and to facilitate their transition home. Creating alignment around a new vision for the future can assist a couple in understanding all the challenges they will face as they prepare for their move home or to another expatriate assignment.
A coach can work with the couple in creating a project that involves not only handling the logistics of the repatriation, but also resolving the transition issues for each member of the family.
When their assignment draws to a close, a coach can also be available to the assignee and their family to facilitate a family debriefing, which is designed to help the whole family in coming to terms with the benefits and the drawbacks of their expatriate experience. Fully acknowledging the lessons learned, the international friendships gained, and the memories captured can facilitate a smoother transition for the couple and their family. This will allow all family members understand their own growth and emotional, social and cultural development during the assignment.
In summary, coaching enables expatriates and their families address integration issues and better understand the impact of relocating to a new country on both their personal and professional lives.
In allowing coaching services to be accessible to expatriates and their families, they are able to gain an understanding of how their approach to work and life in their new country will translate into a new cultural environment and what kinds of adjustments will bridge the cultural gaps to ensure successful working and personal relationships.
In ensuring the success of expatriate assignments, coaching could therefore be considered to be a critical component of that success, which would significantly decrease expatriate failure rates. Well-planned selection, preparation, support and reintegration programs, which can all be conducted by a professional coach, can help to increase expatriates’ overall assignment effectiveness.
In relocating an employee to a different country, a company will spend far more on taxes, housing, and relocation costs than on any cultural training or employee support benefit, such as coaching.
According to a recent study, intercultural training and support accounts for less than 1% of the total cost of an international assignment. It is one of the least expensive benefits in a well-rounded global mobility program. Conversely, expatriate assignment assistance and support is one of the most valuable tools with which you can equip your global employees, delivering a significant return on investment.
So, for 1% of the cost of the assignment, your employees can start their new lives with confidence, well-equipped to navigate the unfamiliar country that they are about to call home.
It is safe to assume that most expatriates and their families want to be successful in their life in their new country. Coaching can be viewed as a flexible, adaptive and responsive service, in that it is uniquely designed to assist an expatriate assignee, their partner and family in meeting the challenges of expatriate living. This is a win-win proposition for the expatriate and their family and for their international company that has put much at stake in having expatriate assignments help to fulfil on their business strategies globally.
Charles Darwin said:
It is not the intellectual who survives but the one who is able to adapt best to the changing environment.
Take advantage of all the fantastic opportunities an expat assignment offers. Expat life is what you make of it!
Runnion, T. T. (2005, July 2005). Expatriate Programs: From preparation to success. Workspan 48 (7), pp.20-22.
Copeland, A. (2009). Crossing cultures with competence: Trainer guide. Brookline, Massachusetts: The Intercultural Institute.
Miser, A., & Miser, M. (2009). Couples coaching for expatriate couples: A sound investment for international businesses.
Swaak, R. (1995). Expatriate failures: Too many, too much cost, too little planning. Compensation and Benefits Review, 27(6), 47-55.