Relocating to a Foreign Country

Relocating abroad is one of the most exciting projects that an individual or company can take on. Relocation and international expansion have a number of benefits, including a vast new network, more revenue potential, opportunities for employee advancement and retention, heightened employee morale; and the ability to find new outlets for your company that wouldn’t be possible in your home base. According to Impact Group Human Resource research, 75% of properly supported, internationally relocated employees report “High Engagement” levels, compared to the national US average of 33%.

The Triumphs and Struggles of Relocating Abroad

Relocation is a task that requires a large amount of research, planning, and organization, including:

  • obtaining the necessary legal documents
  • travel arrangements
  • housing accommodations
  • language learning support (if applicable)
  • family and education transfers
  • shipping personal items

It’s of utmost importance to remember that logistics aren’t the only parts of an international relocation that need to be addressed. Employees and their families need adequate support both before and after the move; to make sure they are prepared for the cultural changes that come with living in a new country. Intercultural training is recognized as vital for the process.

Global Arena’s Managing Director, Charlie, moved from Mexico to the United States without undergoing any intercultural training; and experienced numerous cultural differences in interactions with his colleagues as well as with the overall chain of command at the company.

Intercultural training services were uncommon at the time of his move. Charlie had visited the United States many times: he attended boarding school in California; and he was confident that his familiarity with the U.S. was enough to facilitate a smooth transition.

After relocating to the U.S., he quickly discovered that his previous experience living in the country was not enough to overcome the cultural barriers that come with a major international move as an adult. He faced cultural dissimilarities in every aspect of his life and particularly when attempting to communicate with his co-workers.

Mexican Conversation Style

Mexicans converse and interact differently than Americans do with their co-workers. Charlie noticed the cultural differences when one of his younger associates was openly discussing her personal life. She was discussing her relationship and casually mentioning intimate situations which made him feel uncomfortable. In Mexico, it is not customary to discuss intimate situations in polite conversation, especially at work, so he was unsure of how to respond. Therefore he made the decision to avoid participating in the conversation; since he was not sure how to participate properly in the discussion.

Moreover, he faced an uncomfortable situation with a female co-worker during a casual interaction outside of work.

American Greetings

He greeted his colleague with a kiss on the cheek; since that is a customary greeting in Mexico among colleagues and friends. A kiss on the cheek is not a typical greeting between colleagues in the US. His colleague was made noticeably uncomfortable by the kiss as she was obviously not expecting it. Charlie recognized this and immediately explained. Luckily, she wasn’t offended after she heard his explanation; and she was able to help him learn the American definition of a “more appropriate” greeting. The nuances of everyday conversations and interactions with colleagues in the U.S. were a struggle for him.

Employee Rank

In Mexico, Charlie was used to having employees adhere to an unwritten hierarchy; a person’s rank informally determined their position in the company. It is common for an executive-level employee to request an entry-level employee to perform household duties beyond the job description; how to make copies or fax documents. While many companies in the U.S. do follow a similar structure, the company Charlie worked for did not.

There were many instances in which Charlie called on one of his subordinates with a task that he would assume they would handle. Instead of handling the task themselves they would give him the solution and let him take action on his own. While he was entirely capable of handling the tasks; he was surprised and confused by their reactions. Intercultural training before his move would have made this transition much easier for both Charlie and the company for whom he now worked.

Intercultural Training Program

Charlie ultimately learned to adjust to the difference in work culture; but an intercultural training program would have removed much of the uncertainty and avoided a few uncomfortable situations. Receiving intercultural training is a crucial part of relocating to a foreign country to ease cultural barriers. Contact us at Global Arena for a custom designed intercultural training program to ease your transition to a new country.

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