Online forums offer insight into expats’ issues

Workers far from home ask questions, provide answers based on personal experience
By Shannon Simson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/28/2004

For organizations looking to respond to the needs of workers on global assignment, first-hand accounts of real-life experiences posted on Internet forums provide a window on the expatriate employee’s world.

Chris, an expat on one of the Internet forums where employees share their issues (www.expatforum.com), related his experience with the difficulties in adjusting to expatriate life for the “trailing spouse.”

“It is extremely stressful. I speak the language and have some place to be every day, while she feels useless and stupid because she can’t just jump in the car (we only have one car, she doesn’t speak the language and she says she wouldn’t drive even if she did have a car) and run to the store like she could back home. I look at it like it should be a great experience and while it’s not perfect it’s not the end of the world. It seems though that she feels it is and she seems to resent me a little bit for it. Our assignment is relatively short, a total of about 1 1/2 years and we are about halfway through. It is really stressing out our marriage. Any tips on how to get through it?”

Joyce, an American forum member, shared her observations on the challenges of repatriation.

“Hardest thing about coming back is that no one seems interested. You need other expats in your life. They are the only ones who will understand how you feel. To fit back, you have to learn to keep your mouth shut. Have a few ‘safe’ people to tell how you feel and what you enjoyed and how it was a life-changing experience. I was overseas nine years and loved the experience. It took me two years to start to feel comfortable again as an American in America. I did not learn to keep my mouth shut soon enough.”

Forum member Jantzen, a British expat in Indonesia, discussed what type of mindset workers on assignment need.

“To understand the possible expectations, problems or frustrations expats have when leaving or returning home, I think you need to understand yourself. I enjoy going back to visit the U.K., and I do talk about my experiences to friends briefly, but I know after a while they slip back into routine conversation, the same as the conversations I fall into as an expat in Indonesia. Personally, I think a far greater problem is when the feeling and question arises ‘I feel I want to settle down now. Where do I belong?’ When you can answer this question, you know that you can live somewhere without the ‘location’ worries.”

Daniel, a Canadian expat living with his wife and one-year-old son in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, offered his thoughts.

“My company has had expats here since 1997, with one complete failure. The expat who failed had the wrong type of attitude from the get go. When in Rome, do as the Romans do...this is the golden rule of being an expat. Unless you embrace the culture and make it your own, you will fail. You have to roll with the punches. One of our other expats here has shared his ‘whatever’ philosophy which I have totally bought into. Things will be difficult at first, but you must realize that there are many things that may test your patience, but you have to learn to just say ‘whatever, I can’t change things, so I’ll just accept them for what they are.’ It has worked well for me. Most important thing of all for expats to remember is, whatever happens, don’t freak out.”

For more online expat discussion boards, go to www.hrreporter.com, click on “Advanced Search” and enter article #3393.

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