The expat personality: What type of person adjusts well to culture?


By Rudolph Young

An overseas academic job may sound romantic, but once reality sets in, it can be a daunting experience. As a human-resources manager who has worked for organizations employing more than 60 nationalities and an occasional coach of expatriate academic administrators, I have often heard expatriates say that relocating from one country to another has been one of the most nerve-racking and disruptive events of their lives. The adjustment to a new job is often much harder when moving to a completely different culture without the kind of support that comes from friends, family, and regular daily contacts.

When things go wrong for expatriate employees, their costs may include unemployment, delayed career development, damaged relationships, and interruptions in their children’s education. For universities and colleges, importing employees is not cheap. Relocation, housing, education assistance, travel, and repatriation can make the cost of hiring an expatriate triple that of a domestic employee. Human-resources administrators often have to manage the expectations of “wannabe expats.” I recently received a call from a job candidate who refused to accept an offer to move to the Middle East unless his family was given an apartment with a view of the mountains. He was negotiating for a job in the desert, where there were no mountains.

Given the high personal and institutional stakes of relocating, it is critical to know what personality traits help people thrive as expatriates. But processes for the selection, orientation, and development of expatriate employees have often not been based on solid psychological research. Instead, administrators may act in a knee-jerk way because of the need to quickly fill positions. In some cases, they may choose candidates who are the most technically competent, even though the characteristics that make them successful in their home countries do not necessarily make them well suited to international jobs.

A question that I am regularly asked is whether there is an ideal-expatriate profile. I answer with the popular summary of Charles Darwin’s thinking: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Many people do not adjust well to a new culture, language, and job. I have seen aggression, anxiety, depression, irritability, and feelings of low self-worth as a consequence. Negative physiological reactions such as insomnia, backache, and asthma also often occur.

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Source: Myexpatsworld & Daily Mail