How Do You Manage So Much Change?

When I was 26, I had my first child, lost my job, and moved our home – all within a few months. Becoming a parent is earth-shattering enough, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized how difficult the other two changes were, especially when happening at the same time.

Among the “major life events” that psychologists say can cause upheaval are births, deaths, divorce, moving, and job change. I call upon the memory of that period sometimes when I consider the clients for whom we provide information that is critical to their expatriates’ success.

International assignees face a unique set of life events. Each taken alone would be challenging. When they happen simultaneously or in quick succession, an assignee can feel overwhelmed, adrift, and highly stressed.

Here are just a few of those major events, along with ways we can support assignees undergoing them:

Moving house.  And not just the act of packing up and deciding what to take, but the unknown factors of living in a new country where everything may be different.

How to help? Set expectations. Housing knowledge is critical, ranging from a basic understanding of available housing types and sizes to the options for appropriate neighborhoods with regard to safety, amenities, and ease of commute. Despite the trend toward self-service preferences, there are times when company input, policy, and expertise are vital to home selection.

Most employee-sponsored moves supply a moving company, which is a great help with the physical task of moving a household. Assignees also need customs guidance to alert them about prohibited or restricted items in the host country, as well as the local availability of certain replacement goods.

In the host country, household help may be common practice, further changing domestic expectations and possibly requiring a room for live-in staff.

Dealing with a new language. In addition to learning every aspect of daily life anew in an unfamiliar place, many expats are also surrounded by an unknown tongue. The isolation can be jarring  and profound. Adapting takes longer when typical aids like reading signs and asking others for assistance are stymied by a language barrier.

How to help? Provide language training. This is vital in locales where the newcomer’s native language is little used or absent. Luckily, there are as many types of language learning as there are preferences for pace and delivery.

Classroom course, private tutor, online program, app – there are choices for in-person or virtual, classroom or portable, structured or loose, scheduled or self-paced. Taking lessons prior to moving is ideal in many circumstances, while language guidance in the host country works well in others. Help the expat discover options that suit his/her family needs. And don’t forget to include children in any training that’s offered.

Choosing a school. This is one of the biggest concerns for employees moving with families. They must understand and vet the local educational choices, finding the best fit for their child or children.

How to help?  Provide information on what’s available locally, and what your company may contribute. The first consideration is language, and whether the local school system is an option at all. If so, the assignee will need to know requirements and timing. If not, he/she needs to know about viable alternatives: international schools, foreign national schools, boarding schools nearby or at home, or home schooling.

A list of host-country schools is a good place to start; their websites typically contain all the details. It is possible to do this research oneself, but school search services also are helpful.

Navigating the business environment. Moving talent abroad is an important part of Global HR’s role, and the relocating employee was chosen for a reason. But facing the reality of managing a foreign team, opening a remote office, or successfully completing a project requires some preparation.

How to help? Familiarize them with what they’ll encounter. Knowledge of the local business culture is as important as mastery of the job. Help your assignee find out: Do I need to speak the local language? Are business relationships key to getting things done? How are these initiated and fostered throughout the project timeline? What motivates the local workforce? What level of bureaucracy will I encounter? How do communication styles affect negotiations? Providing answers to these questions – in the form of information or personal coaching – supports the employee’s existing talents and smooths the path to success abroad.

Even though these are big pieces of an international relocation, they merely scratch the surface of what’s involved. From moving large furniture to comforting a small child going to a new school, there are myriad practical and “soft” issues to contend with. Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center (IRC) covers a tremendous range topics, for 194 destinations. Let us make your life easier as you support your expats and commit to your company’s success. Take a tour of one of our destination reports by clicking the Demo link at the top right of the page.

 Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, International Product Manager, Living Abroad