Roger had to have an international posting on his CV to further his career at the multinational corporation for which he worked. The trouble was, he hated living outside of his home state, Virginia, USA. Once he took up his new duties in Spain, he complained incessantly to me, his coach, about shop opening hours, the language -- he spoke rudimentary Spanish -- the weather, and the inability of the Spanish to make a hamburger "like back home," as he explained to me.
He lasted two months. Happy to return "back home," Roger married a Virginian, bought a house in the town in which he grew up, and found a quiet niche at his company which offered him limited job promotion opportunities but high security. Roger is a happy man: he knows that he's local, not global.
Yadira, who I mentor, moved to a small village in southern Germany where she bought a 500 year-old cottage. A self-made, highly successful businesswoman originally from Panama, she relishes the expatriate life. "I love the vibes of this ancient place," she told me, "and it's so far away from my mother!" with whom, shall we say, Yadira has issues. Yadira's work as a consultant means she flies around the globe meeting clients. Her late medieval home at the edge of a deep dark forest is exactly where she needs to be to think, re-gain energy and plan new projects in peace and quietude. Yadira is a satisfied woman: she knows she's global, not local.
The final segment of this two-part series (for Part I, click here), illustrates how everyone, regardless of their cultural origins, shares a broad range of cross-cultural experiences when living and working in a new culture. These include:
• Their own personality and mind-set
• The prejudices, assumptions and stereotypes they carry with them
• Their expectations of the new culture and their reasons for leaving their homeland
• Unresolved family/personal issues
• How they manage cross-cultural confusion, differences and conflict
• The organization that they are part of and their tasks in it
• Their need to belong to or flee from their own culture
• Their ability to live as an "outsider"
• How they deal with the anxiety created by the new cultural demands or "confusing" behavioral patterns.
Some people, like Roger above, have difficulties "reading" the often subtle verbal and non-verbal messages being sent in a new cultural environment. Many things are unclear to them, and this makes them feel uncomfortable, frustrated or even angry. They feel forced to act, react, and make decisions based upon vague or "strange" cultural messages. Often, they long for the certainties of "back home."
Others, such as Yadira, love the ambiguity of living in a new culture, and cherish the chance to "disappear" in a new place where they are "other" and can avoid the commitments and demands of living in a place where they are "known". They welcome the new and the different, abhor the old and usual. The last place they want to be is where they came from.
To ensure employee and employer harmony, candidates for international positions should do an intercultural training to ascertain if a life and career overseas is the right thing for them. If so, they will love the training. If not, this should not mean that their careers are over for they may be brilliant in their home markets. The challenge for companies operating internationally is to identify which of their people perform best locally, and which shine globally. Happy employees get results.
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