As some of you know, I prepared a short survey for expats that was meant to help me find out more about the gap between expectations and actual experience concerning their international relocation. The most important point for me, and the most interesting, was to find out if the respondents felt that the support of an expat coach like myself would add significant value during the international relocation.

The questions were open-ended and gave respondents the opportunity to be as honest and detailed as they wished. A big THANK YOU! to all those who participated. In the following I will paraphrase some of the responses:

Question 1: Relocation process - What went well? What were your expectations, what surprised you?

  • The company's support for the actual physical move / hiring a professional moving company was an excellent idea that relieved a lot of possible stress.
  • The lower cost of living turned out to be financially quite profitable.
  • I was surprised by little differences and how much I actually missed my home country.

Question 2: Relocation process - What went badly? What were your expectations, what surprised you?

  • Some furniture was damaged and belongings had suspiciously changed boxes during transit.
  • Connection to HQ office got interrupted and I was out-of-the-loop regarding opportunities back home.
  • No language training made the first months abroad impossible.
  • The company was oblivious to tax and social security implications of long-term stays abroad.
  • No credit-history in the US made it really hard to buy a car and a house.
  • I suggest to plan time to deal with "separation anxiety" when it comes to figuring out which things to pack and which to leave behind.
  • I was surprised by the overall cost of the move and the cost to stock a new household.

Question 3: Emotions - How was it for you? What were your expectations, what surprised you? Were you offered psychological support?

  • Saying good-bye to elderly friends/family is especially hard. What if this is the last time I see them?
  • Psychological support may be offered but I don't trust its confidentiality.
  • I didn't need psychological support, but it would have been helpful for my wife.
  • I didn't plan to integrate into the host culture for the planned number of months I was supposed to be there - but then the assignment time frame tripled.
  • I am a "trailing spouse". Nothing changed for my husband, but I had to give up my career, my life, and my family and start all over again.
  • You might miss certain friends or dates. Tip: stay involved with the people back home, read the local paper online, and travel back regularly.

Question 4: Review - in your opinion, would talking to a Coach who specializes in Expat relocations add significant value?

  • There are programs in place that you have to ask for. They are good ideas but poorly implemented; too little too late, impersonal, and lacking warmth. A Coach could offer great human support.
  • Yes, plus language and culture training.
  • Yes, especially if a move isn't supported by an organization.
  • Definitely - to overcome fears, aid communication, keep up the good spirit, help set up new social network, deal with cultural differences, help understand mentalities and manage expectations, recognize the opportunity to adjust own set of values and support the career progress in the new country.
  • Yes, especially if the coach knows about the location or if the location has special culture-shock potential. Most helpful would be session(s) on expectations/motivations for the move, then a check-list of "to do's".

Question 5: In case you've already repatriated or are about to, what are some of the hopes and fears you are experiencing? For which areas would you like to get support?

  • I would like support in my home country.
  • I fear having lost my social network, feeling strange after having been away, and would like support.
  • I have lots of experience and know that social contacts matter the most.
  • I fear to be forgotten by my old friends and that I'm not up-to-date with the political and economic situation.

What did I take away from this? Companies are doing a good job helping their expats with the physical move and, in some cases, offer attractive financial incentives. Most expats are prepared for, positive and excited about the move. There is still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to excellent all-round relocation, and the responsibility to make the experience an enjoyable and successful one lie with both expat and organization. Check back in the following weeks for more information on what you can do to make the best of your opportunities.

I will keep the survey open until the end of the year, please do feel free to add your opinions and feedback by clicking on the provided link. If you are interested in further information about expat surveys, here are some more to browse through:

Nina Cole: Managing Global Talent: Solving the Spousal Adjustment Problem (content of this link has been moved, please google!)

HSBC Bank: International Expat Explorer Survey 08

The Interchange Institute: various research reports

Yvonne McNulty: The Trailing Spouse

Robin Pascoe: Family Matters (click on the link on the bottom-right of the homepage)

Thank you John Vernon for the free image.

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