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The burden of Expatriate life



More and more workers have relocated abroad in recent years, but despite the growing numbers, family issues remain a major factor in the failure of overseas postings.

The initial excitement of an exotic new posting can turn to culture shock, loneliness, identity loss and depression, and it is often the employee's spouse and children — without the familiar routine of work — who are most affected.

"I thought it would be an adventure, and it was," said Francesca Kelly, an American who moved 10 times in the first nine years as a Foreign Service spouse, living in places like Belgrade and the former Soviet Union during the cold war. But it "was much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be."

Brenda Fender, director of global initiatives for Worldwide ERC, a not-for-profit association concerned with work force mobility, said a family's happiness was crucial. "If the family cannot adapt, the employee will likely not succeed," she said.

And not succeeding can be expensive.

Scott Sullivan, senior vice president at GMAC Global Relocation Services, told the story of a man from Cleveland with an important role in building a large manufacturing plant in rural China. He left the project midway through and returned home when his wife and child became desperately unhappy. This disrupted the project, a joint venture with a Chinese company, which then backed out — a loss for the American company of hundreds of millions of dollars, Sullivan said, and it could have been avoided with a better assessment before the man left home.

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