Living and working abroad presents a whole host of opportunities, but what is often forgotten or overlooked are the challenges you will inevitably face.
We all know that stress, relationship problems and mental health issues are difficult to deal with and can affect work performance. An expat not only has these issues to deal with but also has to adjust to a new culture and support their family in a new country; it can be overwhelming.
Lost in translation
Understanding and speaking the language of the new country is one of the most common problems expats struggle with. Simple tasks can take an incredibly long time to get done if you don’t understand what is being asked of you or you can’t express yourself. Difficulties in communication often results in a loss of motivation and patience and an altogether more stressful work environment. This largely stems from the fear of sounding silly in a foreign language, or not being taken seriously in a business setting. Although making mistakes are part of learning a language, it’s hard not to feel inadequate.
Doing business and understanding how people communicate is different in every country, another shortcoming for the expat employee who is thrown in at the deep end. Trying to learn the underlying social rules of negotiation can be incredibly frustrating for the “newbie” in the office. Even if you feel confident in your language abilities, it’s easy to be misunderstood resulting in miscommunication and difficulties when negotiating and sealing the deal.
Keeping the family on your side
Living abroad can put an enormous strain on a relationship. While your other half is engulfed in work and distracted by the relocation process, the spouse and family are neglected or left behind. The family has to start from scratch too: adapting to a new culture, looking for schools and making new friends, all without a social support network to fall back on. This commonly results in loneliness and resentment towards the new country, especially if the spouse is struggling to find work.
New jobs are extremely demanding leaving the partner exhausted after a day of work and insensitive to the needs of their spouse and family. If the spouse or family are having a difficult time adjusting to the new culture and feeling unhappy, this puts even more pressure on the other half to succeed at work as a way to “prove” that the relocation was the right move.
State of mind
One of the most cited problems experienced by expats is the feeling of isolation; not being able to express yourself to your colleagues on a day to day basis, difficulty in comprehending the business culture will make even the most confident person feel left out or isolated. Although this is a natural response, it becomes dangerous if the expat feels so alienated from his workmates that more serious mental health problems begin to develop.
Expat assistance programmes
Many of the issues highlighted in this blog post affect people in the workplace, regardless of whether or not they are on an overseas placement or based at home. The point is however, that expats deal with all these issues at the same time. It’s difficult to imagine or relate to if you have never lived abroad, and this is perhaps why expat problems have been overlooked in the past. Nowadays, more people are sent abroad to work meaning that emotional support for expats is being taken more seriously.
International health insurance companies who provide healthcare to millions of expats living across the world are beginning to realise that their services should not be limited to emergency or physical health issues alone. Integra Global, an international private medical insurance (IPMI) provider now include Expat Assistance Programmes in all of their plans. Their recent partnership with Morneau Shepell, the international provider of employee assistance programmes, means that expats are now being offered the emotional and cultural support they need. In light of the recent acts of terrorism that took place in Paris and elsewhere in the world, critical incident support and crisis counselling are now offered to plan holders who have been affected by these traumatic events.
Support programmes are designed to help expats and their family members through each stage of their relocation, offering support for their emotional needs. Expats have access to behavioural health professionals who understand the difficulties expats and their families face on a day to day basis. They can offer advice regarding relationship problems and support those dealing with stress, isolation and anxiety.