I recently discovered the The Economist Intelligence Unit special report on expatriate life, Up and Out. Next Moves for the Modern Expatriate. While most of the study focused on corporate global mobility strategy, they also explored the viewpoints of expatriates themselves, and what contributed to the success or failure of expatriate assignment.
What they found was that companies overwhelmingly felt that ‘cultural sensitivity’ was the most important factor in a successful expatriate, but the didn’t let us in on the secret of what that actually was. They did mention that without adaptability, family support and realistic expectations, predicted success was ‘not so much’ (my words, not theirs). So I have put together my own anecdotal list of characteristics present in excellent expats and their families..
Excellent Expat Personality Traits
- Organized. The more you plan ahead, the less stressful and more successful your move is likely to be, and the better prepared you will be when you land.The more in control you are (without becoming a complete control freak), the better your chances of coping with the inevitable problems that will arise. Try not to get overwhelmed by the details – at the end of the day it is the new experiences that you are seeking, so if all your china doesn’t make it intact, it’s not the end of the world. Be prepared, do what you can, and then try and relax. The best approach is to remain calm and divide the plans into small manageable chunks. Check out our moving checklist, to give you a starting point. And here’s the Serenity prayer, which may well have been written just for you..
- Willing to embrace challenges and change. Relocating means facing change, and unless you have both a positive and a flexible attitude, you are going to find the adaptation process long, difficult and painful for all concerned, not least you. The most successful expats look forward to new experiences and lifestyles and are ready and willing to embrace them, and take the time to research, plan and mentally model the future. You will probably feel lost and disorientated initially, but instead of focusing on what you are missing, you will have an idea of what your new goals are going to be and what opportunities are opening up to you.
- Prepared to ask for help. Being shy about asking for help, advice, contacts and recommendations will get you nowhere when living abroad. The expat community is hugely supportive, mainly because we all have been there before, and will be there again. Everyone needs help and guidance and the sooner you start to approach others for insights into life in your host country, the quicker you will be able to learn about all the idiosyncrasies associated with it and how to avoid unnecessary obstacles. There are online expat networks, local international schools (you don’t have to have a child there to ask about expat events, organizations etc) and your Consulate, who will all have suggestions.
- Willing to take a risk. You never can truly predict what life has in store for you, either at home or abroad, but when you are living away from your family, friends and support network, the stakes are higher and the risk is greater. You enter into an unknown territory where anything could happen. The most effective expats are the ones who accept this risk as an integral part of testing your geographical boundaries and sampling what the rest of the world has to offer. It’s an adventure!
- The desire to participate. The most successful expatriates are those that explore and experience the culture and traditions of their host country, rather than limiting themselves to recreating their former lives, or only spending time with familiar expatriate groups. Being interested, involved and attempting to speak the language (however foolish it makes you feel) is a surefire way to win local affection, and help you integrate into the wider community. Being recognized, greeted and valued by the people around you is part of what makes a person feel secure, valued and at home. And after all, this is your home, for at least this part of your life, so being interested in the people around you should be part of your daily life.
- Realistic expectations. Any successful change or challenge takes work and effort and you would be naive to think that relocating is any different. Don’t expect instant perfection, and know that you will have bad days. Everyone does. That’s why the seasoned experts at this have Skype, Facebook, text messaging and a little black book of friends who know exactly what they are going through. Or us. That’s exactly why this site was started, so feel free to spill, share and scream to an audience of people who get it. We’re here to listen, learn and laugh together, wherever we all are.