The Expatriate Adjustment Cycle: What It Is and Why It Matters in Relocation

March 18, 2015 / by Mango (PS)

Relocation is an emotional process. Employees and their families are leaving their homes, friends, and way of life to go off on an adventure they may know little about. As a global mobility manager, understanding and empathizing with not only your assignees, but their families as well, goes a long way in helping with the adjustment process. In order to provide the emotional and tactical support they need, it’s important for you to understand the emotions expats typically experience before, during, and after assignment.

There are five common phases newly relocated employees and their families tend to experience. These stages are referred to as The Expat Adjustment Cycle, and they include preparation, honeymoon, culture shock, and adaptation.

Preparation for Relocation

This is an exciting time for most assignees. They and their families will experience a mix of emotions ranging from the excitement of experiencing a new country to anxiety about the move and “starting over.”

Honeymoon Phase Once They’re Abroad

When a family first arrives in their host country and beings to explore their new home, they enter into the honeymoon phase of the expat adjustment cycle. The new language, culture, and way of life is exciting and strange, and families enjoy learning new vocabulary and meeting their new neighbors and co-workers. This stage lasts for about two months as they settle in.

Culture Shock as Relocation Reality Sets In

Once the honeymoon state has faded, the reality of life starts to set in. This begins the culture shock phase. Families begin to realize their own inabilities to interact with the culture, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration. These feelings can manifest in many different ways. People experiencing culture shock may lash out and become angry, or they may withdraw from the world and become uncommunicative. This is without a doubt the most difficult stage of the cycle, and can often last six to twelve months.

Adaptation to Life Abroad

Culture shock eventually wears off, and assignees and families begin to integrate more into their new home. The adaptation stage is when they begin to adjust to their new way of life, and accept and assimilate into the culture around them. Usually language skills improve tremendously, families broaden their social circles, and are able to move confidently around in their new surroundings in this stage.
Provide assignees and their families resources based on the different needs that manifest as they progress through the expat adjustment cycle. By understanding the common emotions and experiences felt during the relocation process, you can ensure you’re providing the emotional and tactical support to set everyone up for success in their new home.

Think that your employee may be dealing with culture shock, but not sure of the signs? Download our 10 signs of culture shock and start prepping them for the adaptation phase today!

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Topics: Corporate

Mango (PS)

Written by Mango (PS)

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