How Can You Prepare for Working Abroad?
August 26, 2019
By Robin Moriarty
After you’ve accepted an assignment abroad, your life becomes a whirlwind. There’s the process of finding a new home, leaving your old one, packing up your stuff, saying goodbye. And there’s the process of visas, immigration, looking for schools, gyms, language classes, day care and whatever other things are important to you. Hopefully your company will assign you a relocation specialist to help. And then there’s the process of getting acclimated to a new job and depending on the work environment, you may or may not be welcomed to your new assignment with open arms by the locals. You need to be ready.
Professionally, get to know as much about the company culture in your new country as possible. This means getting to know the characteristics and expectations of top executives and the history of the organization in that location. The company culture will likely be a mix of your corporate culture and the local culture so be prepared to be surprised by how different things are. Contact the top executives and schedule lunches or coffees with them to get to know them on a personal level, and seek their advice on how you can best contribute to the organization’s success.
Depending on your organization, there may be locals or other foreigners (or foreigners who have “gone local”) working together. In any event, it’s important to get to know the way things work and who expects what. Get to know their assistants and find some allies in the office with whom you can go to lunch those first few weeks or else you will get lonely.
Also be aware that there are likely long-standing relationships across the organization with family members, cousins, and childhood friends working together. They’ll have deep-rooted loyalties and informal communication channels so be cautious until you understand the lay of the land.
Unfortunately, you may also need to brace yourself for a chilly reception in case everyone is not excited about a foreigner coming in. I experienced this, especially in cultures where it was not common to see a woman in a leadership role and where others saw me as a threat because I had “stolen” the job of a local man. And be prepared because just like in any organization, there may be a local who was hoping to get your job and that person may resent your sheer existence.
Keep your focus on understanding the organization and culture at first and then you will be better able to figure out how to impact results and navigate effectively. I have seen many people fail because they tried to force a way of doing things without understanding the organizational and cultural dynamics first.