If you’re preparing for international relocation to a job overseas, you know this is an exciting but complicated undertaking. You’ve got a lot on your mind right now: salary changes, school for the kids, travel costs, house or apartment hunting and maybe even selling your current home.
But making sure your move goes smoothly is only the beginning when it comes to making your international relocation a success. You and your family are making a big shift, and you’ll need ongoing support on a variety of fronts. It’s wise to start thinking about the challenges ahead — and how you’ll meet them — as soon as you can.
Recognizing Expat Depression
When researching this article, I found pages and pages of results for “expat depression.” And they weren’t even discussing expats who had to learn a new language! It’s jarring just to move to another country that uses your native language. Now, imagine you understand only about 50% of what is being said around you – and that your family members are all depending on you as they figure out life in this new land. Now that’s a whole other level of intensity and stress! It’s hard, people — hard in a way that’s impossible to explain. To this day, I still say the most difficult time in my life was when I took a job in Mexico. The depression was stifling. Is it just me? I wondered. Am I weak? Am I not made for this relocation abroad stuff?
It wasn’t just me, of course. These feelings are common. But it doesn’t have to be that hard – there are things companies can do to ensure assimilation.
Before taking the step to international relocation, take some time to read up on what expat depression looks like and to discuss it with your family if they’re moving with you. In her blog The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, Clara Wiggins does a thorough job running down some of the things you might experience:
- Being quicker to cry or lose your temper.
- Withdrawing into books, video games and other media.
- Feeling tired all the time.
- Having trouble sleeping.
- Feeling easily overwhelmed.
- Eating or drinking too much.
- Feeling apathetic.
- Feeling isolated.
All of these emotions make sense. Expats can feel tired and overwhelmed because tasks like going to the grocery store or the post office that were simple back home now require extra thought and effort. Everything is work.
France, a friend of mine from France (yes, she’s heard all the puns), recently took a job in Chicago at United Airlines. After the first week she called me saying, “I’ve never spoken English for 8 hours straight, 5 days in a row before. My head is completely wrecked. I’m utterly exhausted.”
Not only that, but they feel isolated because they’ve left behind longtime relationships with friends, colleagues and extended family. Sometimes expats can underestimate how painful this is. They figure that they and their family members have each other, so they won’t feel isolated. But that’s not how things really play out. On top of that, building new relationships is harder because of the language and culture gap between you and the residents of your new country.
How to Prepare for International Relocation: Communication, Community, Culture
If you’re relocating internationally, you have to take all of these challenges seriously. A failed relocation can damage your career, not to mention your family, and cost the company up to $1,000,000 (YES! You read that right! Dell Computers quoted us that exact figure for the cost of a failed overseas relocation!). The good news is that there are proven ways to ease your transition to a new culture so that you can start enjoying all the opportunities of living abroad:
- Investigate what support your company offers for international relocations and take advantage of everything. If you’re still negotiating the terms of your relocation, ask for additional services to help you transition into your new culture, like 1 year of weekly language training with a local, native speaking language coach/instructor.
- Invest in language training for everyone in your family, even if the company doesn’t pay. Your spouse’s comfort is just as important as your own – language trainers can be hired to take the spouse to schools, cafes, grocery stories, libraries, and really introduce him or her to the new community – even help with a job search. Even an online instructor can give this support, without the field trips. 1 year of weekly meetings is best. This trainer becomes a best friend.
- Be patient with your language studies. Nobody becomes fluent overnight. But the little gains you make week by week will help you feel more at ease in your new home and make it easier for you to connect with others.
- Find a language buddy at work. You can even ask your company to assign someone to fill this role for you. A buddy is invaluable. A woman who moved from Mexico to the U.S. for a job told me this: “This coworker would eat lunch with me every day, explaining idioms to me, answer my questions about where to find certain foods in the area and especially allow me to be curious about culture and ask questions about the company and the other people. This friendship changed my entire experience, and it’s the reason I speak English so well today. I got lucky; not everyone finds a patient, curious friend like that. Everyone should have a buddy to talk to, get practice speaking and ask questions.”
- Cultivate other allies. I’ve written before about how drivers for one company’s expats in Brazil also became language and culture guides. You may not have a driver, but chances are there’s someone else in your new country who’d enjoy showing you the ropes, whether it’s a neighbor or a shop owner you frequently see.
- Explore the culture. These days, it’s fairly easy to bring the books, music, movies and TV shows you know and love with you all over the world. But if you totally tune out your new country’s culture, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to start feeling more at home. Pick just one thing that seems intriguing — for example, the TV show all your colleagues talk about — and use it as a jumping off point for language and cultural learning.
At Fluency Corp, we’ve helped countless employees and families relocate from the U.S. to other countries and from abroad to the U.S. Our approach focuses on fun, practical language training with instructors who are native speakers, as well as an emphasis on learning culture as well as language. Contact us for a free consultation to find out more.