Have you ever thought of accepting that job in Asia? Taking all of your family to another country, with a new language, and foreign customs? Something that often holds people back from making life-changing moves is a feeling of security and acceptance. It’s a scary situation to be an expat, living in Japan for the first time. People must make a new life in a place away from all that is comfortable. Often your employees will question their motives and choices. Can they, as foreigners, make a living and be welcomed by the native population in a new country? Even more, can they ever truly feel at home?
How do I Feel at Home in a New Country?
So, what is the process like? The doubt tends to come in waves, starting with little things like missing a Starbucks. And it can transform into your employees wondering whether moving or accepting this job or promotion was a good choice. In the midst of all this doubt, more often than not, there comes a point where a light bulb goes off – where one can reach a state of acceptance.
Well, let’s start off by qualifying your thoughts: the acceptance sought is not what they will gain. Expats will always look different, pronouncing words will be hard. Every look will most likely be accompanied by a second glance. Interactions will be hard and the learning curve is usually steep and unforgiving. They’ll forget how to address their superiors, or which hand to shake with before realizing that it is customary to bow in greeting. There will be mounting frustration with each day that something goes wrong. Everything will seem as though it is pushing them to get on the next flight back to their home country and never look back. These “mishaps” and slight embarrassments are a part of the journey to assimilation, especially in the workplace.
At First, It’s Hard Living in Japan
Life in Japan, or any foreign country, can be uncomfortable and unaccepting, far from a walk in the park. In Japanese culture, the idea of a gaikokujin, in its literal translation, is a “foreign-country person.” It holds no prejudice or malicious intent. But for an expat, it puts a large arrow over their head saying “look at me”. Chances are they stand out in the racially homogenous Japanese society. Even as a Japanese-American, living in Japan, while their attempts at assimilation could be much easier, they may still feel as if they exist in the periphery because even though they may look the same, they have little cultural similarity with the majority of the Japanese society.
Can I ever Find Acceptance in Japan?
Expats in Japan won’t ever really find the acceptance they’ve come to enjoy in their home countries. A weekend barbeque with Japanese friends or a Sunday family dinner won’t feel the same. The cursory glances and prodding questions won’t stop. In some positive way, there comes a point in their expat journey where they make peace with and accept the fact that assimilation is beyond their grasp. Yes, they now live in a new country. And, they are away from your family and friends. Also, they have to gain a whole new understanding of Japanese culture, their world and the people. It’s true, even with their most sincere efforts, assimilation might just not be possible. Here are some suggestions you can give your employees to alleviate the feeling of alienation.
- Embrace the fact that expats stand out.
- There will be mistakes. Some will have trouble understanding every cultural difference and expectation placed upon them. Misunderstanding and mistakes are the norm, and the fact is that many times people aren’t paying as close attention as you think they are.
- No one is expected to do everything perfectly on the first attempt – all that’s needed is some effort and a willingness to try.
- Step out of the comfort zone, explore and find things that they enjoy and stick with them.
- Do not neglect creature comforts. If they usually do yoga to keep their peace, find a yoga studio and give themself that time.
How Can I Help My Employees Feel at Home Abroad?
As an employer, there are things that you can do to ensure that your employees feel at home in Japan.
- Encourage interaction between your employees. Plan biweekly or monthly company outings immersed in the culture of the country. You can foster community while creating space for them to be more acquainted with their new surroundings.
- Check in. Whether that’s assigning someone to report back to you on the progress of your employees’ assimilation or personally making visits to show that you do care about more than their productivity.
- Create an assimilation plan. Think of it as a 90-day assimilation review and meet with your employees to ensure that they are moving in a positive direction and feeling more comfortable with their new surroundings.
- Honor their contributions. They’ve moved across the world to be a contributing member of this team, acknowledging that can help make the move feel worth it.
- No time for checking in or biweekly BBQs? Hire a language coach, as they will have 2 meetings each week for approximately one year. This will give the expat the much-needed support they need to help get used to everyday life, and they’ll also learn key phrases in Japanese language to help them feel comfortable and confident around their neighborhood and with their neighbors.
What if Employees Have a Hard Time Working Abroad?
Your employees (expats) could refuse to embrace the new experiences and attempt to do everything the same way they did it back home, instead of stepping far outside of their comfort zone and giving their new lives a chance. Many expats simply exist in an Expat Bubble. Deliberate steps to try is what makes the ultimate difference in their experience. Eventually, the stares become less frequent and obvious, the words cause less pause, and things get easier. So to answer, yes they can feel at home, but home isn’t Japan or wherever they choose – home is the experience, the friends, the memories and culture gained. So, allow them time and space to harvest those experiences and feelings and being truly at home won’t ever be a question.
Have questions about moving employees to Japan and increasing your retention rate? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.