Moving to another country can be rough. Whether someone does it on their own or with family, it means being uprooted from the comforts of home—with movie nights in the town where they grew up, went to college, had a first date, just lived for umpteen years…and stepping into a world with no friends, extended family or familiar colleagues. How could it not be a complicated experience? It’s no wonder that people who share this experience are drawn to others who have come to the same country via the same route. They speak the language of relocation! This gravitational pull brings expats who reside in the same country to an epicenter referred to as the expat bubble.
What is the expat bubble?
A community of people who have moved from abroad, generally speak the same language—English—and are now living in the same country. The expat bubble is considered a safe space where no explanation of cultural differences or norms is necessary. They build lives together in their new surroundings, trying to transform it to be as close to ‘home’ as possible.
Why do expats move anyway?
In this new and fast-paced world, businesses are growing rapidly. A part of that growth involves competing not only in a local space but on an international level. Companies want to conquer unchartered waters and so they employ the best talent as part of their strategy to become or maintain enterprise status in their industry.
Many times expats move to other countries due to jobs, but increasingly so, there are persons/families moving independently for a new experience or change of pace. Some expats were not happy to leave and would have preferred to stay in their home country. Forming these bubbles allows them to feel they are still at home together. This is why it’s important for companies to understand How to Help your Employees Assimilate in a new country.
Why the Expat Bubble?
The obvious answer is familiarity. It’s easy, safe and comfortable. Without a language or cultural barrier, expats can relate to and understand each other in a way they can’t with locals. They share stories about back home and about their experiences coming to this new country, they share the struggles of assimilation – feeling awkward or stupid by speaking what would now be their second language – English. They can let their hair down instead of pretending or being polite because everything is new to them. It releases the pressure of their outside world.
While the Expat Bubble is often referred to in a negative light, it is very important for expats to connect with each other even if it is outside of the workspace. Many companies introduce expats to forums and communities that facilitate a smoother transition for their employees. These platforms form the support expats need to not feel lost, depressed, or resentment towards their new location. It’s important to be aware that this is a difficult transition from the start, but knowing how to support them will make the difference between successful assimilation and a failed venture.
Even if it is outside the workplace, it is still very important that expats meet other expats so that they can share their experiences and support each other through the cultural assimilation phase in the new country. Companies can seek out appropriate forums like the Pune Expat Club. They could introduce their international employees to these communities in and around the city. These are the platforms where not only the expats, but also their families can get together with other expat families and build a fulfilling social life.
In Dallas, for example, a new company from Spain brought over 3500 Spaniards. These groups of families decided to live near the company, so they created a Spaniard expat bubble in Dallas, Texas. They got together each weekend-the kids played together, went to the same international schools for the most part, and lived in their comfortable Spanish bubble of Spanish customs, traditions and language.
Setting Expectations about an International Move
Many times, the expat bubble is referred to in a negative light. But the truth is, it can be an anchor in a very deep sea of unknown. The trick is to create some balance to ensure that expats are not exclusively socializing and building a life only around the expat community. Companies can really help with this if the reason for moving abroad is for work, as setting expectations is a big part of what makes relocation successful. Successful assimilation can directly impact employee performance as the expat might be struggling to adjust to their new norm.
Early on employees are excited and expectations are high leading up to relocation as they think about new food, culture and tradition. Setting and managing these expectations is critical in relocating an employee to a new country. Companies need to ensure that their Human Resource Management Team has a sensitization and support plan in place for employees in this phase to help them prepare for the move.
Ideally, sensitization should begin before they relocate so that employees will be introduced to what to expect in terms of climate, traditions, lifestyle, language and social norms. This new culture should be communicated early and consistently, providing as much information as possible in a clear and detailed way. This helps the employee, and their family, to mentally prepare themselves for the changes to come.
The Biggest Impact: Cultural Differences
Families tend to be impacted the most because of cultural differences. While the expat is out at work, the rest of the family have to figure out how to build a new life. Because family time remains such an important part of life, the company’s support for helping the family, and especially the children, assimilate, can go a long way. Assisting with school enrollment, extracurricular activities, hobbies, advice on how to settle into the new surroundings. Parents won’t be happy if their children are miserable.
After relocation, company outings can be a great way to help expats get involved in the culture and understand the new traditions and lifestyle of their new home. Creating opportunities for expats and local employees to bond with off-site activities gives them a chance to break from the routine and learn more about their host country in a fun yet meaningful way. Collectively attending local festivals and traditional events as a company is a great way to help achieve assimilation, as it gives expats more of a chance to blend in.
At the end of the day, the expat bubble serves its purpose in supporting expats. As long as companies are able to actively set expectations early, help expats to understand and blend in with the new culture and support their employees during this transition, there will be far less dependence on the expat bubble to maintain the happiness and ultimately the performance of an expat.
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