Learning to swim in your international role
As the summer months begin, many of us are preparing to hit the pools and beaches. We recently read a timely article about the high number of drowning incidents that take place during the summer months and it stuck with us because it reminded us of the high number of “drowning” incidents that occur among those who move abroad to take on an international role. Did you know that drowning doesn’t actually look as you probably would imagine? Drowning is rarely accompanied with loud cries and flailing arms. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. Similarly, professionals who have problems adapting to new roles abroad typically don’t scream and cry for help, but rather quietly disappear.
Emotional roller coaster
When you begin your international role and arrive in the host country, be prepared to go through a roller-coaster of emotions. You will feel alternately happy and then sad. Even if you have learned to speak the language, or if you have been lucky enough to have had cross cultural training, your feelings will still fluctuate. At first, everything seems new and exciting, and you find that there are many things to discover. Then, differences you enjoyed at first may become a source of annoyance and dissatisfaction, and in time, you may become homesick.
Senior global executive, Andrea, described her international experience. “The first time that you move into an international role…is the first time that you realize that you are basically on your own in a different country, that you don’t have any kind of support system, that you have to build everything again from scratch, from zero,” she said. “You have to build new friendships, you have to find…new doctors. You have to shop in a different place, and buy different things.” This early period of adaptation can be an emotional roller coaster. “There is a huge learning curve, and it’s always exactly the way they describe,” she said. “In the beginning…you are happy. Then, after this two-to-three month period…comes the homesick time, when you start to compare everything, and you miss everyone and you miss everything in your daily life.” To compound matters, this all happens during a period when you are making your first impression in a new job.
This early period of adaptation can be an emotional roller coaster.
It will take a few months before a host country starts to feel less foreign, and you feel more confident. You will become familiar with the different routines and customs and start to understand the new culture and to accept the differences. In the end, you will feel comfortable in the new country. You will find your place in the local community and identify ways to combine the new culture with your own.
As it is critical to recognize the signs of drowning to prevent it, it is just as critical to provide support to even the highest performing individuals during crucial career transitions such as moving into international roles. Failed international assignments are costly in both financial, personal, professional terms.
To prevent drowning in international waters, we recommend that you understand your strengths and development areas to best prepare for success in an international role.
Our research has demonstrated that female professionals can get an edge to success in such roles by mastering four global leadership competencies which are more pronounced among women expatriates: Self-awareness, Conscious Imbalance, Operating Outside of your Comfort Zone, and Active Career Management. Cannot wait until our next blogs to find out more? You can learn about these competencies in Worldly Women – The New Leadership Profile.