Tuesday, March 22, 2011

From expatriate to repatriate

One woman I know in the UK told me she was thinking about returning to the US — without her husband. He had a job and was quite happy in the UK, but she couldn't find work and was miserable being separated from her family and friends. I've written about homesickness before, but I was curious just how prevalent this problem is. In Chapter 2 of the US Expatriate Handbook, I found the following:
Consider the following percentages, provided by the Business Council for International Understanding, of expatriates who return to the US prematurely from a foreign assignment: London 18 percent, Brussels 27 percent, Tokyo 36 percent, and Saudi Arabia 68 percent.
Taj Mahal
Exotic beauty isn't enough
to keep you happy
Photo by Raphaël Fauveau
Assuming these numbers are true (and they feel right to me), this basically translates to: the more foreign the culture, the more likely you are to leave. In fact, that whopping 68% just jumped out at me. Can you imagine a company transferring people overseas knowing that 2 out of 3 won't be able to handle the change? This is why companies need to do more to support their expat employees, but that's another issue altogether.

For the numbers above, this handbook and those figures are for people posted from a US company to a foreign position. These people probably have different motivations for what they're doing than the average expat — not that I could describe the "average" expat.

So how can you make sure this doesn't happen to you? You don't want to be one of the failed expatriates, do you? In one 2009 study, the author surveyed many expatriates and found that:
[Expatriate] adjustment was greater among international assignees who were culturally intelligent and engaged in proactive behaviors; however, adjustment was lower among expatriates who had strong careerist orientations.
In short, you have to want to be an expatriate. You have to want to live and work in another country and you have to learn that country's culture and language. You have to dive right in and try hard to make friends.


  1. Interesting. We've been having some serious conversations about moving down to Mexico for a while, but I don't think I ever imagine that it would be 'forever'.

  2. @bobo: regardless of whether or not it's "forever", it's nice to always have that as an option. Who knows? Your home country may become a place you don't want to return to.