Many expatriates want to know how to better and more quickly get adjusted to their new environment. I recently conducted a worldwide survey to examine the relationship between expatriates’ networks and their adjustment in a new country. Based on the nationality of network contacts, I distinguished an expatriate’s networks in a new environment into two categories: host nationals and home nationals. Host nationals refer to the people from host country, and home nationals are the people from same country with the expat. For example, when a Canadian manager works in Nederland, her Dutch friends are called her host nationals, and Canadian friends are her home nationals.
The responses from 187 expatriates in 48 countries show some interesting findings: (1) Interaction with host nationals can help you to better understand local culture and feel more comfortable in a new environment; (2) Too much interaction with home nationals may delay your adjustment; (3) The ability of using local language can help you live and work better in the new environment.
- An expatriate’s host national network is an important source of cultural information and social support which further facilitate expatriate’s job performance, job satisfaction and international adjustment. The closer you are with local people, the more knowledge you will gain about the local environment; and the more local people you have in your network, the more comfortable and supported you will feel. — Local people, i.e. host nationals, are the best sources of local resources and customs. They know where to go for health care, for children’s school, for daily shopping et al.. Another more important reason is that local people can show you how to behave appropriately in a new environment. For expatriates, behaving well and understanding other’s behaviors are essential. For example, in some Asian countries, maintaining harmony is very important, therefore people hesitate to express opposing opinions in public. A western manager lacking this knowledge may miss the silent signals sent by his/her Eastern employees. Therefore, spending time with host nationals facilitates expatriate learning especially in the area of non-verbal behaviors such as body language and facial expressions.
- Too much interaction with home nationals may delay the process of your international adjustment. In a new environment, we may tend to interact with people from our home country since we speak the same language and we share similar culture and customs. Home nationals make us feel less uncertainty in a new environment. However, my study shows that an expatriate’s interaction with home nationals is not associated with either the amount of cultural information or social support. It sounds a little frustrating, but it is understandable: Since we only have limited time and effort to develop our social networks, too much interaction with home nationals will interfere the development of host national network, hence hinder the process of international adjustment.
- Local language is important for international career. The study shows that expatriates’ local language skills can benefit their interaction with host nationals and can help expatriates to gain more cultural information.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. But first of all, you need to know some Romans. How would you, then, an expatriate, build up your social network with locals?
Lily Jiao Li, a PhD in Organizational Behavior. She received her PhD from Ivey Business School in the University of Western Ontario. Her research interests include expatriate social networks and adjustment, cross-cultural management, and 360-degree appraisal. She is also an active practitioner in the fields of HR and expatriate consulting. Lily has been a faculty member in the Business School at MacEwan University and she also has work experience as a HR consultant in China.