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Essential Mechanisms to Survive Corporate Life Abroad


{#/pub/images/EssentialMechanismstoSurviveCorporateLifeAbroad.jpg}An international manager stands to gains so much in life, yet lets not forget how much he can also forsake!  When the going gets tough, or when a natural or man-made disaster strikes, what is it that really counts?  


Three Examples of Real Life Experiences




The Kenya Mall Attack has demonstrated how vulnerable expats (and humanity in total) really can be.  An embassy worker decided to get the groceries from her favorite shopping center and enjoy a relaxing coffee with her neighbors from down the road.  Whilst injured, she has emerged as one of the lucky ones.




A corporation which is very clear on its anti-bribery policy sent two colleagues into the depths of a continent.  Whilst driving from the city to the port, the driver came across a fallen tree and was forced to stop and get out of the car to assess the situation, at which time, one chap emerged from the bush requesting money. When this request was refused by the first colleague (being true to his corporate anti-bribery policy), three more ill-intended gentlemen emerged from the bush, at which stage any thoughts of the corporate policy dissipated as the second colleague quickly emptied his pockets to allow the car to continue.




An expat, feeling the need to relax from a stressful year in his expatriate post, travelled to Asia for the Christmas break rather than return home in 2004.  It was time to relax, sleep on the beach and recharge the physical batteries.  Yet the tsunami of that year certainly ensured the experience was nothing as intended.


International managers often gain an appetite for broadening horizons in their leisure time, an act often fuelled by corporate adventure, and experiences ‘beyond the norm’. They may have put away a little extra to allow the travel, or the expenditure because one day some day, they will be back home in the daily known grind.  Yet there is a dark side lurking beyond the surface and when it strikes, the effect can be profound.


Immediate survival tactics do kick into play with post-incident trauma an unexpected and unwelcome addition.  Alternatively, in non-emergency situations, a ‘separation syndrome’ can exist.  When either of these situations occur, what will bring an international manager comfort and solace? 


Essential Mechanisms to Survive Corporate Life Abroad


So what is it that really matters in those situations, and how are you ensuring the nurturing of this at all times?


Many expats who were asked this question were clear on the very first answer – family. Never ever break the ties, lose contact or ‘wander from your roots’ too far. 


Family are a great ‘confidential’ sounding board when an ear is needed. Family are those you can turn to when a financial or emotional emergency appears in the expat life. Family are the only ones who will really understand the effect of your corporate woes in relation to your past experiences.  They know what you value, who you are and what serves you well, and with that in their minds, they will likely see any corporate woes through a different lens to you, offering well-needed perspectives.


Another mechanism is a fall-back option, something that remains as an option when all else is lost. For some that may be a financial security blanket, for others a home to move back into, and for others yet again it may be a group of friends.  Options are healthy, yet the question can be ‘how many options are too many’?


A regular communication practice with family and friends is another investment that will pay an expat long-term dividends.  Remembering those birthdays, attending those special weddings, popping up just to say thank you to those you’ve left behind will provide a ‘reality check’ and a feeling of belonging.  Social Media these days is a great way to manage that without digging into your time, yet for the older generation, simply receiving a card with a different stamp can give such joy!


Bringing your support network into your new life is another way to bridge the geographical gap, and hence ‘perceived difference’.  Visits by friends and family will help them have a picture in their mind of where you are and how your daily routine serves you.  This will also reduce the sometimes-unnecessary and often unhealthy attitudes of ‘but he’s so lucky’, bringing into perspective that whilst on the surface it may look so, deep below, there may be negatives that simply wouldn’t exist if not for being an expat.




An international manager must never forget that one day some day, you will likely be back home – it will be your choice that you go home as a stranger or friend.



{#/pub/images/debbienicol.jpg}Written by Debbie NicolManaging Director, 'business en motion' 

With leadership workshops, strategic approaches to organizational development and change, executive coaching and public speaking engagements, Debbie’s USP is the ability to open minds of those around her. Offering both traditional and contemporary toolkits focused on story-telling as the impetus for self and corporate leadership change. Sectors span across Asia, Africa and specializing in Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.


Do you have a management question for Debbie?  Please visit our International Management Community, she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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