How to Prepare for an Expat Assignment

Diverse businesspeople shaking handsPop quiz: you have just been notified that in six months you will be relocating to a foreign country to take up a challenging new assignment at work. What is your first step?

If your response is anything like that of the majority of people, there’s a moment of panic. The thought of moving halfway around the world to an unfamiliar place is unsettling to say the least. However, it can also be a great opportunity to travel, immerse oneself in another culture, and develop new skills.

That said, it’s not always an easy transition. Here are a few tips to help smooth the path ahead.

Start Researching the Language

This is a critical step and should not be underestimated. Understanding the local language is the building block for everything to come. Credibility can be gained or lost based on how well someone grasps the local language. The sooner the employee starts making progress and learning the language, the more comfortable and less stressed they will be as the assignment approaches.

One thing to note. Even countries where the same language is spoken might have some subtle differences in how words and phrases are used in everyday conversation. It would be wise to seek out resources that help to illuminate common sayings and try to avoid anything that could potentially be offensive.

Find a Native Speaker In-Country

Some language tools only teach the literal meaning of words and do not go into the everyday use of the words. That scenario is akin to expecting a child to learn to speak by reading a dictionary. It’s definitely not the best solution.

It’s important for expats to find someone who speaks the language as a local. The nuances among local culture, the “by the book” language, and other slang are important to understand.

Learn Any Major Cultural Norms

The spoken word is a part of every interaction; however, the physical body language is a key part of the communication process as well, especially for someone who is still learning to grasp the local language.

Try to determine ahead of time what is considered appropriate and inappropriate socially. Do people look the other person in the eye? Do they shake hands? Do they speak softly?

Determine what is commonly accepted and work to align behaviors and communication style to match those requirements. Even if employees are still trying to grasp the language, it can help to lessen the chance of any mistaken communications.

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