Prolonged exposure to the real world -in an unfamiliar part of the world - raises new challenges and even potential dangers.
Expatriate surveys are fairly regularly collated and provide a good reflection of what is so attractive about this lifestyle. Additionally, the aspects which represent the other side of the coin are also worth researching. For those who originate in the West, the popular expat destination of Asia represents a significant challenge, despite a good economical profile and often a highly rated “overall experience”.
This continent is a top target for students (a survey after the recent A-level results in the UK cited Thailand as the No.1 for a gap year, along with India the expected choices of Australia and the US). Often the gap year is a highlight of the early career resume and these experiences can lay the foundations of a working project abroad.
In a 2012 Expat survey, for many expatriates in Bahrain, political instability remains a bigger concern than the state of the economy, which is considered as fairly immune to some of the instabilities that affect the global market.
These concerns can be amplified if relocating with a family. For the single person or those taking the plunge before starting a family, the motivations of a stable economy may be worth the risk for these individuals. Another typical class of expatriate is that of the older couple who are seeking a new lifestyle not driven by career incentives, where the choice of destination can avoid any political concerns. However, if the reason is to be with their existing family overseas, then choice has less to do with it.
The bottom line is to have a plan before you go as coming up with a strategy in an emergency is probably not going to be as effective. Also, as with travel in any foreign culture: there will be local areas that are best to avoid and possibly other situations where jewellery or other indicators of wealth may be best hidden.
Lost in Translation
The language barrier constitutes one of the major obstacles to integration and that may not be the local language; in the UAE the snapshot of the “local” population shows it is predominantly expatriates. Native citizens make up only around 20% of the population, with the rest being an expat mix from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines amongst others, adding to the multi-language environment. Here, communication complexities are augmented by this variety of individual languages.
Healthcare and Childcare
For those groups who are taking advantage of a too-good-to-miss career step, they may already have a family to uproot and hence deal with finding more comprehensive living conditions and also pre-school childcare or school fees for several educational age groups. In this instance the employer should have steps in place to facilitate the setup of this infrastructure and medical eventualities. Both Asia, for example India, and the Middle East, Dubai are regions where these family-related challenges are occasionally of some concern.
The social integration of the children themselves, not only the parents and breadwinners, is a side-effect, with a symptom possibly being a greater amount of time spent watching TV or playing video games.
Quality of Life
There can be no denying that the benefits of a multi-cultured chapter in one’s career or life in general can be tremendously enriching. I spent 7 months working professionally in Houston in one assignment and several other “transatlantic commuting” stints to Detroit, which were hugely beneficial personally and from a work-wise perspective. A childhood in a foreign culture also provides an unrivaled educational boost that can really stand a youngster in good stead for their life ahead. Again, I spent several years as an expat pre-school child in Singapore, which may explain the desire to take up these other opportunities in my later career.
Rise to the challenge, though and the rewards can be, well, rewarding!
(Photo by cdfrain via Flickr)