Lessons on Expatriates Learned from the Summer Olympics

How awesome would it have been to have competed in London for a chance to: win a gold medal, represent your country, and gain worldwide recognition? If I would have been born athletically gifted (beyond football and softball recreation leagues), I would have liked to represent my country as part of the USA Men’s National Basketball Team. Although the Summer Olympics lasted a mere 17 days, one subject that is not greatly discussed, is the athletes’ ability to perform at a top level in a foreign country. Many of the top athletes not only spend time training for their events, but also take culture-based training to adapt to their new environments. Like these athletes, many expatriates will experience changes and will need training to successfully immerse themselves into new cultures.

The first thing expatriates notice is a change in all forms of communications. They are faced with the challenge of trying to read signs that are new and strange to them. The voices and words they hear around them create nothing more than interesting sounds. Even non-verbal forms of communication, such as hand gestures and eye contact, will differ.

The second thing expatriates will notice is a change in culture. Their personal space may be intruded; some people may speak too quietly, while others may seem a little too affectionate. Even worse, they will be extra conscientious about how they act and how their actions make others around them feel. Despite the challenges of working in a foreign country and uncertainty about their environments, expatriates are still expected by their employers to deliver a top performance, deserving of an Olympic medal.

As companies continue to navigate through the recession, many are faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to send employees on expatriate assignments. Those that do end up sending employees, often discover their training budgets have been slashed, leaving their employees with an extra hurdle to overcome.

Expatriates should be looked at as members of a relay team. You may have the fastest runners, but if you don’t have a smooth transition when you hand off the baton, it quickly puts your team at a disadvantage. In the same manner, if a company fails to provide training and ease an employee’s transition to another country, the expatriate will struggle to perform at their peak performance. In the end, it will be the companies that best ensure a smooth transition for their expatriates that will give their employees the best chance of standing on the podium of success.

As employers, we should give our employees the best possible opportunity to deliver a gold medal performance.

Blog was inspired by the following article:
Would Olympians make good expats?A conversation with U.S. Olympian Michael Blatchford
Interview by Kendra Mirasol

TOPIC: Expatriates
TAGS: , , , , , , , ,

Cultures Revealed: Italia Ferragosto
September 2012 International Holidays