Adapting into a new environment takes time, and the pace of transition varies from person to person.

Honestly, it is not much different than learning to ride a bicycle

The excitement of purchasing a new bicycle and dreaming about scenic rides with friends on a pleasant evening, is akin to the joy of going through beautiful pictures of your host country, reading through blogs, and imagining all the wonderful adventures that await you.

But when you set your foot into one pedal, the cycle starts wobbling. With one foot stuck and the other slipping under the weight of your disappointment, wham bam it falls on you numbing all excitement with shock. Doesn’t this feel similar to the cultural shock of discovering ‘behind the scenes’ of those beautiful pictures of your host country?

And finally, after multiple injuries, which you later go on to display with pride as proof of your adventurous spirit; you learn to put both feet in the pedal and steadily ride through the scenic pastures, creating joyous memories along the way. Very much similar to you gliding into the new culture, after taking cultural bumps in the way in your stride.

So, after demystifying the first two steps (Step 1 and Step 2), let us deep dive into the cultural adjustment techniques, with which you as a Global Mobility professional can support your expats to finally enjoy their bicycle ride! 

All for one, and one for all

Human beings are social creatures. We thrive well in a supportive environment. Studies suggests that the quality of support positively impacts cultural adjustment. It imparts a sense of belonging and inherently inculcates a co-dependent feeling, which eventually makes the shared space feel much safer and easier to seek help from.

We have to bear in mind that at this stage, expats will need support on multiple aspects:

Tangible support

‘Wherever you are in the world, you want to be home at the end of the day’. ‘Home’ – it may seem like just a temporary place to stay for an expat, but it is the place where they will rest after battling the ‘foreignness of the day’.

  • Help your expat find an accommodation that literally makes them feel at home
  • They are already struggling with the new way of living. Help them ease into it with hassle free commute to office
  • Assist in setting up their essentials at home and help them identify schools for their kids
  • Handhold them while they navigate their way through confusing laws and regulations

Let their first impressions be a ‘thank you smile’, instead of a ‘confused frown’.

Informational support

“I have run out of my essential medicines. Will I get this brand in India?”, “Do you have karaoke bars out here?”, “I am invited to a wedding. What gift should I take?”, “As an expat, do I also need to link my PAN with Aadhar (Indian Identity card)?”, “My landlord is asking me to pay for repairs. Why should I do that?”

These are just some questions that we keep receiving from our expat clients. Remember, it doesn’t matter how much time they have spent here. There will always be something new waiting for them.

  • Ensure to provide them a support point from within the company, or assign some professional expat consultants to them
  • If you have other expats in the company, do connect them with each other, to gain from mutual experiences
  • Keep talking to your expats on a regular basis, to understand their needs and difficulties. Accordingly, keep sharing information to make their lives easier.

What may seem banal to us, could be harrowing for them.

Emotional support

Can’t stress enough the importance of this ‘most ignored’ aspect. No amount of luxury or scenic beauty can make up for the gnawing loneliness. Expat professionals as it is have a challenging enough time managing things at work. But, expat spouses and kids are the unsung heroes of this ‘uprooting’ and ‘re-rooting’ process.

  • Make sure your support the expat spouses feel engaged in the host country. Create opportunities within the organisation, or connect them with relevant opportunities to pursue their interests. Support to expat spouse will increase your expat professional’s commitment to the company manifoldly
  • Definitely provide local language and cultural assistance. While you may feel that English is good enough to get by, just count the occasions within a single day, when you yourself have no choice but to talk in your local language. Studies have shown that language and background understanding of others’ mindset sets a positive undertone
  • Ensure that your expats engage in various local experiences. Arrange local tours for them. Organise workshops and events to experience various facets of their stay
  • Encourage them to join various expat groups
  • Again, talk to them on a regular basis. Understand what they are missing and wish to experience. Help them pursue their interests and aspirations. Sometimes they may not even know what they are yearning for. Help them make sense of this chaos

Most importantly, do not take it for granted that with their big mansions and fancy expat perks they have nothing to worry about.

Collaborative Support

In many MNCs it is observed that 80% of expats prefer to hang out within their nationality. While that is obviously comforting, it won’t help break the chain of perceptions. To demystify pre-conceived notionsit is important that the company fosters an environment where locals and expats are able to observe each other as just people, rather than different nationalities.

  • Conduct fun activities with superordinate goals, which require these different identity groups to collaborate for a higher common goal. For e.g. A fun activity could be uncovering some mystery together with clues being something about their respective native countries. Learning about each other, to help each other, together solve a common problem could really help them bond and appreciate their distinct personalities
  • ‘Cross’ Cultural Workshops – The simple format never goes wrong. But instead of conducting it for just the expats, it will help a great deal if the natives are also apprised of the nuances of their expat colleagues’ local language, culture and mindset. After all, it’s a two way street!
  • Encourage natives to nominate themselves as host buddy. Expats need all the support and a lot of information. Having a native assist them will help clear a lot of pre-conceived notions and have a much authentic experience

Summing it up

I am completely aware that all the above is easier said than done. But it is not unachievable. A proper expat adjustment plan, prioritised based on different phases of expat life, and acclimatised to the personal goals and aspirations of your expats, can make it all easier.

Majority of Global Mobility professionals’ time gets embroiled in coordinating with external vendors and internal stakeholders to manage the logistics of international assignments. Cultural adjustment takes a back seat, with just an occasional cultural training session here and then. But, focus on ensuring a happier and more productive expat life, should be inculcated way more extensively into a multinational’s expat management plan.

The Expat Experiences team at Expat Orbit will be honoured to assist your company in ensuring happier and productive expat lives for your valued expats in India. Feel free to reach out to us for any assistance, or even just a quick chat.


Photo by Brett Zeck on Unsplash