International Relocation: A Life-Changing Decision
Six ways to ensure that your relocation decision is constructed on the solid foundations of an informed, conscious and joint decision.
By Louise Wiles and Evelyn Simpson
Originally published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 21 | Nov/Dec 2015
Thriving Abroad recently sponsored the Family Zone at The Expat Show 2015 in London. During two days at the show we had very interesting conversations with prospective expats, learning what motivated them to initiate international moves.
We found that the way people spoke about their rationale for moving abroad fell into one of two camps. Either they saw moving abroad as a means of escape from a life that lacked luster – yes, the U.K. weather was universally listed! – OR they had stars in their eyes… not the rock-star kind but a dream of something better, easier, warmer, prettier. They were pulled by the positive expectations they ascribed to a new location.
In the corporate assignee arena, opportunities are also highly sought after. The Hydrogen Survey 2014, ‘Global professionals on the move’ reviewed the attitudes and experience of highly qualified professionals to international career opportunities and found that nearly 100% of respondents had either worked abroad or were interested in doing so. They cited new experience, career prospects and earning potential as three attractive benefits of international relocation.
As the world becomes ever more connected, so more people are becoming “global careerists”, defined by Yvonne McNulty as people “who will live in whatever location suits their purpose at the moment while building career skills that are not organization or location specific”.
The experience and adventure of life abroad are the allure. It seems a more cosmopolitan and global mind set is beginning to permeate society and, for most, it equates to opportunity.
Opportunity is the starting point, but our innate optimism bias can lead us to overlook potential challenges. Rosy expectations dash once the reality sets in of creating a new life abroad. We have all read the horror stories of escapes to the sun gone wrong, and international assignments that end in divorce or career stagnation.
An international relocation is one of life’s bigger decisions. When we asked expats within the Thriving Abroad community what advice they would give to prospective expats, they said they would tell them that “relocation changes everything”. Ingolf Thom, Global HR Director of The Dow Chemical Company, believes that the decision to move overseas is more complicated than the decision to change companies, and yet few people do as much homework. In addition, their companies often expect them to make the decision in a very short time.
If you are planning on relocating with your partner/family, the decision needs to be right for all of you. It is critical to find the right balance between the professional and personal needs of both partners as well as the needs of other family members.
The decision you make and the way you make it set the foundations for your new life abroad. The process is more complicated when there are two people involved in the decision. As the partner, it can be tempting to simply go with the flow.
In research we conducted into how expat decisions are made, 21% of partners said that they did not feel that they had any choice in the decision, as their partner was the main income earner. That is understandable. But what we have learned is that the sense of disempowerment that comes when you don’t make a conscious decision to relocate abroad can make it more difficult to have a positive experience.
Here we propose six ways to ensure that your relocation decision is constructed on the solid foundations of an informed, conscious and joint decision.
- Discuss international relocation with your partner BEFORE it becomes a possibility.
Some international opportunities come “out of the blue” but, in many companies, being asked to move will not be a surprise, so address the possibility with your partner, and do some research before it comes up.
- Treat international relocation as the important decision it is.
Take time to think about the pros and cons of international relocation as you would consider the pros and cons of moving house or jobs. The pros and cons may be different for each family member, but it is important to take a balanced view. Don’t forget to look at the pros and cons of not going too. The decision may not be a simple yes, I’ll go, or no, I’ll stay where I am.
- Identify your personal reasons why.
What motivates you to make this change? What do you hope to achieve personally and professionally from the experience? These reasons will help to carry you through the inevitable tough moments when things are not going to plan and you question your initial decision.
- Know what is important to you.
What has to be in place or provided in order for this to work for you? Organizations are no longer as generous with their support packages as they once were. You need to be clear about what is a deal-maker or breaker. Also spend time understanding how your needs will be met. Set realistic expectations.
- Know what you bring to the assignment.
Without a doubt, this experience will take you out of your comfort zone. Take time now to be clear about the skills, strengths and achievements you bring to the personal and professional aspects of the move. Have a view on what gaps there are, and the development that you want to achieve from living abroad. Being personally aware and open to personal development and growth are great bases for success abroad.
Communication is the basis for:
- An aligned approach to relocation with your partner
- You and your family supporting each other through the challenges
- How you and your work abroad are perceived in your organization
- Building new friendships and networks abroad
- Sustaining your relationships back home
- Make time for regular personal and professional communication.
There is no doubt that a global lifestyle is very attractive, but it is not always a bed of roses. Take time to think through your relocation decision and truly understand what you want to achieve. A new life abroad? Of course. More sunshine? That would be good. But remember to ask what it will really mean. A joint, conscious, informed decision will set you on the right path to creating the life and career you really want.
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