Expatriates in the Global Workforce

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While reading through this week’s section of Organizational Behavior, I was particularly intrigued by the excerpt regarding expatriates. The term has always conjured images of Hemingway and Fitzgerald for me, as I picture them sitting in a French café or participating in the running of the bulls (The Sun Also Rises, anyone?). However, I never fully considered all the steps involved in becoming an expatriate, even for a large, already-global corporation.
I’ve always been very open to the idea of becoming an expatriate and it’s something my fiancé and I discuss fairly frequently as we talk about our future. The simplistic idea I had in my head of what it takes to actually move to and live in a foreign country was blown away by the reading, which asserts that “An executive earning $100,000 per year in the United States…might cost her company more than $300,000 in the first year of an assignment in England.” (50) The assertion is a logical one and made me raise the question: why bother sending people to international divisions at all?
This is where the importance of multicultural workforces come into play. As Schermerhorn, et. al. write, “The truly global organization operates with a total world view and does not have allegiance to any one national ‘home.'” (49) By taking such a view, a corporation increases its “‘size, importance, and political power…in the global game.'” (49) When companies become multinational corporations, their impact increases along with their benefit to the rest of the world. This is part of what intrigues me so much about becoming an expatriate. I would be bringing my skills from my school, internship, and work experiences in the United States to another part of the world and sharing my knowledge with the people there. At the same time, the people in said country would be broadening my worldview, which I personally believe would increase tolerance and decrease the nationalistic attitudes that can be so damaging to our society.
I’m not sure when, where, or how I would become an expatriate. Regardless of whether my fiancé or I were the one being transferred, I think an international assignment would do wonders for our worldview. This reading was an eye-opener in terms of what we would experience living abroad, especially in regards to the “tourist stage,” “disillusionment stage,” and “culture shock,” in addition to the period in which we would have to get used to being at “home” once again. I would like to end on an interesting thought, as well: the reading states that, “While abroad, the expatriate has often functioned with a great degree of independence–something that may or may not be possible at home.” (52) For my fellow U.S. students–do you think we function with this degree of independence here? And for the Humphrey fellows–Do you find you have more, less, or maybe even equal independence living in the United States? 
As an afterthought- here’s the link to a fun blog I read about a woman and her husband who are living abroad as expatriates in Amsterdam via Portland, OR. An interesting perspective for anyone considering the same change! 
-Caroline Porter
Photos courtesy: http://acalleru.blogspot.com/2010/03/expatriate-assignments-and-overseas.html, http://www.amikaufman.com/2009/07/should-expats-be-quiet/

4 Comments on “Expatriates in the Global Workforce”

  1. I was quite surprised as well about the cost of sending expatriate to a new country. I think you do experience more independence when you are not in your home country. When you are in your home country you still can depend on friends and family. When you are in a new country where you do not have any former relationships, you have to discover how to live without the help and guidance of your friends or family.

  2. The idea of working and living in a foreign country has always been intriguing to me. Our reading opened my eyes to the phases of this decision. I didn’t realize how difficult and costly it would be. To answer your question, I don’t think we in the US function with the same degree of independence. I believe part of the reason for independence in other countries is due to the costs involved. Organizations are already spending 3X the amount for one employee, sending someone to manage that individual wouldn’t make good business sense. I can see where independence would be a requirement for these positions.
    Caroline, I think it’s exciting you and your fiance are interested in this opportunity. You both have so much to offer. I wish you much luck in the future.

  3. Caroline,

    What fun?! I didn’t know you and your fiance had been thinking of this. Gardenia, I agree with you, it is a great opportunity and knowing you both personally: you have a lot to offer.

    That said, you’re so smart to be thinking of the struggles now. It’s so easy to think that if you can live alone here you can live anywhere. (But I bet you can still do it! Haha).

    I don’t feel I’m any more or less independent here than I’ve ever been anywhere else. I think I was more alone when I was in the UK for a couple months and when I was in NYC for the summer. But my independence level was the same; my connections were just shorter and smaller.

  4. In terms of independence overseas versus here in the United States, I would say that there is more independence as an expatriate but the level of independence in the field of media and journalism is nearly equal. For those going into journalism (like myself) I think we can expect to see a similar job description whether here in the U.S. or at foreign posting. Why? Because the broadcast field in America is pushing largely toward backpack journalists with skills across the board. Whereas 15 or 20 years ago a journalist would cover only one subject with one medium, today’s journalists are expected to find stories, shoot video, write for the web, take pictures, and a variety of other things. With the internet, the role of editors (while still extremely important) has been lessoned and in some cases is nonexistent. This new level of journalistic freedom I would expect both here and at a foreign position.

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