Statement: Previous international experience facilitates an expatriate’s adjustment to a new country.

One of the main challenges of going abroad is for an expatriate to adjust to the new culture. The process of settling and fitting into a new country is difficult and takes time. However, having had prior international experiences should have a positive influence on this process. Having lived for some time in one or more different countries should make it easier for a person to understand how relocation feels at the beginning, what challenges to expect and how to manage them.

Thus, previous international experience facilitates an expatriate’s adjustment to a new country.

Fact or Fiction?

Evidence:

The statement that previous international experience facilitates an expatriate’s adjustment to a new country is not a fact.

A comprehensive meta-analysis carried out by Hechanova and colleagues (2003) summarizes several research results on expatriate adjustment and reveals that previous international experience is only a very weak predictor of successful adjustment. 

These summary results suggest that while the statement is not a given, it is not an entire fiction either. Instead, the influence of previous international experience needs to be evaluated in greater depth. Most commonly, researchers differentiate between three dimensions of cross-cultural adjustment: general, work, and interaction adjustment (Black, 1988; Black and Gregersen 1991). These dimensions refer to an expatriate’s psychological comfort with the overall cultural environment, the work context, and interpersonal communication, respectively. Although previous international experience was repeatedly found not to predict expatriates’ general adjustment (Black, 1988; Black and Gregersen, 1991; Black and Stephens, 1989), it was shown to increase work adjustment (Black, 1988). Moreover, Shaffer and Harrison (1998) found prior international experience to also foster interaction adjustment.

Based on these findings, we can conclude that previous international experience may help to build accurate expectations regarding work and communication novelty, which in turn benefit work and interaction adjustment. However, having lived abroad in one culture does not serve as an adequate source of accurate expectations regarding the cultural environment (e.g., customs, value preferences, living conditions) in and general adjustment to a new culture. 

Further reading:

Black, J. S. (1988). Work role transitions: A study of American expatriate managers in Japan. Journal of International Business Studies, 19, 277-294.

Black, J. S., & Gregersen, H. B. (1991). Antecedents to cross-cultural adjustment for expatriates in Pacific Rim assignments. Human Relations, 44, 497-515.

Black, J. S., & Stephens, G. K. (1989). The influence of the spouse on American expatriate adjustment and intent to stay in Pacific Rim overseas assignments. Journal of Management, 15, 529-544.

Hechanova, R., Beehr, T. A. & Christiansen, N. D. (2003). Antecedents and Consequences of Employees’ Adjustment to Overseas Assignment: A Meta-analytic Review. Applied Psychology, 52, 213-236.

Shaffer, M. A., & Harrison, D. A. (1998). Expatriates’ psychological withdrawal from international assignments: Work, non-work, and family influences. Personnel Psychology, 51, 87-118.

Takeuchi, R., Tesluk, P.E., Yun, S., & Lepak, D.P. (2005). An integrative view of international experience. Academy of Management Journal, 48 (6), 85-100

9 thoughts on “Statement: Previous international experience facilitates an expatriate’s adjustment to a new country.

  1. Yes, I think some international experience can be beneficial to the adjustment of becoming an expat. However, I would say that being an expat is different from simply taking a vacation internationally or a taking a short international business trip because the expat will be fully living in the new culture rather than just experiencing it for a short period of time as a visitor.

  2. I too would agree, having spent 10 years in France it does give you a good grounding for moving to new countries and what is involved from both a business and personal point of view.

  3. Really international experience help you a lor to decide a new expatriate job. Now, I am in a job process as Country Manager in India (for two years), and I will accept beacuse I was before on charge in a Company in Romania, Poland and Bulgary. It was a fantastic experience with another culture.
    For sure, without this experience the change from Spain to India wolud be too much for me.

  4. I strongly agree with this one. Experience is the best teacher! Once a person have experience this kind of situation, it may not be difficult for him to take new things. Not to the point where things go on the easy way but you’ll gain more confidence with it.

  5. Please note that I have just posted some evidence and background information on this debate in the main body of the blog entry.

  6. Really international experience help you a lor to decide a new expatriate job. Now, I am in a job process as Country Manager in India (for two years), and I will accept beacuse I was before on charge in a Company in Romania, Poland and Bulgary. It was a fantastic experience with another culture.

  7. Interesting points. I would agree that previous trips don’t necessarily better prepare you for changing cultures. I would think that would be more based on your personal psyche as well as the degree of similarity to your existing culture.

  8. I totally agree that previous international experience will not necessarily lead to a quicker expatriate’s adjustment. A lot will depend on the actual country an expatriate is being sent to and how open you are to new experiences. If you are a North American, chances are you would adjust faster to your new life in London, than you would in Beirut, Moscow, or Jakarta. Having an open mind to different cultures and an ability to absorb quickly everything new and adjust accordingly are the main predictors of your success as an expatriate.
    I saw too many expatriates, who had their own culture embedded so deeply in them that they simply would not be able to adjust to a different culture.
    However, those you kept an open mind and were flexible with their expectations and willing to absorb a new culture, did great anywhere they have been sent to.
    You should not forget the impact the expatriates’ perks have on the persons ability to adjust. For many expatriates, it’s the only chance to advance on the corporate ladder, not to mention the titles those posts come with and the monetary compensation.
    I saw quite a few low level accountants who suddenly became CFOs in a third world countries, a position that comes with a personal driver, 4 bedroom house with a pool, and housekeeping services, not to mention private schools for kids. Something they would never have in the US. Those perks help to adjust quicker than anything else!

  9. Thats interesting, I would have thought previous international experience would help. On the other hand, every context is different and sometimes expats will find supportive communities and easily understandable cultures, but not all the time.

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