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?
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.
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