Our latest guest blogger, Alexander Heyne, writing from World of Expats, fills us in on four common expat misconceptions.
|Image source: Paranormal Point of View|
While many of us dream about being an expat, unrealistic expectations are a major reason why overseas assignments can fail altogether (or fail to live up the vision in your head).
By avoiding these 4 misconceptions, you’re much more likely to enjoy your assignment abroad.
#1 It’s going to be one long vacation or holiday.
When I moved to China, I had the rose-tinted glasses common to many other expats: I envisioned constant traveling, lots of excellent food, a life made up of great stories, non-stop fun – basically, the exact opposite of my daily repetitive routine back in the United States.
I often can see the same sense of excitement and anticipation when new expats arrive on their assignments.
But there’s one big problem: living abroad brings with it the same mundane requirements that living at home does - you still have to pay your rent, feed yourself and your family, pay your bills, go to the gym and exercise, and take care of your day-to-day errands.
People sometimes assume that an expat assignment is like an extended vacation - but it’s not. Although there are many more unique experiences - new places to see, people to interact with, a different culture and language - there is still the daily routine that everyone has to have in order for life to go on.
#2 Being an expat abroad means you’re delaying or escaping your life.
While living in China (and Asia in general) it’s pretty common to encounter foreigners who come from the west in order to sidestep their problems, avoid (or postpone) the working world, and look for an easier lifestyle.
With the lower lifestyle costs, the ease of teaching English and making a decent salary, and the attention they get, China seems like a great place.
Certain other countries (like Thailand) have an entire economy based on the types of foreigners they attract - backpackers whose primary interest is in partying and heading to the beach.
At the same time, there are expats seeking out legitimate careers, mastering second languages, and improving their resume knowing that when they return to their home country they’ll be more competitive candidates at local jobs.
Like most things, what you get out of an expat assignment is largely up to you.
#3 Expat life will automatically broaden your horizons.
We often associate travel with having a “broad mind” but this isn’t always the case. Whereas travel usually makes a person seem more intelligent, this isn’t necessarily a guarantee from a cultural perspective.
Some expats might choose to cut themselves off from the local culture. When I was living in China, I saw that it was pretty typical for foreigners to avoid learning Chinese, whilst not making very much effort to connect with local culture.
As a result, these people often lived in China for years or even decades and showed very little understanding of Chinese and Asian culture or ethics, and knew very little of the local language.
The individuals who got the most out of living abroad or being an expat made conscious efforts to mingle, grow, and learn more about the locals and local culture. The people who hung out constantly in expat bars, and only associated with other foreigners, often had the worst connection to the host country, and sometimes the worst experience overall.
#4 Cultural differences will not be a problem for me
Face is an incredibly important Chinese (& Asian) concept. Essentially, looking good, credible and professional is important – and helping others avoid embarrassment or shame is incredibly important. As a result, people will sometimes agree to arrangements that they had no real intention of following through on. If you ask someone to meet-up, they will sometimes say yes but won’t show up. Westerners may view this as "flaky" but in reality it’s giving you face - 面子 mianzi (or helping people avoid losing face) – evading an awkward or embarrassing confrontation.
So that’s why new friends would often say "yes" but never show up. That’s why my romantic advances also were often met with a "yes" but no one arrived for the date.
And that is in part why western businessmen or women think their deals are going through… but they don’t. Think of "yes" as the default "okay, let me think" situation.
So what does this mean for you?
Before you go anywhere for an extended trip, but particularly for those of you doing business abroad, knowing the culture isn’t optional: it’s required.
Think of the thousands of business deals gone wrong not because of business issues – but cultural issues.
And think of the potential friendships, relationships, or life experiences gone sour just because of a simple cultural faux pas?
Know the culture, and you will have a significantly more enjoyable expat experience abroad.
So – research your destination, prepare well, open your mind to the experience and make the most of your time abroad.
About the Author
Alexander Heyne joined World of Expats in 2011 as an online marketing associate. Prior to this he worked as an online marketer and copywriter for a start-up helping to improve their conversion rate and site optimization. Alexander has travelled to over 60 countries, and his personal blog has been featured in INC Magazine, The Huffington Post, & other travel magazines. You can check out more World of Expats blogs Look here, @Worldofexpats on Twitter and connect with them on Facebook here.