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Top tips to overcome the challenges of being an expat in the workplace

by ExpatInfo
18 Oct 2018

The idea of working overseas and becoming part of a multicultural team is exciting, yet comes with its own unique set of challenges. Even in your home country, in most larger organisations you’ll find that cross cultural projects and workforces are pretty much the new normal, but what does it take to be a successful team player amongst a diverse workforce?

There are obvious differences in behaviour, customs, culture and attitudes, and the ability to work with colleagues from different religions, backgrounds and countries is becoming a must-have skill to add to your CV.

Here are some top tips to make sure you display the characteristics of a successful expatriate.

1. Consider your behaviour
Instead of parachuting in to a new situation and expecting everyone else to accommodate your sensitivities, take a look your own behaviour and see if it is conducive to personal and professional success. Acknowledge and reign in your preconceived ideas and consider how your actions will be perceived. Set the tone by the taking time to give an appropriately considered response.

2. Try to be flexible
Expats working in different cultures should forgive themselves for feeling like a fish out of water, but you need to get over this feeling and think about how you can adjust to your new situation as quickly as possible. The ability to be flexible and to adapt to new surroundings, cultures, people and new technology, is the only way to avoid expat anxiety. One key piece of advice, is not to be making assumptions about your new colleagues or host country, be open minded and build your opinions based on your experiences. As the old adage states…to assume is to make an ass out of you and me. An ability to adjust quickly to new circumstances is vital.

3. Curiosity won’t kill the cat
As an expat you accepted an overseas assignment or relocated to a new country for a reason. So now that you have a chance to expand your horizons, you should grab it with both hands. Open your mind to learning all manner of new experiences, ask questions, listen to answers and try new methods. Lack of interest will definitely be perceived as rude. Accept that you may need to work in a new way and embrace the advantages, whilst dealing with any disadvantages.

4. Ask questions
There is no room for shrinking violets, if you don’t understand something you must ask and keep asking until it is clear. This applies to methods of working, general behaviour and words that may not be easily translated into English. You can’t just make assumptions as they could be wildly off base.

5. Acknowledge and understand differences
The challenge in any workplace is to work together efficiently in order to achieve the necessary results. To collaborate properly, you need to acknowledge different cultural traits and characteristics that may affect working methods, and factor them into your interaction and decision making. You don’t have to blindly agree to everything but you’ll find the dynamics work better if you take the trouble to understand their point of view or reasons for their behaviour. Without acknowledging your differences you’ll be setting yourself up to fail.

6. Make friends
If you really want to avoid expat anxiety, you need to make friends. This is critical in any culture in order to avoid loneliness, homesickness and stress. Put some time into building relationships with your colleagues on a personal level, as well as professional. Remember, everyone wants to be liked.

7. Don’t set the bar too high, too soon
Remember, you are only human. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to learn the ropes immediately. You need to allow yourself a modicum of time to acclimatise and gain an understanding of your new environment. Only then will you be able to get down to the important business of delivering results. Allow yourself a little more time to show your worth.

8. Look after yourself
No matter how mentally agile or culturally aware you are, expat anxiety can be a real problem. You need to make sure that you look after your mental and physical health. Trying to fit in, make friends, navigate cultural and religious customs, look after family members and deliver results at work would be enough to test the stamina of anyone. If you feel that you’re struggling, you must ask for help.

Finally, if you have a wobble when it all seems too much and you’re asking yourself what the devil you’re doing, try to put everything into perspective. Just remember, laughter is a universal language and a sense of humour will see you through most situations.

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