globalEDGE Blog: gE Blog Series: The Cultural Difference Part 3 - Reality of Working Abroad

gE Blog Series: The Cultural Difference Part 3 - Reality of Working Abroad

In the modern era of global markets and international working opportunities, record numbers of employees of both small businesses and large corporations have embraced the expatriate lifestyle to work abroad. Despite the noticeable increase of expatriates in the past decade, there was surprisingly very little information regarding the differences between working domestically and abroad, which lead ORC Worldwide to conduct a 2007 survey which explored the differences that an expatriate experiences while trying to balance their career and other life obligations. The results of the survey provide an excellent insight into what changes someone looking to work and live abroad should expect, as well as the potential challenges that they should be ready to overcome.

Initially, expatriates tend to work longer hours while abroad than they did at home. Nearly two-thirds of the expatriates interviewed confirmed this statistic, stating that an average increase in hours worked per week increased by about 13.4 hours. Several factors contributed to this change, including the volume of work, lack of local support, cost pressures to perform well, and business travel.

Unsurprisingly, the survey also noted that international assignments disrupted family life, causing discontent among both spouses and children. The main causes of the strain on family life included complicated travel schedules, longer hours at work, and limited amount of support that expats were able to give to their families during periods of separation. Resulting from this strain, nearly 5 percent reported that their families returned home earlier than anticipated, 30 percent of which stating that work and travel schedules were the main cause. Language and cultural differences also were reported to increase stress, mostly because expatriates were given inadequate training.

Despite these potentially stressful attributes of the expatriate lifestyle, one should not neglect to recognize the benefits of the expatriate lifestyle. While living and working abroad, one will experience new cultures, languages, and people, which ultimately instills an appreciation and understanding of different perspectives and lifestyles. In relation to one's career, working abroad also has provided expatriates with an edge over other applicants in future job opportunities, since the overseas experience is highly regarded in this age of globalization. All in all, although one should expect to experience several stress factors when adjusting to the expatriate lifestyle, it would be a shame to ignore the invaluable benefits that one gains from living and working abroad. 

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