Expatriation in a VUCA World: Dealing with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity

Expatriation – as a concept and as its embodiment – has greatly changed over the years: from imposing best practices from the organization’s home country vertically, to merging the latter’s culture with the local practices; from offering all-inclusive relocation packages to cost-sensitive MNCs; from assignees and companies knowing what to expect beforehand to individuals and corporations left to deal with a VUCA world daily.

Aware of the challenges one might face when going or sending an employee abroad nowadays, ASI Movers has decided to explore what being a global company or an expat in a VUCA world means and what are the best practices in such an environment.

A VUCA World

The concept of VUCA appeared in the late 1980s, and was first used by U.S. Army War College students to describe the Cold War era:

  • Volatile: changes occur fast and suddenly;
  • Uncertain: these changes are hardly predictable;
  • Complex: a lot of factors need to be considered if one wants to understand the causes and consequences of such changes as the countries and the world are more and more inter-connected;
  • Ambiguous: misinterpretation can easily occur.

One can then easily see why the concept of VUCA is used today to describe our environment. Seeing it as such is a great mean to anticipate how to face the challenges it brings along and implement policies able to cope with its side effects.

Organizations in a VUCA World

The volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the environment force MNCs (Multi-National Corporations) managers to face great challenges:

  • The legal framework changes often and in unexpected ways, making the procedure necessary to send an assignee abroad evolve on a regular basis, and sometimes even making it more difficult and costly.
  • The countries' political orientations constantly swing between isolationism and openness (which affects the degree to which a country is likely to accept foreigners).
  • Countries’ economic stability is volatile, which makes expanding an organization’s activity to a new region risky: will the investment of sending an assignee abroad be worth it?
  • The success of an international assignment heavily relies on the employee’s wellbeing: how to ensure it in an uncertain world?

The most visible consequence of such a trend is the cost-sensitivity companies are more and more prone to display (the latter being less prone to offer all-inclusive relocation packages).

However, to manage international assignees and operations effectively, relying on hold practices originated in the Industrial Era is not a solution, while developing adapted policies would have positive effects:

  • Keep updated on your environment and be eager to learn;
  • Provide trainings and formations to your employees for them to be the most effective possible;
  • Develop segmented relocation policies and management practices to employees sent abroad as to adapt to their specific situation;
  • Increase the communication between the different entities in charge of the relocation, as several variables need to be taken into account (the well-being of the employee, the legal framework and tax environment on-site, etc.);
  • Be more responsive, reduce the decision-making process as some argue rapidity is more important than perfection.

Being an Expat in a VUCA World: the Trends

Since responsiveness is key for companies in a VUCA world, one can assume having international assignees could be a great solution: no need to train new staff and, if an individual is mobile, it is easier to assign the right employee to the right place at the right time. However, expats have seen their situation change over the years:

  • The job market is more uncertain for expats eager to find a job once on-site.
  • The environment - as a whole - is more challenging, especially when one lives in a foreign country, is unfamiliar with the culture, the habits, and is not fully integrated into the society, making the relocation process more complex.
  • The cost-sensitivity of the organizations (rooted in the uncertainty of the market) make it harder than before to obtain extensive expat packages and many even tend to reduce the number of international assignments.
  • At the same time, companies pay more and more attention to the employee’s wellbeing outside of work, as they know it affects their performance and can have an impact of the success of the assignment. As such, they provide more personal support.
  • The assignments rarely exceed 3 years, short term missions are very common to meet the organizations’ short-term needs. This can enter in contradiction with the employee’s long-term career plan (and its social life).
  • Employees sent abroad are now considered as talents – as it is no longer the privilege of top-management and seniors.

 

Expats can thus feel lost, being confronted with a brand new paradigm.

Nowadays, relocating abroad comes with challenges expats and organizations had never been used to deal with. However, managers are more and more aware of the latter, and are eager to take action, while the attention to the employees’ wellbeing outside of work is rising (since it affects their performance).

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity can also bring opportunities as they demand more mobility from the employees, the elaboration of new processes (which can be exciting for young staff), and also more curiosity and taste for learning. A VUCA world can thus appear thrilling if one figures out how to manage the challenges it brings along effectively as to turn them to one's advantage.

ASI Movers accompanies you in your moving process from, to, and within China with the aim of making the transition the smoothest possible by providing you comprehensive and tailor-made relocation solutions.

Expat Women: Challenges & Opportunities

Being an expat as a woman can come in two circumstances: either you moved to follow your partner or you pursued your own career objectives. In both cases, adapting to your new life and seizing the opportunities it brings along do not come easy.

Having helped expats for more than 10 years relocating from, to, and within China, ASI Movers has been discussing daily with women facing this kind of challenge, and has thus decided to explore what being a global woman means nowadays.

Following Someone: How to Built a Life of your Own

80% of partners are not employed during their spouse’s overseas assignment, which makes it more likely for women following their husband abroad to not have a job when relocating.

Women in this situation face several challenges, the main ones being: integrating, finding a purpose and finding occupations. These three aspects are indeed linked as having a job for instance makes it easier to merge into the local culture, socializing and having a goal.

What to do then when ending up in this kind of situation?

  • Find local groups, associations, and activities you can join. Not only will it enable you to meet people, but it will also enable you to appreciate your new environment quicker as you discover popular places, local culture, and meet like-minded individuals.

  • Take that time to go over your career objectives and re-build your CV. A new place is often a fresh start, and it also enriches your perspectives and insights. Career opportunities and practices you had never thought about might emerge, and even if it is not the case, take advantage of this time you have to focus on yourself and what you really want.

  • Learn new skills, including the local language. Knowing the idiom is the best way to feel at home and – bonus part – to take your international experience and knowledge to another level.

What To Do If You Want to Find a Job On-Site

 

  • As stated before, take time to evaluate your objectives and expectations.

  • Compare the latter with the local market’s opportunities and trends, and reevaluate your prerogatives in accordance with them.

  • Rework your CV for it to be consistent with the country’s standard.

  • Ensure you are present on the social networks one uses in the country (for instance WeChat in China).

  • Network: expats associations and chambers of commerce are both very handful when it comes to meeting professionally active individuals and finding job opportunities (chambers of commerce often have CV and job opportunities sections).

  • Take care of the paperwork to comply with the local requirements in terms of employments.

Being a Professionally Active Woman: What Are the Trends

If you are a female international assignee, then you are part of the minority as this category only represents 20% of the expat assignee population (RES Forum, 2017) and 97% of all organizations have more males sent abroad than females (even though there are more women than ever before taking international assignments). You might also have found a job on your own once on-site, without relying on your previous job’s proposition.

In both cases, professionally active expats women face specific challenges that their male counterparts do not. It indeed appears that women are culturally more prone to balance their family and work life (as they do at home). In addition to having to deal with new cultural and professional environments, they are more likely to take care of the family’s well-being in the new home.

Still according to the RES Forum survey, women are also less likely to benefit from their international experience in the future than their male counterparts: while 39% of all international assignees are promoted or were offered jobs opportunities after one year of returning, respectively only 26% and 35% of women do.

However, if you chose to be a married/partnered woman abroad, it’s not all bad news. According to Yvonne McNulty – senior lecturer at Singapore University of Social Sciences, specialized in expatriates and human resources – couples in which the husband follows the wife abroad are more likely to complete a “successful expatriation” i.e. an expatriation that went as planned. The main reason given to explain such a trend is that – traditionally, and as already evoked – women tend to take their family more in consideration, while “family related issues” account for 33% of assignments failure. She also argues that women are less prone to put pressure on their husbands to follow them abroad: if the decision is made, then the two of them are 100% on board, otherwise the relocation is turned down.

While the first moments of your mobility as an expat woman can be hard, it often becomes easier when you take initiatives to familiarize with the local practices and to become more active socially and/or professionally. Around the world, and on social networks, many initiatives made for expat women for expat women are flourishing, providing you a networking opportunities but also emotional and professional support.

Whether you are a man or a woman, single or married, already have a job or not, relocating to another country is always a challenging. That is the reason why, at ASI Movers, we do our best to ensure you a peaceful moving process.

Environmental Protection in China: What Lies Ahead

As winter is slowly approaching the Middle Kingdom, locals and expats get more and more concerned over the air quality, and more broadly the environment. During the cold season, centralized heating is switched on in Chinese cities, them being fueled by coal makes the air quality drop significantly.

Nevertheless, China has been switching toward a new attitude regarding the environment, aiming at a “Greener China”, which should contribute to a brighter winter sky. Following our introduction to China’s Green policy in our article “Chinese New Economic Orientations: What You Need to Know”, we will now go in more details into what you need to know about the topic, exploring what lies ahead in terms of policies, outcomes, and also the opportunities one could take advantage of in the near future.

The Current Situation

For many years, economic growth has been China’s first priority, focusing on its GDP and people’s standard of living. However, it is no longer the case, as it appears pollution represents a threat for Chinese economy and as Chinese population gets more and more concerned over the danger pollution represents for its daily life and the one of its children.

China is famous for being the 2nd world’s greatest polluter, factories and power plants are held responsible for major part of the country’s air, soil, and water pollution, which most noticeable consequences have been heavy smog and tap water being unhealthy.

Objectives & Measures

4 main objectives have been highlighted by the Chinese government:

  • Reduce the weight of coal industry to reach better air quality, which translates into dismantling coal-fired power plants, and cutting particulate-matter emission rate.
  • Better regulation in the implementation of the following policies thanks to relevant government's administration being more powerful than before.
  • Foster and invest in greener companies, thanks to an environment tax and thanks to attracting foreign green investments.
  • Make the Belt and Road Initiative – China’s greatest economic project – green.

In 2015, the new Environment Protection Law came into effect, whose main measures are:

  • Allowing environment protection department to seize, impound or close facilities that cause serious environmental pollution, penalties and punishments for non-compliance have also been made heavier. In 2016 the Ministry of Environmental Protection set up the Central Environmental Protection Inspection as to monitor the implementation of the policies previously listed resulting in 1, 140 officials to be disciplined. Factories have been moved away from big cities as to reduce air pollution, and even private households in the North of the country have been demanded to switch from coal heating to natural gas.

  • Fiscal advantages are granted to industries complying with the government’s agenda, as well lenient borrowing policies. The solar panel industry has been one of the main beneficiary of this policy, to the point that without the government’s support, a majority of the companies would have to cease their activity.

Economic Opportunities

As we evoked earlier, China is - and plans to continue - investing heavily in the environmental industry, investment in the environmental sector is projected to exceed RMB15 trillion during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020).

Which industry could one invest or develop a business in?

  • Provision of equipment and services for environmental pollution control;
  • Removal of pollutants;
  • Water treatment;
  • Energy conservation;
  • Clean production;
  • Collection, safe disposal, recycling and recovery of waste resources;
  • Services related to the protection of resources and the natural ecology.

Pollution is an issue China targets heavily, even making it an economic orientation as the country is aiming at becoming an international leader in this particular topic.

In the meantime, ASI Movers knows that expatriates are still concerned about the air quality as well as by how to avoid suffering short or long term pollution side effects. Here are few tips one should follow as to minimize the effects of current Chinese environment:

  • Wear a mask: as to prevent yourself from absorbing harmful particules, wearing a mask is a good option. However, make sure to choose a qualitative one: too often people wear surgical masks or simply one made out of cloth, both not protecting you efficiently. As such, make sure yours features a carbon filter, that its rating is good, that it fits your face securely, and that you can easily breathe in.
  • Buy an air purifier for your home, the best always being having one in each room.
  • Surround yourself with plants as they are natural air purifiers.
  • Exercise regularly: people doing so enjoy a better respiratory system which regenerates faster.
  • Check the air quality before leaving your home: many Apps having this feature are available, which can help you plan your day accordingly (if the air quality is too poor, outdoor physical activity for instance is not recommended).

 

ASI Movers has been helping expats relocate from, to, and within China for more than 10 years, we know the problematics and concerns expats face on a daily basis and try our best for your experience in China to be the smoothest possible!

Reverse Culture Shock: How To Come Back Home After Years Abroad?

Culture shock is a topic largely tackled by the scholars, and companies sending their assignees abroad - who are aware of the challenges it brings along - the latter often aiming at minimizing the side effects that could hinder their performances and well-being.

However, when it’s time to come back home, the global employees are believed to undergo the homecoming process smoothly, which appears to be a misconception.

ASI Movers has been helping expats coming back home for more than 10 years, providing them the logistics support they need to manage their relocation effectively, we thus decided to break down the concept of reverse culture shock.

Definition

Culture shock is the psychological, emotional and cultural aspects of reentry after several years spent overseas, often leading to emotional and psychological distress due to an unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country.

Breaking Down Reverse Culture Shock

If you have been living abroad, or even if you are a traveler, you must be familiar with the concept of culture shock, which happens when one is facing a culture totally different from one’s own, ending up in one not knowing the social codes, habits, values, and environment and experiencing disorientation.

Culture shock is commonly known for consisting in 4 steps: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and adaptation; and has been described by Craig Storti as following a U-shape (Craig Storti, The Art of Coming Home).

Storti added that if we also consider the reentry, the whole process follows a W shape.

 

Why Does One Experience Reverse Culture Shock?

Why the place we once called home suddenly becomes foreign to us when returning?

To answer this question, we have to define home not only as a place, but also as a routine, a set of habits, feelings and acquaintances that makes us feel at ease. As stated by Craig Storti "the essence of home can be described in three key elements: familiar places, familiar people and routines, and predictable patterns of interactions".

Therefore, three main reasons explain why home no longer feels like home:

  • You have adapted to your life abroad: following the U-curve previously described, you have adapted to your life abroad, picking up the habits, the codes, and the way of thinking of the local. Being abroad has changed you, which explains why home does not completely feel like home anymore.
  • You have changed because of your experiences abroad and what you learned being far from your home country.
  • Home has changed and/or is not similar to the image you kept in mind: being abroad also means life continues back home, the environment you were used to (economic, political, cultural, and even physical) has evolved, and even your friends have aged with time. You also kept in mind an idealized image of home, and comparing it with the reality when returning is often disappointing.

Consequently, you can feel marginalized, become critical toward your home town/country which can eventually lead to exhaustion and depression.

How can one avoid the negative outcomes of coming back home?

How to Manage Reverse Culture Shock?

  • Prepare before coming back and take the time to say goodbye to your life abroad, visiting the places you did not have time to, inviting your friends, and accepting to let all of this go.
  • Take some time to review what you expect from returning home, what are the disappointments you might face, and how you can cope with them.
  • Define a routine incorporating elements of your life abroad. Not only is having a satisfying routine good for your mental health, it is also a way of building the feeling of “being home”. Moreover, by adding elements reminiscent of your previous lifestyle, you can avoid feeling totally foreign to your new environment by retrieving your habits.
    Adopting a balance diet and exercising regularly have been proven to increase one’s wellbeing and reduce stress.
  • You might miss the thrill which comes with being abroad, as such try to recreate it by enrolling in projects and activities that stimulate you.
  • You can reach out to associations and groups of people who have also lived abroad as to find like-minded individuals who understand your struggles and can provide you support. Often, your friends back home do not pay the attention you expected them to display to your stories and are not aligned anymore with your views, which makes having people with whom you can relate is essential.
  • However, we would advise you to make efforts to reconnect with your family and friends back home. They were used to live without you, which makes it easy for them to not change their routine when you come back. Take the matters into your own hands and organize your upcoming reunions.

Reverse culture shock will be a more and more common phenomenon with the globalization of the economy and the increase in international assignments.

That is the reason why, at ASI Movers, we believe it is important for expats and global individuals to be aware of this concept as to prepare beforehand and avoid the side effects. We are here to simplify your international relocation from, to, and within China!

Wanderlust: The Expat Gene Explained by ASI Movers

When one tries to learn more about expats and what drove them into choosing this lifestyle, the first reason that comes up is career.

Choosing to become an expatriate is usually a great way to boost one’s career either because the opportunities are booming in one specific location, or because companies are demanding one valued employee to do the same magic one did before but in a new market, and thus prove one’s capabilities and value for the enterprise.

Nevertheless, and as many people are saying that they couldn’t expatriate, or at least would not do it long-term, is a clue into thinking that there is something else motivating those who make this leap.

The answer might lie in one German concept: “wanderlust”.

What is Wanderlust?

According to its formal definition, Wanderlust is both “a very strong impulse to travel” and “strong longing for or impulse toward wandering”. Etymologically, this term is composed of two words: “wandern”, which means “to hike” (and not “to wander”), and “lust” which means “desire”. The association of these two terms literally means “enjoyment of hiking”, but the true translation would rather be the enjoyment of wandering, roaming around.

One needs to trace the imaginary coming with this concept as to grasp its true meaning: German romanticism, the peculiar form of apprenticeship that characterizes this country i.e. going on a journey, and the tradition to seek unity in the Nature are the major elements.

It is then easy to see why this term has been associated with experiencing foreign countries: one being in a new location does not have other occupation but to – precisely – roam around in the attempt to learn more and get more familiar with the location and its people.

What Does Wanderlust Means Today?

Rather than seeking relaxation and comfort, the individual having Wanderlust is thriving for engaging in new cultural experiences.

These people are indeed interested in facing unfamiliar environments, and being challenged by them. Sociologists also argue that by doing so, by putting themselves in relatively uncomfortable situations, individuals also try to learn more about themselves. Being far from what one calls home would be the occasion to concentrate on one’s self.

 

Nowadays, Wanderlust is usually associated with tourism, but it appears that the expat lifestyle is even more prone to attract minds with the Wanderlust gene, as scientists might have found the DRD4-7R gene to be the root of this taste of enjoying discovering new places, new cultures, and find happiness in it. This gene is indeed believed to be a variant of dopamine receptor (the neurotransmitter involved in the reward-motivated behavior, well one can say the neurotransmitter associated with satisfaction). The result? Those bearing it would be more prone to liking new experiences, discovering places and cultures, them being intrinsically curious.

 

As such, even though this term has become extremely popular lately, truly having Wanderlust is not about just dreaming about your next vacations in a paradisiac island. As stated above, putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, taking this time to truly discover the place you headed to, adapting your behavior accordingly, and enjoying learning more about your attitude towards this new paradigm, are more relevant elements.

How to Turn Wanderlust To Your Advantage?

Besides encouraging you to experience as many places as you can, having wanderlust is also a great chance for several other reasons:

  • Having Wanderlust is a wonderful occasion to accumulate knowledge. Because people bearing this gene are naturally attracted to new places, it is easy to assume they are curious. Take the most of these occasions to learn more about the places you visit and the cultures you meet. It is both beneficial for you personally as it will enrich your general knowledge and but also your employability.
  • In the workplace: not being afraid of change, being curious of new cultures and trying to grasp as much as you can from them, being mobile and not reluctant to relocating often are key elements in nowadays job market. Companies are taking full advantage of globalization and are searching for people with an international mindset, and who can easily dive into the local culture as to enable the company to answer the specific demand of the market. As such, if you have this kind of aspirations and mindset, playing this card during interviews is recommended.
  • Having wanderlust means that change does not frighten you. As societies are evolving quicker than ever with the Internet, new technologies in general, and globalization, you will most likely not suffer from having to adapt to new paradigms on a daily basis.

 

Putting the emphasis of the pros of having Wanderlust does not mean there is no cons. Being driven by your taste of forever seeking new experiences and places also means leaving behind what you have built each time you head to a new destination. It can be frustrating for your close ones, and even for you. When you can call everywhere home, it can sometimes feel that nowhere truly is. It nevertheless appears that being with your family/partner is the key to a stable wanderlustful life.

 

ASI Movers has been helping expats in their relocation process for more than 10 years. Because those bearing the Wanderlust gene are more prone to changing location on a regular basis, they need a logistics service provider that goes beyond simply moving belongings, but provides you the fittest solution to your needs and enables you to put your trust in the people who help you build and achieve your relocation project.

Eager to explore what ASI Movers can do for you?