Study of the expatriation and repatriation process

Expatriation and repatriation is an integral process in line as businesses are extensively growing. As the study on expatriation and repatriation has spanned across cultures, decades and theoretical beliefs, there have been extensive research on culture shock but modest on reverse culture shock. In this sense, expatriation and repatriation is not entirely a new concept. Its significant is heightened as organisations are engaged in keeping up to pace with the vigorous and radical changes that are on hand from revolt of the business environment. The U Curve Model and the W Curve model accordingly describe the phases an expatriate experience’s during the expatriation and repatriation process. However, besides the extensive usage of these models, there are a few notable gaps that exist. Culture shock can be portrayed as an apparent confrontation towards unfamiliar circumstances, whereas reverse culture shock can be portrayed as the unpredicted confrontation with the familiar situation that occurs in repatriation. From the discussions and the analysis of the models related to the area, several recommendations were put forward.

Globalisation of the world economy has brought an overall change in businesses, whereby businesses in today’s environment are branching across borders, into other countries of the different continents in the world. In order to expand their business overseas, organisations assign employees for overseas assignments as expatriates. An overseas assignment is an increasing common career experience for employees who are working for businesses that are expanding overseas (Kreitner, 1989; Richardson & McKenna, 2006; Hyder & Lovblad, 2007).

Besides gaining experience, expatriate also faces hurdles not only in the workplace environment but also in the surrounding environments such as with the culture, the people, the language, culture shock and so forth (Selmer,1999).Therefore, it is vital for the expatriate to undergo appropriate and systematic training, in order to understand, prepare and be well versed with the new phrase of environment that is going to be experienced by them, and also to minimise the occurrence of expatriate failure. According to Pires,Stanton, and Ostenfeld( 2006) , cross cultural training helps in minimising culture shock and boost the expatriate’s cross cultural experience.

Culture shock and reverse culture shock are the indispensable part and puzzle of the expatriation and repatriation passage. Culture shock can be described as the apparent confrontation towards unfamiliar circumstances, whereas reverse culture shock can be described as the unpredicted confrontation with the familiar situation that occurs subsequent to repatriation. Culture shock is faced during expatriation, whereas reverse culture shock is faced after returning back to the home country (repatriation). It is very difficult to come to a definite and precise definition for the term “Culture Shock”. Adler (1991) describes culture shock as frustration and confusion that results from being bombarded by uninterruptable cues. Furthermore, culture shock is frequently narrated as anxiety, which can be a very disrupting, stressful and a painful experience that affects the expatriate emotionally and mentally (Mendenhall,Punnett & Ricks,1995;Marx, 2001).Adapting to a new environment is not an easy task. It devours time and one’s ability to cope and accept the surrounding changes. Hence, the effects and the impact of culture shock may vary from one to another (Cornes, 2004). An excessive level and unmanageable culture shock may also lead to situations of expatriate failure whereby the expatriate gives up and heads back to the home country. Expatriate failures are pricey and it is a cost to an organisation (Anderson,Ones,Sinangit et al, 2002; Pires,Stanton & Ostenfeld,2006). Therefore in order to avoid such circumstances, it is essential for the employers to provide comprehensive pre-departure training to the expatriates. Pre departure training and cross cultural training programs are predominantly the medium to coach the expatriates on how to correspond towards other culture’s. Conversely, the training methods that are to be chosen to be provided to the expatriate should be based on the type of the assignment and its duration (Selmer, 2005). As an expatriate overseas assignment involves them to fiddle with various contrasting environments, there is a need to educate them about the obligatory issues. Downes, Thomas & Singly (2001) illustrates that the knowledge gained by the expatriate through the training can contribute to both job and common changes overseas. Cross cultural training lend a hand to international assignees to understand the symptoms of culture shock faced by them. There are numerous amount of research done by researchers around the globe on the variety of problems that arises during an expatriate’s journey throughout the expatriation and repatriation experience. There also have been many models, theories, and concepts that have been applied to analyse the issues by applying curves and also by applying verbal terms. The U Model is a model that practically describes the process of cross cultural adjustments subsequent to the host country. As an expatriate faces culture shock when they come across new environments, identical to that, they may also bump into the similar experience after returning to their home country. Adjusting to a foreign culture is a challenge for the expatriates as the characteristics of the foreign culture is of many-sides. Therefore, the way the expatriate accept and adapt to the changes may vary, as generally every individual has different kinds of attitudes and behaviours.

As an expatriate has to live and work overseas, they should be prepared to make considerable changes with their surroundings. Not everyone is mentally strong and well prepared to cope with those sharp changes. The sharp transformation may cause the expatriate to feel frustrated, lonely and home sick, due to the changes not only in terms of the working environment but also the people, the food, the demographics and standards of living. They may also feel lost and confused and may even start questioning themselves on their decisions. The method of encountering the new changes can be explained in four stages. The U Model is an appropriate example to illustrate the changes. The U Curve Model can be seen below in Figure 1;

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Kalervo Oberg, 1960 illustrated and explained the four stages that the expatriate experience during the acculturation in the U Curve Model. The first stage is known as the honeymoon stage, the second stage is the culture shock stage, the third stage is the adjustment stage and the fourth stage is known as the mastery stage (Black & Mendenhall, 1991; Caliguiri et al, 2001; Irwin 2007).

In the first stage, which is known as the honeymoon stage, the expatriate is energized, excited and fascinated with the new surroundings. The expatriate finds the new culture and the surroundings exotic. The response at this stage is positive whereby the expatriate enjoys the foreign experience and is in high spirits. The experience at this stage for the expatriate is like on holiday. This stage can last for a few days or weeks or even up to the first months.

In the second stage, the expatriate has experience a little more of the culture and starts analysing and noticing the differences, whereby the expatriate become aware of its surrounding environment and feels frustrated and agitated, with the broad difference between the home country and the host country. The uncomfortable emotion faced by the expatriates, due to the uncertainties of its surroundings is an unlikeable state. This can be a critical phrase whereby the expatriate may not be able to cope with the stress and the un comfortableness and may decide to withdraw himself or herself from the assignment and return back home (expatriate failure). Or subsequent to that, the expatriate look at the symptoms and applies it as a pointer whereby the expatriate gets the picture of the surrounding and change themselves according to that. It will be a form of self development whereby the expatriate may be able to cope with the new environment and be psychologically fit to accept the changes, and then the third stage comes in.

In the third stage, which is the adjustment stage, the expatriate begins to adjust and adapt the changes. In this stage, the expatriate works on the problem to solve it. The expatriate confers in with the situation and the daily living. In this stage, the expatriate fights through with the difficulties that arise as the expatriate feels more settled and tend to understand and accept the changes in the working environment, the people, and the culture. The expatriate frustration and anxiety may reduce at this level, whereby the expatriate may feel less isolated and more conscious.

In the fourth stage, which is known as mastery, the expatriate is comfortable with the environment. The expatriate has successfully blended with the culture. The anxiety, stress, and frustration experienced by the expatriate at the beginning stages to a large extent have vanished. The expatriate feels at home and wholehearted. There is a tendency for the expatriate to miss certain things about the environment when is time to return to the home country. It appears that all people may experience culture shock when they encounter circumstances which are dissimilar to their former cultural context (Cornes, 2004)

The U Curve demonstrates the journey of the expatriate, adapting to the new environment of the host country, while the W Curve demonstrates the continuous journey of the expatriate after completing their assignment and returning back to their home country. Returning back to their home country after completing an assignment overseas after a period of time is not an easy mission as one perceives as there is high propensity to experience reverse culture shock. Reverse culture shock is classified as the physiological and psychological readjustment process which the expatriate experiences when he or she returns to their home culture after a prolonged period in a disparate culture (Gaw,2000;Tohyama,2008). In short, reverse culture shock refers to the re- integration back into one’s own native culture.

Returning back to the home country can be as stressful and frustrating experience for those expatriates who have been living in another culture for some time. In broadening the U Curve Model, Gullahorn and Gullahorn proposed a six shape W Curve Model (Toomey, 1999). Compared with the U Curve, this curve has five distinctive stages; the honeymoon stage, distress stage or also known as conflict or culture shock, re-integration stage, autonomy stage, and independence stage. The honeymoon stage is the beginning stage whereby the expatriate is eager to experience the new environment, and is enthused and inquisitive about it. The expatriate is at a standstill sheltered with the memories of their home country.

The distress stage is a stage whereby the expatriate experiences the differences and feels lonely and homesick as the culture difference break in and there is no immediate support available. In the reintegration stage, the expatriate experiences frustration and reacts antagonistically towards the new culture. At this stage, the expatriate tends to compare the host country culture with the home country. At the autonomy stage, the expatriate feels more relaxed as the expatriate becomes familiar with the similarities and the differences in the new culture. The expatriate starts to be able to cope with the new environment and adjust based on their daily experiences, and in the fifth stage of the W Curve which is the independence stage, the experiences are valued and given importance. Most of their experiences they go through are enjoyable and pleasant. They are able to fully adjust to the new environment. The W Curve can be seen in Figure 2 below, and a more comprehensive W Curve model can be seen in Figure 3 below:

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Reverse culture shock or re- entry shock is a term that is very similar to culture shock. The most understandable turn of phrase that can be used for reverse culture shock is that the pressure the expatriate faces once returning to his or her home country after residing for some point of time in another country. Reverse culture shock is an occurrence that is unforeseen by both individual and also the organisation (Hurn, 1999; Landy & Conte, 2007). As the expatriate has been away few years from his or her own country, when they are coming back to their own country, they have the perception in mind that the environment of their country is still the same as they left it years ago, which is up to the certain extent turns out to be not true.

Coming back to the home country can be a painful experience for the expatriate as similar to what the expatriate encountered when he or she first went abroad. The impact of reverse culture shock can be as sore or even more than the experience of culture shock. The environment of the home country may have change in terms of geographically, demographically, socially, legally, politically and even technologically, whereby the expatriate feels that home is not home at all. For instance, the expatriate comes back to his or her home country and wants to drive to a post office, the expatriate gets his or her hand on the wheels and follows the same direction that he or she use to go to the post office, while driving, the expatriate comes across new roads and links of junctions that were never there few years ago, and takes the wrong road that leads to the north south freeway. The expatriate is lost and does not know how to turn back. This kind of situations can be very stressful and can make the expatriate to be wrathful.

Besides that, the expatriate might also return home and encounter other changes such as with friends and other family members whereby they are no longer connectable, or has left the country and gone elsewhere. The expatriate may experience lost of contact with his or her old friends, buddies, colleagues, and mates. The expatriate experience psychological stress and feel handicap of relationships, whereby the expatriate may be bored or helpless in his or her own country.

The U curve is a well-liked and spontaneous model that has been used by many researchers in their studies on expatriation process around the globe. This model as it can be seen from the illustration above in Figure 1 is a simple model, as it describes the movement of the four phases an expatriate goes through. The model can also be easily understood and it will be good to be applied during the training sessions as the assignees will be able to understand and with no trouble remember the possible phases that they will be experiencing during the expatriation process. This curve can also widely be applied in other change situations.

There were also a number of problems highlighted on the U Curve, whereby several flaws have been highlighted by Furnham and Bochner (1986), they point out that there are many dependent variables to consider as the aspects of adjustments in the U Curve. The U Curve to a certain extent can be called as just a rough sketch, as whereby besides just the four phases, there should be more phases to it as different individuals start out at different level of adjustment adequacy. The model can also confuse the expatriate whereby the expatriate might think that there are only four transitions that they are going to go through but actually there are more than four as each individual is different and they react differently.

The strength of the W curve, as illustrated at Figure 2 and Figure 3 is more or less similar with the U curve. The W curve is simple, easily understandable, and it shows the connection between the expatriation and repatriation process, as it describes the total transition of the settings, of the both processes that takes place at the host country and home country. The W curve therefore also has some disadvantages as it shows the same four phases in two different environments as one is experienced in an unfamiliar environment and one in a familiar environment. The phases of should be more towards the repatriation as although the repatriate is coming back to his or her country, but they face a more higher level of anxiety when they return home.

New experience for assignees

As the expatriation process is a new experience for assignees as they will be venturing to a new environment and surroundings, they somehow have high expectations and morale towards the new job; they also tend to have the enthusiasm to perform their best, set in their minds, but when they experience the unexpected, their morale often depreciates and due to that, it will also somehow give an impact on the employees performance. Therefore, the Menninger Morale Curve can also be a useful tool to be applied in analysing the expatriate’s probability towards coping with the foreign environment. As it looks at the unpredictable emotional sequence an individual goes through, this cycle can be applied as a significant implication to managers ( ). As this model also comprises four stages which are almost similar with the U curve. The four stages are known as arrival, engagement, acceptance and re-entry. The stage of arrival can be also described as the honeymoon stage whereby it is the initial stage of this curve whereby the individual is highly motivated with high morale and have high expectations on the new environment and its further actions. At this stage the individual is excited and enthusiastic about the new upcoming events.

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The second stage, which is the engagement stage, this stage is initially where the crisis arises, whereby the individual realizes that things are not as expected to be. The actuality is exposed to be unusual than expected. The individual is frustrated and angry with its situation. This stage is initially uncomfortable for the individual to go through alone. In the acceptance stage, the individual accepts its responsibility whereby at this stage, any one of three possible occurrences can take place whereby the individual may tend to accept its surroundings the way it is, the individual may change his or her behaviour, attitude, approaches and its reaction towards the environment or the individual may leave the situation and go elsewhere. At the last stage of the curve, which is known as re-entry, in this stage, the individual makes the choice of whether to practice the same route that is learn before or become a victim of the same cycle of phrase.

The Menninger Morale Curve application as seen can be much more effective compared to the U curve as it emphasises on the fluctuation of the level of morality of the expatriate when they go through the four phases. As the changes of environment does give an impact on the morale of an individual. The design of the morale curve varies from one to another based on the four phases; it is not a stagnant curve.

Due to the cultural diversity caused by the internationalisation of businesses, culture shock has become more and more common. Shifting and adjusting from one environment to another which has different cultural backgrounds causes a lot of displeasure. Expatriation and repatriation should not be regarded as a secluded event; it should be look upon as part of a continuous process of learning and developing one’s self. As an expatriate goes through tremendous amount of psychological stress throughout the expatriation process, it is essential to prepare the expatriate towards the challenges that is going to be experienced so that the psychological stress can be reduced.

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Screening an expatriate to distinguish his or her probable success in handling a foreign transfer is essential as companies around the world invest a large amount on them. Pre-departure and cross cultural training is essential and indispensable, as it helps to alert and prepare the expatriate to fight the undesirable states of their experiences. The training that is provided has to be on a continuous basis whereby it should not only be provided in the home country but it also should continue in the host country during the beginning stages.

Coaching and Mentoring may also facilitate in reducing culture shocks. The organisation should pick employees who have returned back after completing their assignments overseas, to become coachers and mentors to the new assignees, so that they can share their real life experiences, on how did they manage themselves and cope with the changes overseas. It will be a good method as the expatriates can share their views and uncertainties with their coachers and mentors. It will not only benefit the assignees but also the organisation indeed.

As for repatriation, the organisation could organise talks and seminars (classroom learning environment) to expose to them the changes that has taken place in their home country. Mentors and coachers can also be assigned to the repatriates as the mentors and coachers can make them aware about the changes that has happen and make them feel more comfortable by always being by their side.

The expatriation and repatriation process is not an easy undertaking. It requires the expatriate to be psychologically fit as they have to cope with a variety of challenges. As a whole, the expatriation and repatriation process is an extensive one. Companies should be aware of its effects and its impact on not only the expatriate but also the organisation. Therefore, understanding the essential facts and figures of the diverse culture, essential training and development programmes and the ability of the assignees to continuously learn will lend a hand in minimising the occurrence of culture shock among expatriates and repatriates.

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