Demystifying Expatriates – What does it all mean?
Have you ever wondered how expatriates are defined officially across the globe? The definition is loosely set around the world, but most of the time, a person who is staying in a host country for at least a year and not more than five years is an expatriate. For persons who stayed on beyond the 5-year period, they are assumed to be naturalised in the host country, regardless of their original nationality.
Challenges for the Expatriates
The world classified expatriates into two broad groups. The white-collared expats are persons working in highly skilled jobs and hold titles such as engineers, doctors or IT experts. Most parents who belong to this group of expats send their children to international schools.
The blue-collared expatriates are seldom referred to as expats. They are more often referred to as workers because they work in a low skilled environment such as the construction industry. These individuals typically move alone to the host country in their pursuits of a better life. For these blue-collared individuals, the three most significant challenges are often finance, adaptability and loneliness.
The complex challenges are often faced by white-collared expatriates (better known as PMET) because of various factors. As PMET expats, we usually move together with our family unit. Therefore, it is crucial for us to move to a host country where there is economic stability. This factor alone determines if our spouse can find work should he or she wants to. The safety of the nation is essential as that assures us that our family can continue to live in relative safety as compared to our home country. We are also pressured to find comparable accommodation in the new country to make our family feel more at home. Last but not least, we need to find suitable international schools for our children so that they continue to grow and learn.
Besides the familial details to take care of, we often face discrimination at our new workplace as expatriates. The discrimination is likely to be minimal and controlled in a multi-national environment but the pressure to perform better than the local remains. Also, the company usually expects an extra mile or two from expatriates because of our skills. In fact, everyone will be watching how we perform in our roles. It is common for us to face quick judgements if we make a mistake and go without praise for a job well done.
The pressure at work can spill over into the personal space as well. As foreigners, our families are more likely to be scrutinised by our neighbours. Any perceived form of bad behaviours invites criticism and annoyance or outright anger from the locals. This kind of discrimination can be highly distressing for the family in the initial year, especially for the children.
The loneliness of not having familiar faces around the family often adds to the challenges that we face as expatriates. It is worse when the people of the host country is hostile as that prevents us from making friends with the locals and getting assimilated into the country.
Culture is yet another challenge that we need to cope with. If we move to a country that is entirely different from our own, it is a challenge to understand the new culture and adapt to it. This problem can, in fact, be the biggest one that all expatriates face. Besides the prevailing culture, food can be a source of stress for our families if we cannot adapt to the kind of food served in the host country. While it is possible for us to cook our favourite food at home, it can be a chore to seek out the necessary ingredients.
The different challenges faced by expatriates are daunting, and it can overwhelm some of us in the first year. It will get better once we adapt to the new country. Eventually, the fate of all expatriates is dependent on our ability to overcome the challenges we face. If we can change and assimilate well, the expats, regardless blue or white-collared, can enjoy our stay in the host country.
By Zerlina Zhuang