What were the highs and lows of your adaptation period?
In 2010 over 200 million people were living abroad. Relocation stories featured regularly in the media often represent the extremes of these statistics, the plights of economic or political migrants and asylum seekers, retirees who relocate abroad to what they hope will be ‘retirement paradise’ only to experience ‘retirement hell’, or expatriate ‘high flyers’ who move abroad to live the high life in tax havens around the world.
Then there are the rest, people like you and me! We moved abroad to support our partners and their international career; a wonderful opportunity to experience life in different countries and cultures and perhaps exciting, challenging and very positive but also sometimes overwhelming and isolating. What was your experience of your transition process? How easy was it to adapt, and how does your experience compare to the experience of the people who contributed to my survey?
The Purpose of the Survey
The purpose of the survey was to develop a deeper understanding of the experiences of the accompanying partners as they adapted to life in a new country. Questions were centred around two themes:
- What helped and hindered people in their adaptation process.
- What forms of support did they feel would help them better adapt –the next time!
This survey was completed in the summer of 2010. Eighty one participants started the survey with seventy two completing it, giving an eight nine percentage completion rate. Below I outline the five key findings from the survey.
Five Key Findings:
1. How Comfortable and Well Adjusted Did People Feel to Their New Environment?
Participant’s time in their new locations varied from three months or less to two years or more, with over 56% having lived in their current environment for more than twenty four months. In response to the statement ‘I feel comfortable and well adjusted to the new environment’ 56.8% of participants agreed or agreed strongly. 26.3% said that they felt neutral and 17.6% said that they did not feel comfortable or well adjusted.
Intuitively it would seem to make sense to suggest that with time comes better adaptation and comfort in a new environment. However culture shock theory and the experience of many expatriates suggests that following an initial period of euphoria often referred to as the ‘honeymoon period’ people will go through a period of distress, feeling negative about the new culture and feeling a sense of sadness for what they have left behind.
In this study it was interesting to see that in the initial few months abroad some people do feel quite comfortable with 42.9% saying that they agreed or agreed strongly to the statement “I feel comfortable and well adjusted to the new environment”. This is more than during the 3 – 6 month and 7 – 12 month periods. So perhaps for some, the Honeymoon phase did create a sense of initial positivity, which for some others disappeared in later months. After year one more people felt comfortable and well adjusted – 58.4% and 70% after two years. It seems that time does help the adaptation process.
Time brings familiarity and this in turn perhaps helps people to feel comfortable. However, sometimes familiarity brings the opposite, a sense of knowing that this will never be right. At these points it is good to be able to make a positive decision to move on. As one participant wrote in answer to the question ‘what would make your level of comfort and adaptation higher’?
“Leaving, moving on!”
|Length of time in current location||How much do you agree with the statement;
“ I feel comfortable and well adjusted to my new environment?”
|Strongly agree||Agree||Neutral||Disagree||Strongly disagree|
|Less than 2 months||2 (7)||1(7)||2 (7)||1 (7)||1 (7)|
|3 – 6 months||1 (12)||3(12)||5 (12)||3(12)|
|7 – 12
|3 (9)||3 (9)||1 (9)||2 (9)|
|13 – 24
|2 (12)||5 (12)||2 (12)||3 (12)|
|24 months||12 (41)||16 (41)||9 (41)||3 (41)|
2. Does a Move Abroad Bring Happiness?
In answer to the question “How happy are you with your life abroad currently?
For the majority it seems that a life abroad does bring happiness with 62.9% reporting that they were happy or very happy. A further 21.4% reported that they were neutral about their level of happiness however 15.8% said that they were unhappy or very unhappy. However, as with adaptation the level of happiness did seem to be related to the time in the new location, with the 7 to 12 month period receiving the most negative responses, all eight participants saying that they felt, neutral, unhappy or very unhappy.
3. What factors inhibited Adaptation?
Over half of the participants agreed/agreed strongly that the following four factors inhibited their adaptation:
- Language problems.
- Administrative and bureaucratic issues.
- Feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Lack of purpose and direction.
Over half of the participants disagreed/disagreed strongly that the following four factors inhibited their adaptation:
- Problems filling time.
- Children not settling easily.
- Financial difficulties
- Feeling that the move was a mistake.
In response to the unprompted question “what would make your level of adjustment and comfort higher” the most popular responses were:
- Language – greater proficiency so better able to communicate, 22 people wrote this.
- Friends, better social connections and community support, 16 people mentioned a desire for this.
- Employment or opportunities to do volunteer work – 11 people mentioned this.
4. What helped people most in their adaptation periods.
People were asked to provide their own answers to the question;
“What helped you most in making your moves abroad?” The answers fell broadly into the following categories:
Social aspects of creating a new life abroad were seen to be of huge importance. There was a mixture of responses in this respect but overall they showed a recognition of the need and value of new friendships and social networks.
In this respect various methods were employed to form new friendships and social networks ranging from, joining expatriate clubs and women’s groups, embassies to drawing on support from colleagues in the new local environment and also on-line in terms of finding people with similar experiences through facebook, skype and so on. As one person said;
“it is important to get to know people as soon as possible and get involved in activities and integrate in the society”
Many people referred to the attitude that they employed as being key, suggesting that it key in helping them adapt and build new lives in their new locations.
People cited the following as helping:
- Possessing a sense of adventure.
- Being self determined.
- Being sociable.
- Having an open mind.
- Staying positive and attacking issues actively.
- Possessing a positive attitude.
- Recognising a personal motivation for the experience “I really wanted the experience for myself”.
- Preparing a personal matrix to ensure that the decision was both practical and met emotional needs
Seven people mentioned how important it was to them to have their partners support and understanding. Eight people mentioned friends and family back home and how their support helped them, including their visits to them in their new locations.
Understanding the local culture, speaking the language:
Five people referred to the benefit of either having learnt the language prior to relocating OR on arrival. This is in contrast to the number of people who recognised language difficulties as one of the greatest inhibitors to their adaptation.
The emphasis given to language difficulties by participants, and the desire for a greater proficiency in their target language indicates that more focus is needed on building language ability when relocating.
Studying culture shock and receiving cross cultural training was mentioned by four participants. Four other participants talked about the importance of research, how their love for the country helped them and how managing their own expectations had a positive impact.
It seems that where this form of support is provided and provided well it is recognised as a great benefit, five people referred to the positive impact the support provided by their relocation agents had on their relocation experience, one describing theirs as ‘fantastic’.
5. What sources of support and assistance would be helpful when relocating?
There is no doubt that people would welcome support when relocating. People were asked to rate the ‘helpfulness’ of fourteen forms of support, listed below. Overall 71.23% agreed/strongly agreed that these forms of support would be helpful.
The forms of support participants would find most helpful – with 70% or above of participants answering that they agreed/strongly agreed that this support would be helpful were:
- Language training
- Cross cultural information and strategies.
- Networking support and strategies.
- Help in building a new social life.
- On-line support and information re relocation experience and process.
- Practical relocation assistance, housing, removal and bureaucracy.
- Country specific practical information.
- Country specific cultural information.
The areas of least agreement regarding the helpfulness of the support suggested were:
Financial planning assistance – 47.2% agreed/strongly agreed helpful.
School selection assistance – 54.5% agreed/strongly agreed helpful.
Support family/support adaptation process – 53.8% agreed/strongly agreed helpful.
Stress management support – 44.4% agreed/strongly agreed helpful.
These still represented relatively high percentages in favour of these forms of support. It seems that for the majority of accompanying partners who relocate to live abroad more support in a variety of areas would be greatly welcomed.
Please leave your comments and share how well these findings reflect your experience. What additional support would you like to receive?
I have started a new survey at survey monkey. I’d love your help! If you are an Accompanying Partner click here and take the survey. It will take no more than 10 minutes and you will receive a link to a Free Resource: Research Resources and Ideas For People On the Move.