Category Archives: Repatriation

10 Killer Reasons to Attend the North East Totally Expat Show

The International HR Forum is proud to be a Partner Organization for the upcoming North East Totally Expat Show on 3 April in New York.  The event is just three weeks away! It will be the largest global mobility event ever held in New York.  So, if you are in the New York Metro area, or if you are able to travel, register now!

Here are 10 killer reasons why you should register today: Continue reading

How to Make Cross-Cultural Training Effective

Guest Author:
Nathalie-Michèle Sylvain – Transitaré

[Editor’s Note:  It is with pleasure we welcome Nathalie-Michèle Sylvain as a Guest Author. Nathalie-Michèle is based in Montreal, Canada, where she specializes in candidate and family assessment, expatriate support and intercultural management training. She regularly participates in global conferences and has been an invited speaker for cross-cultural topics at some of these conferences as well as at Canadian universities.]

A lot is said about cross-cultural training for international assignments. Some argue that it is very important and should be done prior to departure, others claim in should be done at the host country and others still doubt the value of cross-cultural training all together. But we tend to forget that the effectiveness of a cross-cultural training depends more on its content than on its timing. So what makes a good and effective cross-cultural training program?

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Hey HR! Here’s What Employees and Families Really Need When Relocating Internationally

Guest Author:
Rachel Yates –

[Editor’s Note:  We are very excited to share with you the assignee’s spouse perspective on international relocation, from someone who has lived through five such moves.  Rachel Yates edits a website, Defining Moves, devoted to assisting relocating families around the world. ]

I read the post from May, 2011 by Warren Heaps about global mobility policies for the 21st century on this site, and found it to be fascinating, mainly because I am part of the changing demographics Warren described. On paper, we are the traditional relocating family; husband as assignee, spouse as the accompanying partner, and two dependent children. We have relocated through three continents over the last 10 years, and we have struggled. And we are most definitely not alone.

So what do relocating individuals and families really need from HR?

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Ten Ways to Simplify Administration of Your International Assignment Program

Jennifer Stein – Global Tax Network

[Editor’s Note:  We are happy to welcome Jen Stein as a Guest Author.  Jen is the Managing Director of the Global Tax Network Chicago office.  She has more than 15 years of experience in expat and foreign national tax preparation and consulting, starting her career with Arthur Andersen, and then Ernst & Young, where she served for over 14 years.]

International assignment administration is complex. Sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and review basic components.  The list below, while not exhaustive, is a good starting point to help review your international assignment process and procedures.  Adopting one or all of these components may make your life easier when administering international assignments.

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Is There a Crystal Ball for Talent Planning and Global Mobility?

Guest Author:
Nikki Goodstein – Cisco Systems

[Editor’s Note:  We are happy to welcome Nikki Goodstein as a Guest Author.  Nikki is a leader in Compensation & Benefits at Cisco Systems, Inc. and has a depth of experience designing and implementing global mobility programs. Before establishing the strategy and redesigning the program at Cisco, she led Global Mobility at The Coca-Cola Company. Nikki began her international HR career at Johnson & Johnson as part of their international compensation organization and has held HR roles in both the business as a generalist and in centers of excellence.]

Sorry, there is no talent planning “crystal ball,” but that does not mean you don’t need a plan!

Many companies with mature global mobility programs have evolved to measuring assignment success by leveraging available data across several key employment metrics:  performance over time, promotions/career opportunities, years with the company post repatriation, engagement scores reflecting manager performance, etc.  When consolidated into a dashboard, these metrics can help tell the story of success or challenges in your global mobility program.

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Global Mobility Policies for the 21st Century

Warren Heaps – Birches Group LLC

It’s now almost the middle of 2011, so the 21st century is well underway.  The new realities of global business are upon us:

  • Companies are expanding from developed countries into new, high-growth markets in the developing world in record numbers.
  • Global talent is being snatched up across borders on a regular basis.
  • Companies are sending expats to new locations, and breaking new ground with each assignment.
  • Companies headquartered in developing markets like India, China, Brazil and South Africa, to name a few, are expanding along with multi-nationals from more established markets.
  • Demographic shifts will result in an increasing number of workers being sought from developing countries to replace the ageing workforce in North America and Europe.  In fact, McKinsey predicts that by the year 2040, the largest working-age population in the world will reside in Africa.

So what does this have to do with global mobility?  A lot!

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Third Culture Kids – Maintaining Stability in a Life Without Roots

Megan Wu, GMS – Santa Fe Relocation Services (Shanghai, China)

[Editor’s Note: We are delighted to feature this article about Third Culture Kids by Guest Author, Megan Wu.  Megan is herself a Third Culture Kid, and is now raising one of her own in Shanghai.  In addition, she serves as Relocation Services Manager for Santa Fe Relocation, a leading relocation provider.]

The business of global mobility is all about helping people who find themselves in a foreign country and a different culture. Many assignees are families and with that comes a lot of worry on how the children will adjust to the move and the new surroundings.

When a child is moved from one culture to the next they instantly begin forming their own “third” culture to incorporate all the new and the old that they come in contact with, making them “third culture kids” (TCKs). A third culture child is someone who has grown up in a culture not their own. They feel that they no longer can completely assimilate with their home culture, and as they are a foreigner, cannot completely assimilate with their host culture; therefore forming their own third culture. How each child handles this cultural jumble does of course depend on each child’s personality, duration of stay, age, parental attitude, etc.

I am one such TCK, after moving to Shanghai in 1998 at the age of 15. I have lived in Shanghai for 12 years. Now that I am the mother of a 3 year old girl and facing questions on how to best raise my daughter in Shanghai, I have thought a lot about the importance/disadvantages/advantages of being a third culture child. Since my daughter is growing up raised by an American parent, living in China, she is very much growing up in the “third” culture that I myself have created. and all the benefits and challenges that come along with it.

Cultural Acceptance and Diversity
Growing up abroad has given me a greater understanding of other cultures. I have had the chance to come in contact with children from different cultures in school, and now in an international work environment. My friends and colleagues are from many different countries around the world, opening my eyes to different cultures. I have become more aware of the fact that there are different ways of celebrating, smells, tastes etc. This has given me the flexibility and a sensitivity that can be more difficult to obtain when living “at home”.

Learning and hearing foreign languages is also an important factor in the cultural growth of TCKs. The hopes of many parents is that the children will be able to learn at least one or even more languages while being abroad. This is not so easy. After several years in China, I did not speak more than basic Chinese, as most of my world was based in English – at home and in school. My understanding was more than basic, as Chinglish (Chinese and English mixed) was a common “language” at school and I achieved some comprehension of the language this way. It was not until I began studying Chinese seriously at University that I could combine all the conscious and subconscious knowledge I had to actually advance to fluent Chinese.

Based on my personal experience, and similar experiences of friends, I believe it is critical for parents to ensure that there is some aspect of the TCKs life that is submerged in the language they should learn – be that extra language lessons, a special activity or even just spending time with a maid/nanny that does not speak your own language.

Cultural Roots
The flip-side to being culturally aware and flexible is a sense of lacking cultural roots. Growing up, I was asked if I felt rootless every time I returned home for the summer, but could not quite understand the implications until much later. I always felt that I had stability of where I came from and what I stood for. This may not have come from my culture but rather from my family. Wherever my family was – this was home and I know what social/cultural rules applied. To me this has emphasized the importance of having consistency in the home environment – not only in terms of rituals, but also in terms of rules and values.

It was only upon my return to the US after graduating from high school in Shanghai and starting US University that I discovered what the effects were of my overseas experience. My lack of understanding of common conversations such as TV shows and politics was embarrassing. My gap of knowledge in the modern culture with regards to TV shows, commercials, programs/activities growing up, and that my peers did not understand my experiences, was a constant reminder of my time away from “the norm”. Reverse Culture Shock does exist and in my case, resulted in my decision to embrace my overseas experiences, return to my life a nomad and move back to China. Every child deals with reverse culture shock differently, of course. Some will see their return “home” as yet another adventure.

Social Skills
Going to school in a foreign country puts great emphasis on your social skills but also builds you empathy. At any international school around the world, each student will have been “the new kid” at one time or another. Generally I have found that TCKs will have a sense of openness and confidence in handling new situations simply because they have to! During school they will inevitably say many goodbyes to good friends; they have to make new friends continuously. This can lead to many good friends all over the world that will last for a long time, but can also create a situation where a protective mechanism is built up where “out of sight is out of mind”, leaving the TCK with few friends from a specific period in their life.

Looking back I do feel that the advantages of being a TCK far outweigh the disadvantages. I will always be unique. In my role as a relocation professional, I will always have a different way of perceiving the world and a different understanding of the challenges that face our clients, especially the children.

There are plenty of resources either from the web or books where you can better understand your Third Cultural Kid. Here are a few websites that might provide you with more insight:

Whatever you do as a parent, the most valuable suggestion I can give you is: Tell your child that their life will be different, the lessons they learn along the way as a TCK will be valuable tools in their adult life, and most importantly they are not alone.

More About Megan

Five Facts About International Schooling


Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

Most companies sending employees overseas offer some kind of cross-cultural training.  But we rarely think of cross- cultural training for school children, even though education can be a make or break issue for many families considering an overseas assignment.

As you can see from the facts below, even expats who send their children to international schools encounter cultural differences that may be significant, and may clash with family customs.  Schools – local and even international – are a microcosm of the culture they inhabit.  Without understanding the host country’s educational system children can be disadvantaged in the admissions arena, in academic performance and in the ease of transition.

Consider these facts:

1) Did you know that 8th graders in Belgium, Korea and Japan do not use calculators in math classes?

Curriculum differences like these make it hard for children trained on calculators to adapt to local mathematics instruction in these countries.

2) Did you know that German parents give their children a Schultuete, or a cone filled with treats on the day they start first grade?

Children unfamiliar with local customs can feel awkward or embarrassed, affecting the transition to their new school.

3) Did you know that in Brazil children either go to school in the morning OR in the afternoon?

Spouses may find it difficult to work in countries with a school schedule alien to them.

4) Did you know that Saudi Arabia is enforcing a law that requires expat children to attend a school of their own nationality?

Many families choose a curriculum other than their national curriculum, often to preserve curriculum continuity with former or future schooling.

5) Did you know that admissions for 4-to-10 year olds for New York City independent schools requires an entrance examination that is ONLY administered in New York City?

Admissions opportunities may be limited for children if parents are unaware of requirements.

To learn more about educational customs in different parts of the world, visit our School Choice International blog or our Fact of the Week Collection.

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10 Rules of the Road for Your Expatriate Program – Part II

bio_400x400 Author:
Chuck Csizmar – CMC Compensation Group

Last week I posted the first five of ten “Rules of the Road” for managing your expatriate program.  I hope you enjoyed reading them.  In this post, I’ve included the five remaining rules.  Enjoy!

Rule #6: Always have a Backup Candidate
It is very important to avoid a scenario where management believes that only one person is capable of handling the assignment.  If all your plans are dependent upon one candidate, and your choice discovers this (they usually do), the assignment from that point will likely become more contentious, problematic, internally disruptive and ultimately more expensive.  You will have lost leverage when trying to apply Company policies, demands for exceptional treatment will increase, costs will rise as a result and the likelihood of equity issues with other employees will increase.

Having a second choice will enable you to more easily finalize an equitable package of terms and conditions, test the candidates’ genuine interest in the overseas assignment and lower inflated egos down to earth.

Rule #7: Do Not Play “Let’s Make a Deal”
Everyone tends to lose on this slippery slope.  The expatriate community is a small group that will eventually learn of any special deals someone received that others did not.  While the expatriate policy document should provide a “safety valve” for approved discretionary exceptions covering extraordinary circumstances, be mindful of creating precedents where the sole reason is to placate an employee (or their spouse).  This problem can be a major dissatisfier for the rest of your community.  Explore cost sharing and trade-offs with the expatriate to mitigate the perception of inequitable treatment.

Certain employees, especially those with a sales background or like temperament, may view many aspects of the assignment terms and conditions as negotiable, simply because it is in their nature to question or challenge what they consider is the Company’s “initial offer”.

A word of caution:  if the employee considers the international assignment less as a wonderful career opportunity and more as a “favor” to the Company, the warning signs should be posted that this might not be a good match.

Rule #8: Have a “Hand-Holder” in Place
Another key to a successful assignment is to provide a ‘go-to” person in the host country for the myriad questions that will crop up as soon as the assignee arrives.  Set up a local contact point for host country issues, expatriate experiences and administrative fulfillment of the assignment terms.  Insist that the assignee utilize this person, not their manager, co-workers or even well-intentioned HR people unfamiliar with the expatriate program.  This go-to person should have the authority to make decisions, to “handle” whatever the question might be.

While this sounds like an easy step do not assume that anyone would automatically take this task to heart.  Left to their own devices, host country employees often find it difficult to invest the time to help assignees understand local business conditions and culture.  Thus you need to make it someone’s responsibility.

Likewise there should be a contact person in the home country as well, a designated individual prepared to handle policy interpretations, provide advice on navigating procedures and assuming responsibility for the home administration of the assignment terms.

Rule #9: Do Not Forget That They’re out There
A successful assignment requires constant attention from both the home and host country contacts.  Communication should be frequent, as should the “check-up” calls to gauge the assignee’s temperament.  For example, does the assignee understand the COLA calculations, have any payroll or currency exchange issues arisen, is the family acclimating well, are there issues the assignee would like to discuss?  A key source of dissatisfaction for assignees and their families is a feeling of being “out in the provinces” and therefore out of touch with what is happening back at the office they have left.  Make every effort to ensure that they do not feel marginalized, taken for granted or forgotten.

Make sure the assignee has a Mentor (as compared to a hand holder) back in the home country as well, a Senior Management-level individual charged with representing the assignee’s career interests during the assignment.  This person should schedule periodic career discussions with the assignee.

Rule #10: Have an Exit Strategy
All too frequently companies are at a loss as to what to do with expatriates who have successfully completed their assignments.  It is not uncommon for assignees to leave the Company upon their return from overseas or within the following year, because either no suitable position was available in the home country or what was available was a diminished or less visible role.

After incurring the huge expense for an employee to develop deeper and broader competencies on the international stage, it is a wise business practice to pay close attention as to how best to utilize that increasingly marketable (and therefore valuable) talent when the assignment ends.  Without due care and planning the career cycle of an assignee is left as an afterthought, one that usually crops up late in the assignment;  meanwhile the assignee has been worried (and thus distracted) for a much longer period of time.

While there are no guarantees that future positions will be available back home for employees presently working overseas, the international assignment letter should at least state that the Company will attempt to secure a “mutually agreeable position of similar stature” upon completion of the assignment.  It is in the best interest of the Company and the assignee to carefully plan for a successful repatriation.

Follow though
Well, that’s my list of ten rules.  The road ahead has curves, dips and more than its share of bumps and potholes.  However, if you manage to keep these sign posts in mind (commit them to memory, post them on the wall, send and resend them to managers), the experience does not have to be an endurance course for all concerned.

You will need to keep at it though (persistence is its own reward), because there is no pill or “Easy Button” that will magically ease the journey.  There is no cure for the realities that expatriate assignments will always be costly, procedurally complex and a personal as well as professional risk for those involved.  But by adhering to your own “rules of the road” your expatriate program can reap significant benefits: lower assignment costs, business objectives achieved, satisfied employees and host management, retained and developed talent and ultimately greater overall business success.  It can be done.

More rules?
Do you have rule that I did not include in my top ten?  Please, leave a comment and share your insights with the community.

More About Chuck:

Impact of Assignments to Remote Locations on Children’s Education

Photo Liz Perelstein (2) Author:
Liz Perelstein – School Choice International

As businesses expand more and more into developing markets, companies are often facing new challenges in finding appropriate schools for the children of their international assignees.  In some locations, schools haven’t caught up with demand for international education; in others, there simply might not be any international schooling options at all.  Now more than ever, local schools are an option, but you need to be well-prepared for such an approach to work.

Schooling is a Top Priority
Assignees often state that having access to good quality schools for their children is the most important factor in deciding to accept an assignment.  Parents are more uneasy than ever about relocating with children when international schools are not available.  By gaining some understanding of the local educational system and curriculum differences in countries where you send employees, you will be in a better position to create policies that provide children with access to reasonable education.

Consider these facts:
Some local schools in India consider handwriting so important that teachers may not consider content if handwriting falls short of expectations.

  1. A study by the University of New Hampshire indicates in many European countries, parental involvement is not permitted.
  2. So-called “International Schools” may not be truly international.  Instead, they may be targeted towards local children to help them acquire language and other skills to promote attendance at US universities and/or may exist for children whose parents do not want them to attend local schools.
  3. In some countries, schools “stream” students into tracks as early as 12 years old, and this could affect the ability to gain admission to universities in other countries.  Admissions decisions based on an “entry examination” or prerequisites make this a clear challenge for those who do not have the language or curriculum background.
  4. Religious education is a fundamental part of national curriculum in many countries, such as Ireland.  This may meet an unenthusiastic response from families not accustomed to such arrangements, or those that practice a different religion.  And, even if considered acceptable, students may not have the religious background to fit in.
  5. Special education is handled in varied ways throughout the world, from mainstream educational options in the United States, to China, where few schools have an open-minded approach, and few teachers are taught to teach children with learning or other disabilities.

Language is the main obstacle that many companies are aware of when evaluating local school choices, but integrating families into a local educational system where goals, philosophies and methods are so dissimilar requires a different type of preparation on the part of the family, and a more flexible policy on the part of the company.

Tips for Success:
Here is a short checklist which is useful to help companies and assignees examine educational options for any overseas assignment, as well as for their eventual return home:

  • Before moving a family, allow them time and means to review curriculum of the school in the host country, and discuss it with teachers back home.  Evaluating where a child may be ahead or behind enables parents and schools to develop programs that assist in entry as well as re-entry.
  • Recommend that families bring along books, course outlines and any other aids to maintaining academic skills required at home so that kids can keep abreast of knowledge required for repatriation.
  • Find out the exit requirements for schools in the home country before leaving.  These, in particular, will determine curriculum to continue studying while abroad.   Can these be satisfied on assignment, and if so, what kind of policy do you need to support these additional costs?
  • Decide what kinds of supplemental or alternative education your company will allow to reduce hardship for children whose families are sent on assignment, particularly at key grade levels.  These may include tutoring, on-line courses, summer school, home schooling or boarding schools.
  • If schooling is totally incompatible, is it possible for the employee or the family to repatriate either a year earlier or later, as appropriate to facilitate the transition?
  • Provide opportunity for students to become proficient in reading and writing as well as speaking of the new language well before the move; in fact, as soon as the move is announced is best.
  • Engage a professional who understands discrepancies in curriculum as well as culture to recommend individualized support so that students can be prepared before returning home.
  • Repatriation is always difficult for children, since even international schools teach different curriculum, have different course sequences, and offer different languages and promote different viewpoints when teaching history.   Children who have attended local schools in remote areas may be more significantly unprepared to attend school back home or enroll in university in their home country.  Be sure to pay careful attention to home country requirements before assignments begin.

School choices for expatriate children are always challenging, and even more so in locations where the traditional choices are limited or non-existent.  Families who have overcome these obstacles and successfully educated their children in local schools find the rewards to be significant.  Children truly learn new languages, cultures and curricular subjects and enjoy an unprecedented window into the customs of a different country.  As schools are a microcosm of the cultures they inhabit, children raised in local schools abroad can be our true ambassadors in the global world of the next generation.

Providing support in the form of tutoring, on-line learning and language instruction is a key consideration companies should consider when developing policies to support your employees in remote locations.  Inviting parents to reframe their definition of education as learning rather than schooling is the key to promoting the right attitude for a successful assignment.

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