The aim of this dissertation was to explore the cultural dimensions of relocating to another country. This included identifying the main differences and difficulties that expatriates faced in an ‘expatriate episode’, i.e. in adapting to a new work and socio-cultural environment abroad as well as re-adapting when repatriating to their home countries. More than 180 expatriates were interviewed, from 30 countries of origin, and relocating to 60 different countries. Where possible, face-to-face interviews were conducted. E-mail interviews were used to converse with interviewees located far from the researcher, and this method proved helpful and reliable. Findings of earlier researchers were tested for relevance. The main findings of cultural differences identified in the workplace showed that although Hofstede’s dimensions of power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism versus collectivism, and masculinity and femininity are still relevant, new models are needed. Other business differences were discussed, including the importance of building relationships before doing business, conducting meetings appropriately, understanding the role of women, obtaining status, and motivating employees. The practical implications of these differences were identified. In many situations, knowing about these differences allowed the expatriates to adjust their behaviour successfully. Expatriates who were not in managerial positions often either had to accept the new ways or find a new job. Expatriates had to learn to communicate effectively, adjusting to differences in verbal and non-verbal communication. Speaking a new language was the most obvious difference, while other aspects, such as language pace, degrees of formality, directness, showing emotions when communicating, and showing disagreement varied between cultural domains. Non-verbal aspects of communication, such as touch, personal space, eye contact, gestures and posture also differed. If the expatriates understood the cultural norms in their new domain, they could choose if they wanted to adapt or not. It also helped them avoid misinterpreting and making wrong judgments about other people’s behaviour. Most expatriates went through a 3-stage adjustment process. Knowing that they would likely experience difficulties did not prevent these from happening, but it did help them to cope. Difficulties included inner turmoil, anger towards their new environment and loneliness. Non-working spouses were lonelier as they usually did not have a job and the support network that accompanies it. Support from family and friends, both other expatriates and locals, helped expatriates the most to adjust, especially the spouses. Other helpful things were making choices, understanding the new cultural domain, and joining in local activities. Helpful resources for expatriates were identified, which included cultural training and information about the new country, new friends and local literature. In retrospect, expatriates wished they had obtained more information about the country, learnt the local language, made better choices, planned differently, and known themselves better. More than half of those expatriates who had repatriated to their home countries said that this process was more difficult than moving to a new country, which came as a big surprise to many. Their main difficulties included being judgmental towards their home country and its people, and feeling alone and misunderstood.
Dissertation (MSocSci (Anthropology))--University of Pretoria, 2007.