The purpose of the study was to develop a substantive theory that would provide insight into the role of the Internet in expatriate adjustment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Expatriate adjustment research has identified a number of challenges that expatriates experience when adjusting to the host country. These include spousal influence, cultural training/ understanding, fluency in the host language and the personality or emotional readiness of the expatriate. These challenges are amplified when considered in the context of the KSA, which has a large cultural distance when compared to the average Western culture and therefore, provides a setting for an interesting study. There are a limited number of studies available that consider the role of the Internet during the expatriate episode in general, but none that examine the role of the Internet on expatriate adjustment specifically. Furthermore, to the best of the researcher’s knowledge, there is no research that provides a grounded theoretical understanding of the Internet in expatriate adjustment.
The research project used a Grounded Theory based approach to develop a substantive theory on the role that the Internet plays in expatriate adjustment in the KSA. The conceptual account emerged from interviewing expatriates living in Western compounds in Riyadh, the capital of the KSA. The core concern that emerged from this study is one that describes the mediating effect of the Internet. This study hypothesised that the Internet had a regulating effect on expatriates’ degree of isolation and degree of information flow which would affect both their process of adjustment and their state of adjustment. Both the expatriates’ process and state of adjustment is expressed in terms of their well-being.
The theory building study presents a theoretical model, grounded in rich empirical data. The theoretical model consists of two substantive categories: degree of isolation and degree of information flow. The former explains what contributes to the feeling of isolation experienced by expatriates. It was shown that the degree of isolation is a multifaceted concept influenced by expatriates’ living space, status, social support, mobility in the KSA and state of mind. The latter substantive category, the degree of information flow, explains the extent to which information can be exchanged between expatriates and other entities, be it family, friends or the outside world in general, including communication with other expatriates in the KSA. These two substantive categories were explained through the core category which was conceptualised by using the following metaphor: “the Internet a lifeline to the real world”. Considering the lifeline properties of the Internet, the theoretical model explained how it positively effects expatriate adjustment in the KSA. It was shown that the Internet, as a mediator, had an effect when considering adjustment as a process, as a state, and as an expression of expatriate well-being. This research was guided by two key research objectives: (a) to add theoretical content to the understanding of the role that the Internet plays in expatriate adjustment, and (b) to contribute to the IS body of knowledge by producing a theory that could be applied in practice.
To the researcher’s best knowledge, this study is the first in IS literature to describe the significant role and the contextual issues that surround expatriate use of the Internet in the KSA. In doing so, the study developed an understanding, grounded in rich empirical data from the substantive field of expatriates. This new understanding contributes to both IS research and practice, and provides guidance for future research.