The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of the spouses of South African diplomats on a posting in a foreign country. The study focused on the factors that enabled or hindered effective adjustment during posting. Research conducted showed that one of the greatest challenges facing international assignments is that organisations do not only deal with an employee but the whole family, their needs and expectations in the relocation process. The adjustment constraints in this study referred to pre-departure preparation, support provided by the Department, religion and cultural differences or similarities, foreign language, environmental factors and personal health.
A qualitative research approach was applied. Data was collected through a semi-structured interview schedule. The study was conducted among nine (9) spouses who returned from posting between 2009 and 2011. Some of the spouses completed the posting whilst others returned prematurely due to adjustment problems.
The findings indicated inconsistencies on how the Department prepares and supports spouses before and during posting; and that cultural and religious differences, foreign language competence and environmental factors have a considerable impact on the adjustment of spouses in a foreign country. Social support network, particularly the Embassy staff and diplomatic spouses’ associations play a crucial role in helping spouses to adjust. The study also found that spouses’ inability to adjust can result in early termination of posting. The recommendations are that the Department should review the training curriculum and provide support to spouses during the posting. The study will benefit the department, the diplomats and spouses in future postings.