What is the most challenging destination for an international assignment?

Matthew MacLachlan

2 Jun 2010

China and India are often regarded as two of the most challenging destinations for international assignments. However, there are difficulties awaiting every expatriate, regardless of their destination.

Many people assume that cultures which are drastically different to their own will cause them the most challenges, however going to a country that has a similar set of cultural values or language can be even more problematic if international assignees are not prepared for possible pitfalls like assumptions of similarity, stereotypes, cultural differences and a lack of preparation which can lead to a failed expatriation experience.

If we take the example of a British international assignee living and working in the US, the so called cultural closeness between the two countries (and thus strong assumptions of similarity) can create frustration and critical incidents. But there are indeed huge cultural differences between the US and the UK, and the fact that both countries speak the “same” language does not always help.

In fact, speaking the “same” language can actually hurt as many will not expect differences. US natives are not usually familiar with the nuances and turn of phrases used by the British, while the British may be confused by differences in vocabulary and business jargon. Small differences in the way English is spoken and used in each culture can lead to severe misunderstandings. Adding to the language are the many cultural values, attitudes and working habits which are often very different.

An international assignment in India or China presents a unique set of challenges. It is commonly accepted that these countries have their own values and cultural flavour; this is why intercultural training programmes are increasingly offered to expatriates going to work there. However, understanding the culture of these countries is one thing, living there every day is another. Living the rush hour in New Delhi or trying the unusual (from a westerner perspective!) Chinese cuisine cannot be explained, it has to be experienced first hand.

That being said, understanding the cultural drivers, values and traditions and having a set of strategies that help international assignees deal with any challenges they may encounter is essential for anyone going on an international assignment, no matter how ‘challenging’ the destination. This is where global mobility training for relocation can help, whether it’s for the employee moving or their family or both, any destination which is deemed challenging can be turned into a destination of opportunity and success with the right kind of training and support.



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