An expat assignment to a different part of the world can be an amazing experience, but being an expat isn’t easy. You’re away from your family and friends for extended periods of time. You’re thrown into a new city, a new environment, and you’re expected to work hard. It’s not a lifestyle that appeals to everyone, but it can be an exciting an adventure.
You need to make sure that you make the most of of your expat adventure so that on your return to the ‘real’ world you not only have some really solid career-enhancing experience, but you also have some great photos, and some amazing travel tales that you can share with your friends and family.
I was recently in Manila visiting some friends from Australia who had been posted to a job in the Philippines. Although they’re now enjoying it immensely, they did find the initial transition fairly tough . Here’s some of the ways in which they’ve made it work.
Get the best package possible
There’s a huge advantage for companies to be able to send trusted employees into different geographies to help bring a consistency to the way that the business operates.
Naturally, companies will try and minimise the costs associated with moves of this kind. But, in order for your expat placement to be successful, you need to ensure that you’re being appropriately compensated.
In the Philippines, it seems that most expat packages include a high quality apartment, a driver, a housekeeper, and - if you have children - a nanny.
Don’t be afraid to ask for whatever you might need to make the transition for you and your family as smooth as possible - this will help to enable you to deliver real value from the work that you’ve been sent there to do.
Build your networks
Often expats are married or in long-term relationships. The placement is usually for one partner, while the other will often be prevented from working due to visa considerations.
The workplace can easily create professional and social networks for the partner that is heading off to the office each day, but building social networks for both partners is essential if you’re to enjoy your time away from home.
Children can often provide a natural way to meet other people - parents’ groups bring together children of the same age, so you automatically have something in common. Alternatively, look for a gym with classes that you can do regularly, or find some other form of networking that will bring you into contact with people that have similar interests to you.
You’ll generally find that most other expat families are outgoing and open to meeting new people. Learn from the experiences of other expats in your location - it will save you a lot of time and stress as you settle into your new home. In this kind of context, friendships are formed quickly and easily, but people come and go - don’t get too attached to anyone that you meet.
Keep some balance
In the expat environment it’s very easy to get lost in your work - long days at the office, big projects, tight deadlines. However your expat assignment won’t last forever, so it’s important to make the most of the opportunity.
Take regular short breaks so that you can explore the region - head off to a nearby beach for the weekend, or fly to an island that you haven’t yet explored. You don’t want to return home only having seen the office and the pool at your apartment complex.