Major expat howlers and how to avoid them

Published:  19 Jun at 6 PM
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Tagged: Working Abroad
Taking on a new job in an unfamiliar environment for the first time is about as stressful as life gets, but it’s reassuring to be told that almost every new arrival makes the same, obvious mistakes.

When newbie expatriates drop obvious cultural clangers, they’re mostly forgiven by seasoned expat workers, simply because the blunders are exactly the same ones everyone makes when they first arrive. Working overseas isn’t just about improving your bank balance along with your career prospects, it’s also a valuable experience including new cultures and new challenges on a personal as well as professional level.

One of the biggest challenges in professional expat life is learning the language of the new country, a challenge which many avoid if at all possible without realising what they’re losing by so doing. English-speaking expat professionals working in multi-national organisations or the diplomatic service are most at fault here due to the fact that English is the ‘official’ language of both sectors as well as their social scenes. Expat life, however, goes on outside the office, and relating to local people in their language gives treasured experiences and a host of new friends.

Wherever they find themselves, restricting new friendships to other expats and avoiding contact with local people is another big mistake made by many British expatriates. Born of insecurity, it shuts off cultural exposure to anything but surface level interactions and destroys opportunities for new, enjoyable experiences. Working with locals or having children attend local schools is one way forward as it allows contact with real people outside the office to ripen into genuine friendship. Living life in a culturally diverse overseas location is great for broadening horizons if it's allowed.

Everyone who’s been an expat professional in a strange land understands that expat culture is synonymous with drinking culture, but fewer are cognisant of the fact that propping up a bar with other expats and spending Sunday hung over is simply a way of avoiding the challenges of existing in a different cultural norm. Getting rid of that feeling of isolation is essential for family life and exploration of the new environment, and bar-room friends aren’t what’s needed for an enjoyable social life.

Fear of becoming involved in a new, different culture keeps many expats locked into the office-home rut, thus missing out on all the new delights awaiting in the real world. For those who change locations regularly, it’s understandable as it’s familiar turf, but it’s also the way to miss out on local culture, new friends and valuable life lessons. Finding other expatriates who’re curious about the country and its culture is the best way to enhance the expat experience.
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