Networking abroad

One of the aims of this blog is to bridge theory and practice by writing about interesting academic publications. I will start with an article I have been re-reading recently because I need it for new research I am setting up on how expats can make contact with locals.

How do expats make new contacts?
The article is entitled “Networking abroad: A process model of how expatriates form support ties to facilitate adjustment” (1). It offers a theoretical model of how expatriates connect with others to get the support they need to deal with the transition to a new country. As expats leave behind most of their social network when moving abroad, they face the challenSocial networkge of establishing a new social network in their host country. The article focuses on getting two types of social support: informational support (information helping expat’s functioning and problem solving in the host country) and emotional support (emotional resources helping expats feel better about themselves and their situation when adjustment problems arise).

A five-stage model
The support-seeking process is outlined stage by stage:

  1. How motivated is the expat to seek support?
  2. Which person does the expat choose to seek support from?
  3. What is the ability and willingness of the selected person to provide support?
  4. Does the expat use the received support?
  5. Does the expat add the person to his/her social network?

Host country expertise and adjustment empathy
One interesting aspect is that the authors propose a new way to categorize the people expatriates can ask support from. They propose to look at someone’s host country expertise and adjustment empathy rather than only distinguishing between fellow expats and host nationals. After all, a fellow-expat who has been in the host country for a long time might have a lot of host country expertise, and a host national who has lived abroad him- or herself could also empathize with adjustment difficulties.

How to get in touch with locals?
Another element of the model that struck me was that the authors propose that “expatriates are more likely to seek support from culturally similar others, unless they possess the motivation or ability to interact with those of another culture” (p. 437). What I would like to look into is how to stimulate this motivation or ability so that expats more easily interact with people with another cultural background. I am curious about one aspect in particular: whether there are cultural differences in strategies to get in touch with locals – whether one way works better in one country than in another. For example, waiting for your Dutch colleagues to invite you for dinner or drinks is not the best way to meet locals in the Netherlands. My hunch is that it is better to join a local tennis club or some other activity that Dutch people do in their spare time. Knowledge about the best way to go about would make it easier to get in touch with locals.

What is your best strategy?
Do you know about the best strategy to get in touch with locals in your country? Or have you read recommendations about how to do this in a particular country? I am very interested to hear about all this. Thanks in advance for leaving a comment!

See also the earlier blog post “Interaction with locals: helpful but not easy to achieve”.

Sources

(1) Farh, C. I. C., et al. (2010). “Networking abroad: A process model of how expatriates form support ties to facilitate adjustment.” Academy of Management Review 35(3): 434-454.

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About Marian van Bakel

I graduated in International Business Communication at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. After my studies I was a Visiting Study Fellow at University of Oxford where I conducted a research on the adjustment of Dutch diplomats and their partners in London. In February 2012 I successfully defended my PhD thesis ‘In Touch with the Dutch’, in which I put expatriates in touch with a Dutch host to examine the effect of this contact on the success of the international assignment. During my PhD research I also worked as in house communication consultant at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. I am currently a postdoc at the Department of Leadership and Corporate Strategy at the University of Southern Denmark (www.sdu.dk/en). Since 2004 I have done extensive voluntary work in the intercultural field for the Young Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research (Young SIETAR). One of my projects was to co-edit and co-author A Suitcase Full of Discoveries (2008), an intercultural storybook for children.
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3 Responses to Networking abroad

  1. Allison says:

    This is quite interesting! I’m curious to see what findings your research yields.

  2. Christine says:

    This is a particularly interesting topic for me. I’ve been living in the Netherlands since 2004 with a one year break back in the US. My before and after experiences in the Netherlands have been very different. It’s a combination of different place (then Haarlem, now Nijmegen) but also a radically different approach. I’m curious to read more about strategies that are recommended for expats and your “In Touch with the Dutch” project.

    • Thank you very much, Christine (and sorry for this late reply). I’ll be sure to post more on this topic in the months to come, and I am looking forward to hearing more about your experiences as well!

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