Impact of a local host on adjustment and performance

My first article about my PhD research appeared inIn Touch with the Dutch 2011 and was about the impact of a local host on adjustment and performance. While you can find my PhD or a summary of the findings (both in English and Dutch) on this blog, I thought it would make the findings of the research more accessible if I would summarise the academic articles that appear about this study. So here’s the first post!

A local host
When I lived in France and in the UK I had the opportunity to be put in touch with a famille d’accueil or host. I gladly took the opportunity and had a great time meeting people from the country itself and discovering the culture. When I came back, I wondered whether such contact could also help expats. So I set out on my PhD research in which, together with my supervisors Marinel Gerritsen and Jan Pieter van Oudenhoven, I examined the effects of contact with a local host.

A longitudinal experiment
Thirty-three expatriates were put in touch with a local host for a period of nine months. During this time they did all kinds of activities together, ranging from dinner or drinks to Activities with a local hostvisits to the city of Gouda or the Keukenhof. They were compared to a group of thirty-two expatriates who did not have a local host. Their partners also participated in the research, but unfortunately their numbers were too small to offer many insights into the effect of a local host on partners. Assignment to the experimental and control condition was random so that the effects found would be due to the contact with the local host, and not to other factors. We examined the effect of a local host on four main concepts: adjustment, performance, intercultural competence and social support. In this post I focus on the first two.

Adjustment and performance
Many studies about expats focus on adjustment, which is a major aspect of the success of the international assignment. However, as companies ultimately want their expats to perform well, we included measures of both expat adjustment and performance. Together they offer a complete picture of the success of the expat assignment on both a professional and personal level. There is much discussion about how to measure both of these concepts, so we used multiple measures for each concept. With regard to adjustment, we included both the adjustment model of Black and colleagues (General Adjustment, Interaction Adjustment and Work Adjustment), and that of Ward and colleagues (Psychological Adjustment and Sociocultural Adjustment). We also approached expat performance from different angles, including a self-assessment and their most recent actual performance evaluation. Questionnaires were filled in at the beginning of the project, after 5 months and after 9 months.

Impact on adjustment
Contact with a local host was found to have an effect on Interaction Adjustment. Expats with a host were better adjusted to interacting with host nationals in general than expats without a host. Through the contact expats can learn about Dutch culture which helps in their interactions with other Dutch people.

I think that, you know, when I go back and tell people stories about the Dutch and I certainly do tell things about the office, but a lot of things I’ve learned about the Dutch I learned more from watching how the host family interacts with their kids, how they interact with their neighbours, how they serve their meals and have coffee, and snap the cookie jar shut.

There was also a moderating effect of having a partner: the effect of contact with a local host was particularly present for expatriates who did not have a partner. Expats who had a partner but no host also increased in Interaction Adjustment. A possible explanation is that the partner of the expat is an extra source of information about the host culture as they are often more immersed in the host culture because they have to arrange all kinds of practical matters while the expat is at work.

Impact on performance
We did not find an effect of a local host on the professional life of the expat. There are several possible explanations. For one, a local host might only be beneficial for those expatriates whose performance depends to some extent on their ability to interact with host nationals. For another, many factors are important for job performance, for example, knowledge, skills and motivation of the expat. Although the local host could offer support with work-related issues, and knowledge and skills learned during the contact with the host might spill over to the workplace, other factors might be more important in determining expatriate job performance.

Intercultural competence and social support
Although a local host did not impact on expatriate job performance, expatriates learned better to interact with host country nationals. It helped them ‘prick the expatriate bubble’ and get in touch with locals. The study also showed several benefits in the areas of intercultural competence and social support – more about that in future blog posts!

Sources
Van Bakel, M. S., Gerritsen, M., & Van Oudenhoven, J.P.L.M. (2011). “Impact of a local host on the success of an international assignment.” Thunderbird International Business Review 53(3): 391-402.

Note
The academic article that appeared about this part of the study (see Sources) was published when I only had two of the three data waves available. In this post I therefore use the findings as presented in my finished PhD research.

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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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