Do Expatriates have the Gimmies?

Recently I had a conversation with a member of an HR department of a multinational company. We were both attending a dinner given in honor of yet another departing expatriate (crisis is making itself known among the expat assignments as well!)  and the conversation centered around benefits that companies offer their expatriate employees and their families.

“I think most expatriates are way too spoiled and demanding,” said Maria*, “they are constantly complaining about the housing as if they can even get close to what they get here in their own homes. I mean, come on, would they get as large an apartment as we provide them with smack in the center of the city where they come from? I doubt it.”

Later that evening I got to ponder. How much truth is there in her statement? How much do we, as expatriates, expect our living conditions to be better than those we have had at home? And, if in fact, this is the case, then why do we expect that?

So I took a piece of paper and began to list everything people must adjust in their lives when they move abroad:

• They move far from their families

• They have to leave their friends behind and develop new friendships

• They have to support their children in this lifestyle that gets them changing schools more often that they may like

• They have to learn to communicate in a new language

• They have to learn to do things differently than they are used to

• They have to shift cultures and adjust to living in a culture they know nothing about

• The food is different

• They have to make a “new” home every few years

• Some spouses have to give up their career

If you look at this list, you will notice that there are a lot of losses in there. Loss of close connections with family and old friends, loss of career, loss of identity… to name just a few.

And of course, there are a lot of things one gains by moving abroad (learning and adventure being high on my list!) – and among those things we’ve come to expect the small luxuries of living a little better than we would in our home countries.

Is that “being spoiled”? What do you think?

*Not a real name

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2 responses to “Do Expatriates have the Gimmies?

  1. Pingback: Different colors of money « “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” What was your expatriate experience like?

  2. Reminds me of a lady in the HR office when we first went overseas (to a hardship posting). Her standard response when anyone complained was “26 1/2%!” That being the amount of hardship uplift everyone got on their salary.

    I suspect a lot of the complaints this lady is hearing in truth relate to the hardships you mention. Housing is something concrete they can point to and therefore a convenient target, but the sense of loss you talk about is hard to pin down and maybe the employees themselves don’t fully understand it.

    I have always felt that the best support (and probably the cheapest) a company can provide is a forum for the families to come together – a website and/or a meeting space for gatherings, either their own exclusive one, or subsidise one to be used by all expat families in that location. Expats helping other expats has always worked best in my experience.

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