Expatriation, 3 phases where the manager needs coaching

Many of you have told us of your surprise when in a previous article we mentioned that there was3 phases in expatriation. Most people consider that expatriation consists of leaving and adapting. Returning to the country of origin would, according to these same people, be a simple formality since, after all, it is a return to familiar territory. Known yes, however this step is far from being the easiest. Together, let’s review the 3 phases of expatriation where the manager needs coaching.

Prepare your departure for expatriation

Preparing for expatriation is a significant phase although it is very often botched. However, this is the moment when, if we are to believethe cycle of changethe manager will begin the mourning stage. In addition to the drama of this word, this step consists of becoming aware of what he is going to say goodbye to for a while. It could be his current colleagues, the comfort zone in which he has been operating for several months in his position, all the political acumen he has used in recent months, thus building a real network. This can also affect weekends at the cottage, friends, or the sports team. This impacts both the personal and the professional. It is essential to be aware that a nice “copy and paste” of his current daily life will in no case be an option in the country which will welcome him.

It is also a phase during which fears and doubts can arise. Would I be up to it? Will I complete my mission? Was I right to agree to go to a country where I don’t speak the language? How will my partner adapt? Isn’t this career opportunity going to be too big a challenge for me and for our relationship? So many questions that it is important to answer before departure in order to free up as much space as possible for questions and new developments that will inevitably arise once there.

Adapting to your expatriate country

The crux of the matter is obviously adaptation on site. There is even an “expatriate curve”, based on the studies of Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist. This curve indicates several phases which I describe very succinctly here.

  • Honeymoon. The wonder of novelty. The expatriate no longer knows where to turn because this upheaval in his habits tells him that yes, a thousand times yes, this decision to leave was the right option.
  • Then comes the realization that all these new features will not disappear after 2 weeks like when the manager is on vacation. They are there to last for the simple reason that he himself is in this new country for several years. This is the phase of disillusionment. The phase where he struggles with himself to adapt to this new reality made up of new processes, new codes, sometimes unpronounceable names of colleagues or even a non-existent professional network.
  • Little by little, of course, time does its job and the expatriate finds a balance between this novelty and his way of living. It’s adaptation.

The expatriate curve

The expatriate curve being a trend, there is no precise deadline for each phase. It varies from one person to another, from one country to another, from one expatriation to another. However, it is important that the manager who arrives in his new position abroad is aware of this reality in order to adapt to it at his own pace. When working with a professional coach, the manager is supported in sorting out this major spring cleaning which is necessary between what has until then constituted his norm, and these countless new elements which must be implemented in his daily life. . All this both on a personal and professional level… otherwise obviously it lacks flavor!

The expatriate who faces this avalanche of new developments alone can obviously cope. However, this takes a lot more time and energy. This is what sometimes leads to premature returns from expatriation because the manager does not feel up to the experience and does not feel like he has the necessary energy.

Impatriation: preparing to return to your country

Once these emotional elevators have been experienced, the expatriate must also prepare for their return. It is also the last stage of the expatriate curve which ends with a dizzying fall since once again the expatriate must face bereavement. The daily life that he has built in his host country cannot be taken with him in his suitcases. In addition to the complexity of returning to the country of origin which can, in certain cases, be experienced as a step backwards if the position offered does not mark a significant evolution, there is a real duality that occurs in each expatriate.

The person who returns is no longer the same as the person who left. She opened her mind, made room for certain elements of another culture, both professionally and personally. It has integrated new mechanisms. It is just as complicated for this person to leave them aside as it is difficult for the company (which was delighted to find a volunteer to leave) to want to put the manager back into a mold. Despite this ambivalence, the company must facilitate coexistence between employees who have remained in the country and have not or little evolved in their perspective and vision of the company and expatriates who return with a multitude of new things in mind, ready to implant them.

An expatriation, multiple realities

There is as much reality regarding these 3 phases of expatriation as there are expatriates. Everyone experiences things according to their own perceptions and filters. It is therefore all the more important to support your managers in their journey with individual and personalized support. This will allow them to master the phase they are in with more fluidity.

At Iceberg management, we offer training that specifically meets your needs depending on the phase in which your managers find themselves. We also have the possibility of offering coaching in French and English to your expatriates. I have personally worked and lived for more than 15 years between Europe, Asia and now the American continent. I have also accompanied many managers in their journey abroad. I would be delighted to discuss with you your current and future challenges and to tell you how I can support both your company and your managers.

Looking forward to reading you.


Ophelie Therrien

Certified professional coach and trainer

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