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A passport on top of a world map

U researchers are hoping to learn more about the expatriate adjustment process over a year.

The expatriate experience

From eNews, September 25, 2008

What is life really like for professionals who leave the United States to work in another country? How do they adjust to a new culture? How does the experience impact them and their work?

Carlson School researchers are looking deeper into those questions and others as part of one of the most extensive assessments to date of expatriate life. Their study, supported by a grant from the U's Office of International Programs and the Society for Human Resource Management, involves tracking the perceptions and experiences of business professionals at three large corporations, including two from the Twin Cities area, from the time they leave for their international assignments through their first year working abroad.

"While the overall human resource knowledge base on expatriation has increased exponentially in the last two decades, we still have much to learn about the expatriate experience," says Connie Wanberg, professor of human resources and industrial relations.

Want to join?

The research team welcomes interest from other Minnesota companies that may want to take part in the study. Participating organizations will receive a summary report about changes that occur for their expatriates in the first year, such as expatriate and family adjustment, role clarity, cultural understanding, language skills, and perceived career development from the assignment.

To participate or to learn more, e-mail Erica Waldera at walde057@umn.edu.

The research team includes Wanberg, who serves as principal investigator; Erica Waldera and Jing Zhu, Ph.D. students at the Carlson School; and David Harrison, a professor at Penn State University.

"This study will help us learn more about the expatriate adjustment process across time and the characteristics of expatriates who display higher adjustment over the duration of their experience," says Wanberg. Before leaving for their assignment, expatriates who participate in the study complete an initial baseline survey, followed by one survey each month for the first nine months of their assignment. The design allows researchers to examine the changes for expatriates that occur throughout a period of time and the impact of those changes on the understanding of their jobs and of the culture.

The study currently involves 81 expatriates, with the goal of 120 participants. The researchers expect the data collection to take 18 more months to complete. Only expatriates leaving on assignments of at least one year are eligible for the study.