Creating Happy Endings – Building on your Foreign Work Experiences

Working abroad can have disastrous consequences. Yet, international work should benefit both individuals and organisations after repatriation. How can you ensure a happy ending for yourself?

teenagers reaching the world
Think Global People Spring 2022 Issue
This article is taken from the latest issue of Think Global People magazine.
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The positive scenario for the individual looks like this. International work can be considered as an investment into both individual careers and organisational development. It is proven that during their foreign sojourn both global assignees and self-initiated expatriates substantially advance, increase, or develop their business insights, job specific knowledge and skills, as well as general international awareness and understanding. Moreover, such experiences often bring new connections that can eventually develop in to local and international personal and professional networks. Finally, life and work abroad widen the mindset, bring new perspective, and shape further career motivation, identity, and sense of direction.Employers also benefit. On the organisational level, international work is usually seen as a way to build stronger leadership skills, bridge and transfer knowledge between headquarters and subsidiaries as well as to fill knowledge shortages in the host and home countries. Moreover, hiring people who already have previous foreign working experience can help companies make more international connections, build stronger relationships with international partners and to ensure organisational development in the international direction without spending money on the global assignments. Both global (company-sponsored) assignees and self-initiated returnees are attractive to companies because of different reasons. Global assignees can serve for the more specific company purposes, whereas self-initiated returnees can bring broader international understanding, awareness, skills, and knowledge. But there are substantial dangers lurking.

The Dark Side of Repatriation

For individuals, returning back home after foreign work can be more stressful and complicated than going abroad in the first place. It is said that it takes around one year to adapt to the host country, whereas re-adapting to your own home country can take twice as long. Why is that? There are many factors that make repatriation a difficult process. First of all, the degree of embeddedness in the host vs. home country is important. People assume that they are going back to the home country how they left it. But given your cultural adjustment abroad and your host-country embeddedness raises the question: How many places can we call home and is the home country the same to you after you return from abroad? Are you the same? Most likely and most often not. Research shows that the more culturally, emotionally, and socially embedded in the host country expatriates become the more difficult it is to re-adapt to their home country. And vice versa, stronger cultural, emotional, and social ties to the home country bring barriers to fully embrace foreign lifestyle, culture, and people. In many organizations, key problems come from the poor communication during the assignment and lack of acknowledgement and appreciation after return. In this case it is not the lack of acquired international skill and knowledge but rather the lack of opportunities to transfer these skills and knowledge back to the headquarters. Not being able to use what you learnt is frustrating for individuals and non-productive for organizations. The situation can be worse for self-initiated returnees. This is because returnees who come back home without any organisational support often experience not only reverse cultural shock but also struggle to re-adapt back to their home country’s work culture as well as experience difficulties in securing new employment that would fit their expertise and career aspirations. Finally, not being able to secure a desired job where you could fulfill your career goals and build on your foreign career experiences as well as coming back to the company where you do not feel valued enough can eventually lead to quitting those jobs and moving on to the next organizations either locally or internationally once again. Thankfully, there are many ways to improve this situation. 
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The Road to Happy Endings

International working experience can contribute to a greater career success for both assigned and self-initiated expatriates in the long term after the repatriation. However, this can only happen if returnees manage to fully re-adjust back to their home country and to make full use of their international working experience. How can you ensure this happens?GLOMO ( research shows that there are several things that both individuals and companies can do to ensure a successful transfer of internationally developed career competencies such as work-related knowledge and skills, social networks, and internationally inspired career motivation and goals.Individuals should consider the fact that substantial mismatch between the environment where career competencies where developed and where they are being transferred to can make transfer of such competencies a more difficult process. For example, international knowledge and skills developed in a relatively safe and calm environment might be not that applicable in the physically and psychologically hostile environments. Moreover, motivation and ability to find the opportunities to use and apply your expertise as well as personal and professional connections matter not less than internationally acquired expertise and connections itself.Organizations employing assignees and local people with international experience should ensure that their employees fit their professional roles and have opportunities to share their knowledge, skills, and international expertise in general within the company. Moreover, organisational guidance and support both during the expatriation and after the return is crucial for the assignees to feel valued and motivated to share their foreign acquired expertise. This can be achieved by consistent and continuous communication, appropriate career growth opportunities, and mentoring schemes provided by other professionals within the organization. Thankfully, it has become clear in the GLOMO research how organizations and assignees can manage the benefits of working abroad to ensure a successful impact for all.

Read more GLOMO research:

About the authors: Emilija Oleškevičiūtė holds a degree in Work and Organisational Psychology, is a fellow of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network and researcher of the EU Horizon 2020 GLOMO programme. She is a specialist in Global Mobility and is currently pursuing PhD on the topic of International Transfer of Career Capital possessed by Self-initiated Repatriates at Cranfield School of Management, UK.
Michael Dickmann
is Professor of International Human Resource Management (HRM) at Cranfield University and the Director of the Cranfield Masters in Management. His research focuses on human resource strategies, structures and processes of multinational organisations, cross-cultural management, international mobility and global careers. Michael has published in a broad range of academic journals and he is the lead author of several books on international HRM and global careers. Since 2017 he is the Senior Editor-in-Chief of The International Journal of Human Resource Management.
GLOMO (, is a pioneer project that has received funding from the European Union’s H2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 765355. Researcher from a variety of countries have generated knowledge about the success factors, effects, and implications of the mobility phenomenon. To read more articles generated from the research see (link to section with further GLOMO articles).
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