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Grupo BM Mentors

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At this point, you also start to miss your friends and family back home and idealise the life you had there. This is often when physical symptoms can appear and you may experience minor health ailments as a result of the transition.


Taken together, the literature on expatriate family adjustment shows that career decisions of expatriate workers are influenced by their family (and vice versa) and that understanding the challenges and the processes of adjustment of individual family members in determining the outcome of an expatriate family experience is therefore critical (McNulty and Selmer, 2017; Shockley et al., 2018).

In terms of family resources, Van der Zee et al. (2007) studied family characteristics such as family adaptability (i.e., the extent to which a family is flexible and able to change its functioning; Olson et al., 1984), family cohesion (i.e., the amount of emotional bonding between family members; Olson et al., 1984), and family communication (i.e., the tool through which families can create a shared sense of meaning, develop and orchestrate coping strategies, and maintain harmony and balance; McCubbin et al., 1996). To examine the determinants of effective coping with cultural transition, they used a survey with a sample of 104 expatriate children and adolescents from 21 different home countries (the majority from the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium; who lived in 37 different countries; the majority in the Netherlands, Singapore, and France). They found that all three characteristics contributed to higher levels of intercultural adjustment of children, with family cohesion being the strongest predictor of both quality of life and sociocultural adjustment of expatriate children and adolescents. Traits and attachment styles were directly associated with better adjustment, and moreover, they also moderated the relationship between family and work-related factors and intercultural adjustment.

The third conclusion concerns reciprocal influence between family members in terms of stressors, application of resources, and adjustment. Crossover effects (for instance of stressors, subjective well-being, emotional distress) between partners have been documented in the literature (e.g., Takeuchi et al., 2002; Van der Zee et al., 2005; Lauring and Selmer, 2010). Also, family situation and work adjustment of expatriate employees are strongly related (Caligiuri et al., 1998). Finally, crossover effects for all family members, including children, need to be taken into account when relocating with children (Lazarova et al., 2015).

The fourth conclusion concerns the methodological characteristics of the studies included in our review. At the level of study designs, we can conclude that there is a growing body of qualitative studies attempting to provide insights into the subjective experience of expatriate family members, or studies using both quantitative and qualitative methods (see e.g., Lauring and Selmer, 2010; Lazarova et al., 2015; McNulty, 2015; Fischlmayr and Puchmüller, 2016). Qualitative studies mostly used interviews to gather data from expatriates to understand their expatriate complexity. The research on expatriate families, expatriate children and TCKs, is still evolving and such qualitative designs are helpful for better understanding the lived experience of the emerging expatriate (sub)groups. While most studies used methodological perspectives of cross-cultural psychology, cultural psychology perspectives are barely presented in the area of expatriate family adjustment. Research including empirical ethnographic field studies that incorporate the lived experience of a host country culture is scarce (see e.g., Lauring and Selmer, 2010 as an important exception). Finally, the majority of quantitative studies used cross-sectional designs, and longitudinal study designs are hardly applied.

Sixth, and also at the conceptual level is the observation that the majority of studies failed to explain the definition of a family used in the study (see Caligiuri et al., 1998; Lazarova et al., 2010; McNulty, 2014, for exceptions). It is understood that they involve parents and children, however, the traditional family definition is no longer useful because of the changing family constellations. The most comprehensive family definition was proposed by McNulty (2014) who also included non-traditional family forms such as long-term partners of opposite sex, single adults with children, and families of which members may reside in different locations. There is a huge gap in the research about self-initiated expatriate families. The majority of studies used the term spouse or wife to refer to a partner accompanying (usually) male expatriates on assignment. For our review we therefore decided to use the term trailing partner to refer to a significant person in an expatriate life that accompanies them on international assignment.

Second, more research is needed on the reciprocal influence between all family members (e.g., impact of expatriates on partners; impact of children on parents and vice versa). Since families living in a foreign country often become closer and need to rely on their own resources (De Cieri et al., 1991; Copeland and Norell, 2002), their role to support each other to overcome potential crises may be even more important than in their home country (in which community/social sources of support are more available).

Third, so far studies on expatriate adjustment have mostly been overly restrictive in their focus and only a limited number of variables were investigated (Takeuchi, 2010). Therefore, future research should broaden its scope to different stress variables (e.g., chronic strains, daily hassles) as well as to different outcome variables (e.g., short term crisis, long term adjustment). Further research should include the adaptation to changing family roles, to map relationships among forms of adjustment and to offer a systematic way to group adjustment antecedents (Lazarova et al., 2010). Recently published articles on expatriate family experience (e.g., Lazarova et al., 2015; McNulty, 2015) call for more research on topics that do not focus on expatriate success but rather give in-depth insight into experience of expatriation for a family. Additionally, with the increased globalization, studies on expatriation could learn more from migration studies to improve conceptual refinements of concepts of expatriation and to deepen the knowledge base and provide relevant practical advice for different types of expatriates (Andresen et al., 2014).

Fourth, many studies examining expatriate family adjustment lack a theoretical background or invoke the stressor-stress-strain perspective (Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005), or the work-family literature as their underlying theoretical basis (see Caligiuri et al., 1998; Van der Zee et al., 2007; Takeuchi, 2010; Rosenbusch and Cseh, 2012; Lazarova et al., 2015, as important exceptions). Studies on expatriate families, however, could integrate family psychology literature, family systems theory, and family stress models, positive psychology, and in particular, cultural psychology and cultural identity formation. A different culture and language barriers in the host country may be a challenging experience for expatriates, their partners and children involving the need to restructure, develop, and adapt in response to the requirements of the new environment. Capturing the cultural experience of the expatriate family would add to the existing knowledge where currently family and its members seem to be the sole generators of their adjustment process. More research interest is needed to better understand the interface between expatriate family adjustment and cultural aspects of relocation, and specifically, into the identity change of expatriate family members and family as a whole.

The possibility and availability of psychological support (e.g., family counseling) in the new location should be discussed with the family. Partners could specifically focus on how to use their time and resources when abroad (Lauring and Selmer, 2010). Direct communication and support between the company and trailing partner could facilitate adjustment of the whole family, as it is usually trailing partners who have to deal more with hassles of relocation (Lazarova et al., 2015). Children and teenagers could be prepared for the international assignment through video information about the life in the new school and friendships abroad (Weeks et al., 2010). Further, family members who are moving abroad and host country nationals should be put in contact before the departure so that hosts in the host countries could play an active role in the preparation activities.

Even with the most thorough pre-departure training families cannot avoid experiencing some degree of adjustment stress shortly after the relocation, and therefore some follow-up on the adjustment process after the move is warranted. For example, host country nationals could be considered to assist newcomer expatriate families with learning about the host culture and local customs in the new location (Osland, 2000). In particular human resources management could add value by providing adjustment assistance within the expatriate communities. For example, by supporting the development of friendships in the new environment (i.e., community groups, workplaces and online social media) (Bahn, 2015). Furthermore, employer provided career assistance and consideration of roles and responsibilities of both partners is needed for expatriate partners who plan to continue their career in the host country (Cole, 2011; Lazarova et al., 2015; Mäkelä et al., 2017). To be able to offer clear guidelines on how children facing many relocations in their life can obtain some degree of sense of stability when their family moves on international assignments, more research is needed on the nature of adjustment of children and teenagers.

In sum, our narrative review provides a summary of contemporary findings on expatriate family adjustment, including identification of challenges as well as personal, family, and community resources that foster adjustment of family members. Notably, clear conceptualization of expatriate family or expatriate family adjustment is needed. A general theory of expatriate family adjustment is called upon that would in a comprehensive way integrate multiple theoretical perspectives on expatriate family adjustment; work-family literature, adjustment and expatriate literature, stress and positive psychology, cultural and cross-cultural psychology, social theories, work transitions, family functioning, family relations, different types of families, and communication. Further, studies should not neglect culture identity formation of children and the impact of both home country and host country cultures. In particular, research using cultural psychology perspective is needed to enrich the understanding of expatriate family experience. Finally, more research should focus on shedding light on positive outcomes and opportunities of expatriate families. 041b061a72

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