News / USA

    US Companies Help Families Adjust to Life Overseas

    Culture shock can have a profound impact on spouses and children during assignments abroad

    The Choi family on an outing in China.
    The Choi family on an outing in China.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Ashley Milne-Tyte

    Richard and Kim Choi knew life in China would require some adjustment. Richard works for an American automaker which transferred the couple and their three children from Miami to Shanghai almost three years ago.

    Culture shock

    A trip to the grocery store can still bring surprises. Kim shows son Hansen, 8, a tank of live turtles.

    "Why do they get them but put them in water?" he asks.

    "So they stay nice and fresh because people like to eat them," his mother answers, while also pointing out bagged turtles which are used for turtle soup.

    Hanson and his sisters are both grossed out and fascinated by the turtles, hairy crabs, snakes, eels and jellyfish writhing nearby. A visit to the meat counter is also quite a change for them.

    “That was quite alarming to the kids, to see live produce, things not pre-packaged in a plastic wrap, like you would at the grocery store in the U.S," Kim says.

    Making adjustments

    At least the Chois knew what to expect. Richard’s company hired a consulting firm to prepare them for the cultural shift. The couple has already lived in Dubai, Israel and Germany.

    “This time was the first time that we actually had someone come to the house and talk to us about what it would be like to live in a new country," says Kim. "We learned about Chinese history and business practices.”

    They also received a manual covering everything from Chinese proverbs and how to address people properly to office life.

    “There was a very large section on the corporate culture and how to behave in the workplace,” says Richard, who had to take a survey to see how well his work style would mesh with the Chinese one. He did pretty well.

    Compatibility issues

    Kim, a stay-at-home mom, had her own cultural compatibility test. "I learned actually that my personal space is quite important to me which was the only area of concern to the consultants because in China there is no such thing as personal space.”

    By now, as a white woman, she’s used to strangers coming right up to her and staring. Or demanding to know why one of her kids isn’t dressed warmly enough.

    Jo Danehl is with Cartus, an international relocation company which provides cultural training services. She says there’s a good reason companies spend anywhere from a thousand to several thousand dollars on this type of training for employees and their loved ones.

    “Family adjustment is far and away the biggest reason that assignments fail," Danehl says. "And if you think that international assignments can be in excess of a million dollars for companies, they are going to need to mitigate that opportunity for failure.”

    It’s often the employee’s spouse - usually a wife - who has to deal with day-to-day problems. Some consulting firms devote themselves entirely to supporting the spouse.

    “If the spouse is happy, the employee is gonna be more productive in their work,” says Therese Gavin, who works for a company called REA, which helps the employee’s spouse find a job or volunteer work.

    Gaining a world view

    Gavin speaks from experience. She’s accompanied her husband on two assignments; one in Germany, the other in China. The couple returned to Michigan last year. And that’s when another adjustment began: being back home.

    “Sometimes it’s just difficult in conversations," she says. "You can’t constantly be talking about your experience overseas. But you also, sometimes like, ‘I don’t really want to hear about everything right here anymore, either.’ You know, you really kind of like have a global eye.”

    The Chois will be in China for a few more years before returning to the U.S. Richard says they’ve pretty much adjusted to life there, especially now that he's stopped worrying about paying $8 for a bag of tortilla chips - something that costs about $3 in the United States.

    Now, he says, Shanghai feels like home.

    You May Like

    S. African Farmer Goes From 'Voice in the Wilderness' to Sought-After Expert

    Margarest Roberts has authored more than 40 books on subjects like organic farming, urban agriculture, herbs and ‘superfoods'

    Millennial Men Prefer Bucks Over Beauty

    U.S. men aged 18 to 34 say the finances of a potential significant other are more important than her looks

    Multimedia Lebanese Clown Troupe Marks Valentine's Day Amid Stink

    Activists resort to unusual approaches to raise public awareness of country’s ongoing trash crisis

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.