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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More