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

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora