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

Video British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Multimedia Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

'Ebola in Town' has danceable beat, while also delivering serious message about avoiding infection More

Video New Technology Gives Surgeons Unprecedented Views of Patients’ Bodies

Technology offers real-time, interactive, medical visualization and is multi-dimensional 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid