Over the years, I have met a number of people who, usually after a few years of living and working overseas, decide either consciously or subconsciously that an overseas location is more attractive for them than a home base job. For some, this relates to a specific location, to others it seems pretty much anywhere will do. Sometimes, people seem to seek out these opportunities either to satisfy a financial or personal need or curiosity, but often it is simply because they just feel more at home away from home. These latter individuals can be described as going native in their new country.
The expat lifestyle can be very rewarding. Those living it are usually living a quite privileged life in their host country, they tend to be treated better by both their employer in their home country and their host, and they usually have very few social responsibilities in the host country relative to their home base. This life can quickly start to become pretty seductive for people and, this attraction can lead to some unusual behavioral and communication patterns.
Negatives Of Going Native
On the negative side, expat’s who go native can start to become very defensive of their positions. They will jealously guard the opportunities to live and work in these privileged overseas posts. This manifests in them avoiding certain things like pre-start and periodic medical checkups if they feel unwell so that their physical ability to undertake the posting will not be questioned; they can start looking for justification to remain in their overseas location, through either expanding the scope of the project, looking for alternate work, changing project roles to one which keeps them there longer or, in an extreme case, sabotaging the project to make it run longer, becoming toxic expats.
On the communications front, these neo natives tend to become hard to contact and, when they can be contacted, will usually be defensive, evasive or aggressive in discussions, as they either avoid sensitive subjects or lash out at anything that may threaten their sense of entitlement to their project position.
Positives Of Going Native
While the extreme behaviours I have mentioned above must be carefully monitored for, and dealt with as soon as they start to manifest, the upside for the employers of many of these personnel is that they are passionate about living and working in these sometimes less attractive locations. As such, when they perform well, as is typical of many who are passionate about their work, role and location usually do, can provide a stable and consistent presence for their employer, and a foundation for any new personnel or activities, enabling their employers to use them as a foundation for building a stronger local presence.
These neo natives also can form very close ties to their host community, ties which often lead to additional opportunities for their employer, helping when conducting culturally sensitive negotiations and in many other situations where a local issue may need to be managed with cultural understanding and tact.
Properly identified, supported and on occasion, cultivated, these passionate and corporately engaged expats are major assets to their employers and should be cultivated and supported as much as possible, particularly if the employer wants to develop its business in the host country.
When it comes time to move the expat, they can often adapt well into other countries or, on returning home, become enormous local assets through their ability to operate remotely. Where they have to make decisions with little home office support, however, these transitions must be managed carefully and with diplomacy, otherwise these same individuals can suddenly become a very disruptive and potentially destructive part of the business.
Share your experiences
Do you have experiences or views on going native and the broader expat experience, if so, I would love to hear from you.
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