Feeling At Home Away From Home
Relocation may be thrilling, but is nevertheless difficult. Culture shocks, communication barriers and other challenges of adjustment await. Employees facing relocation often have to thoroughly prepare themselves before leaving for new and, sometimes, strange places. Alumni share their respective relocation experiences and how friends and family have helped them adapt to changes and to enjoy the new chapter of their lives.
Shankar Meembat (MBA 1996):
Back in 1997, it was novel for a growing international company like Nokia to have someone from Asia move to the headquarters in Finland. There were no standard operating procedures for these transfers, and I did not know anyone whom I could reach out to for guidance on living in Finland. Nevertheless, I took up the challenge and, in the end, my family and I integrated quickly with the help of a circle of expatriate friends. We provided strong mutual support to one another.
After the good experience, the family looked forward to the second assignment in Denmark where I moved to in order to head a regional team. I then returned to Singapore for five years, only to return to Finland again after another promotion. This was exactly 10 years after my first trip and, by then, relocation was easy on all of us.
I still recall my General Manager’s comment when the decision was made to let me relocated to Finland in 1998. He said, ‘Go to Finland and teach them about Asia.” Since then, that has been my guiding principle when I move employees – making sure that they are not just top performers themselves, but are capable and willing to transfer knowledge and skills. After all, an overseas assignment is meant to help local teams gain from the diversity the expatriate brings.
Today, my company has in place a good support system for relocation. Cultural and language training is provided for both the employee and spouse to help them adjust to the new way of life. The company also helps with all the various aspects of the move like transfer of the goods and work visas, and ensures that the employee’s family is well taken care of. Relocation consultants at the destination help the family settle in and usually spend more time with the spouse rather than the employee. With good reason – a happy home means a happy workplace.
Kathleen Kong (BBA 2007):
I was looking for challenges in my previous job when I was offered the opportunity to relocate to Hong Kong six months ago to be part of Daiwa’s new start-up. I was pleased when Daiwa actually flew me to Hong Kong for a day trip and the interview. Although it was the job exposure and not the relocation that I was looking forward to, there were exciting prospects of relocation, like going to a new country and experiencing the culture. However, there were always impending challenges such as the language barrier that I still face. Although Hong Kong is quite cosmopolitan that you can get by with English and Mandarin, the main language spoken is still Cantonese which I am totally unfamiliar with. This, in my free time, I have been watching TVB dramas to pick up the language.
Fitting in and being away from home is not much of a challenge for me as I have been away from my home in Taiwan since I was a child. In fact, I like how I am exploring and making many new friends. And of course, with the wonders of technology like Facebook and WhatsApp, I can still keep in good contact with my friends back in Singapore.
Daiwa also supported me with a basic relocation package, inclusive of first-month accommodation at a serviced apartment and shipment of my personal belongings. I was also lucky to have had some friends who had just relocated to Hong Kong before me, who helped me truly settle down in the environment. Although the experience was daunting for me, it has been exciting for me to be fully, independent, especially since I am still single now.
Nalin Advani (UCLA-NUS 2010):
After having managed technology companies in Japan for many years, I had the opportunity to relocate to India in 2009 to head the Indian arm of my company, Barco. Although I am Indian by nationality and heritage, I have never lived in India. Fortunately, there was my wife Sapna, who helped made the relocation a smooth one. Sapna, who was born and raised there. actively set up our new home, found a school for our daughter to go to, and helped us integrate into our new environment.
My company also provided me with ample assistance through the services of a relocation agency, which encouraged my wife and I to travel to India in advance to examine these factors in making a decision to relocate, and then again to search for the best set of options to address each factor.
My own adjustment was interesting as I began to learn and understand cultural differences, especially in corporate and professional settings. At the workplace, it was the mindset of the colleagues to which I not only had to adjust to, but also evolve with be become a more effective one. Transparency and accessibility were key – by openly declaring a need to improve and grow the capabilities of the team, I was able to involved everyone in the process of transformation. Out of the workplace, the extreme heat of Delhi summers and the difference in food were some of the many challenges that I had to overcome.
In my opinion, it is really important for an assignee to have the right attitude before making the decision to go. Then things that would normally cause grief and headache can turn into learning experiences and something to share a smile or laugh about for many years to come.