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« Two critical skills and one critical attitude to build cultural intelligence | Main | Productivity down as home hurts »

When a house is a doorway to a culture

How important is the house you live in to your satisfaction with an overseas assignment?

Intuitively we would say of course it’s important!  Just how important was shown in research conducted by Dr Anne P Copeland of the Interchange Institute last year which found feeling settled in their homes was consistently related, not just to the expatriates’ positive perceptions of the assignment but also to their mental health, their happiness levels, their loyalty to their employers and their intention to accept future overseas assignments. 

This research raised a number of interesting issues around homes, highlighting the importance of making the right choice of home, settling in quickly, and the style of house which influences assignment satisfaction.  Many of these factors impact on organisational aspects such as housing policies, or strategies expats and those assisting them can adopt to encourage a more positive overseas assignment experience. 

But one factor leapt out at me. 

Participants who said their home was more typical of the host culture rated the assignment more positively than those who lived in housing which was different to the local culture around them. 

Did you get that? 

Those who lived in housing like those around them, the people they were working with, studying with or managing were feeling more positive about their assignment than those who lived in housing that was not like the locals. 

In some cities around the world expatriate housing environments may take the form of gated communities, more luxurious housing, or architecture which is more western or modern.  In these areas people tend to make international friendships rather than local friendships and are provided with many of the services they are accustomed to back home.  You might think this would make you feel more positive about the assignment but the research shows otherwise.

An interesting factor in the research was the collection of comments and thoughts from the participants.  Many of them spoke about their expatriate style homes positively saying that it made them safer to be in a gated community or gave them more amenities so from their perspective they perceived their housing difference positively.  However when correlated with overall satisfaction of the assignment these people were less satisfied.

Many people want to make real friendships with locals in their overseas assignments.  They want to build their understanding of the culture and the people they are living with – and living in the same neighbourhood in similar housing may enable that to happen. 

What sort of housing have you lived in and how do you think it related to your overall satisfaction with the assignment?  I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments below.


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