Preparing an extended business stay abroad

A description and evaluation of the methods of preparing a professional for an extended business stay in a foreign country

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

12 Pages


Table of contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Definition of the term `extended business stay` in a foreign country
1.2 Aims, qualifications and personal traits of an expatriate

2 Preparation methods overview
2.1 Cultural training methods during the preparation phase
2.1.1 Culture-general training
2.1.2 Evaluation of culture-general training
2.1.3 Culture-specific training
2.1.4 Evaluation of culture-specific training
2.2 Guidance during the culture-shock and adjustment phase
2.2.1 Evaluation of guidance during the culture-shock and adjustment phase
2.3 Guidance during the re-entry phase
2.3.1 Evaluation of guidance during the re-entry phase

3 Conclusion

List of references

1 Introduction

As it becomes more and more vital to stay competitive, not only in the local but international market, companies tend to send professionals more frequently abroad. These professionals ought to satisfy the demand in managerial or administrative assistance in cross-company projects, safeguard a uniform company policy within lately founded subsidies or ensure a more fluid information flow in international mergers or acquisitions. Sending a professional abroad is always costly and risky for a company. Hence, the selection of a future expatriate needs to be based on distinct criteria and a sensible preparation is to be worked out on time.

The principal aim of this assignment is to work out an overview and an assessment of feasible methods of preparing a professional for an extended business stay abroad with regard to intercultural aspects. Firstly, I give a definition of the term `extended business stay´ which leads to a general description of required preconditions. Then I briefly focus on the phases one generally passes through during such a stay. Secondly, I work out a detailed description of feasible preparation methods and assess whether these are sufficiently applicable during these phases. Thirdly, in the concluding section, I review my findings.

1.1 Definition of the term `extended business stay` in a foreign country

The term ´extended business stay` comprises a considerable long time period of a steady occupation or delegation for work-related purposes. It often covers several years, might be without limitation, or interrupted by only brief intervals of visits of the home country. The term `foreign country` refers not only to any country abroad but indicates a certain geographical proximity, e.g. outside of Western Europe one has to cope with larger cultural[1] differences and, in the majority of countries, a generally lower standard of living.

1.2 Aims, qualifications and personal traits of an expatriate

The aims and motives of a professional to work abroad vary and range from the mere hope of moving up the career ladder, gaining better chances in the job market to receiving financial incentives. Basic preconditions for an expatriate to gain a foothold in the foreign country’s business world are work-related expertise with a long-lasting experience, key-qualifications such as social competence[2], communication skills, ability to work in a team as well as personal abilities such as physical and emotional stability. Furthermore at least a basic command of the host country ´s language is vital, but, even advanced foreign language skills do not guarantee a successful business stay. Intercultural competence, however, is probably a decisive personal trait. According to Cardel Gertsen, intercultural competence is “the ability to function effectively in another culture”[3]. This ability requires respect, role flexibility, the willingness to listen to others and empathy. Empathy is the willingness to immerse oneself into the moral concept, attitudes and sentiments of other human beings. Cardel Gertsen points out that “prejudice, stereotypes and ethnocentrism [work as] impediments to effective intercultural interaction”.[4] “A prejudice is a dislike based on a wrong and inflexible generalization. […] A Stereotype is an exaggerated […] assumption about a certain category of people. […] Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view one’s own culture as the only appropriate way of life.”[5]

2 Preparation methods overview

Generally, an extended business stay abroad comprises four phases;

1.Preparation and dispatching, 2. Culture-shock, 3. Adjustment, 4. Returning and reintegration into the home country. To prepare and support the professional sufficiently during these phases, various methods are available. Work-related training and comprehensive language courses, which are to be scheduled well in advance of a stay, and practical guidance during and after the sojourn, ought to be supplied by the employer. Cultural training, however, is often run by a specialized training provider and should at least last for one week. If a partner or the family will join the professional abroad, any party should be included in the preparation activities to build up a strong personal background and reduce the risk of premature return.

2.1 Cultural training methods during the preparation phase

Intercultural training is available with a culture-general or culture-specific scope. Culture-general training aims to “give [the participants] a broad understanding of the meaning of the concept of culture. This should imply an increased self-awareness; an awareness of ways in which their own behaviour is influenced by culture. Culture-specific training aims at making participants competent in one particular culture.”[6]

2.1.1 Culture-general training

Didactic cultural-general training is a rather theoretical preparation method with no or little reference to a particular country. It mainly comprises cultural self-awareness training, which often starts by introducing the cultural dimensions theory by the social psychologist Geert Hofstede. The original model comprises five variables (power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity and long term orientation-short term orientation)[7] that define a country’s cultural orientation. By rating each variable’s level allegedly occurring in a country, a cultural proximity can be assessed. Didactic lectures on the psychological reactions occurring during the adjustment stage are very likely another part of culture-general training sessions. The so-called culture-shock model by Oberg (1960) and Gallahorn and Gallerhorn (1963) define these adjustment stages as follows:

“1. Honeymoon stage: characterized by fascination and enthusiasm, friendly but superficial relations with the locals.
2. Crisis: culture-shock – differences in language, values, etc. lead to feelings of loss, rejection, frustration, anxiety or anger.
3. Recovery: the crisis is gradually resolved as the expatriate starts to learn the language and culture if the host country.
4. Adjustment: the expatriate accepts cultural differences and even comes to appreciate them, although there may still be occasional instances of anxiety.”[8] [9] These stages are more or less distinct and subject to the local and host company’s conditions as well as the expatriate’s age, gender, previous experiences abroad and personal attitudes towards the current stay. The phase of culture-shock is the most precarious and emotionally one which can hardly be avoided. According to Gibson, symptoms of a culture-shock can include feelings of strain, confusion, anxiety, headaches, sleeplessness, stomach pains and excessive consumption of alcohol.[10] Hence, the future expatriate is informed on this precarious event by culture-general training, and can respond to these symptoms when they arise. Experiential orientated approaches with interaction between teacher and participants include role-plays with artificial cultures or collaboration in international teams. Due to personal interactions between members of international teams, negative traits such as prejudices and ethnocentrism can be frequently reduced.

2.1.2 Evaluation of culture-general training

The self-awareness level rises significantly after participating in culture-general training sessions. The knowledge of the theories and the psychological mechanism of rather unconscious behaviour is helpful in an unfamiliar cultural environment, if the theoretical knowledge is actually applied by a professional in real-life situations. This requires an advanced willingness and a liberal mindset with as less ethnocentrism as possible which can be gained by these training methods.

2.1.3 Culture-specific training

The most common method to prepare a professional is to provide factual knowledge about the future host country by the company’s Human Resource Department. Traditionally, this training takes place didactically i.e. orally lectured in classroom-like environments with regard to specialized literature and paper-handouts. Lectures often process basic facts and figures about a particular country such as geography and climate, furthermore its economy, its political and judicial system and its basic business conducts. Moreover, information on the hierarchical system, social classes, as well as the social code of conduct with reference to differences in male and female behaviour is appreciated, but are not always part of the training. Nowadays, this non-interaction training is enhanced by visual documentations such as PowerPoint presentations or short video clips and other material obtainable on the internet. A very popular method is cultural assimilator training. This conflict-solving orientated training works as follows: Upon presenting critical incidents referring to the host country’s culture, the participants present, or choose from a set of possible solutions, the most feasible one to solve a cultural misunderstanding. The given responses are discussed within the group and commented by the trainer.

Cultural specific training with experiential background entails “simulations or various types of human relation training exercises that aim at making participants more competent in a given culture.”[11] It comprises interactive approaches between the participants in role-plays where the participants take on characteristics other than themselves, which help to learn how to communicate with members of a given country. Simulation games offer the opportunity to experiment with new viewpoints to practice new behaviour patterns.

A further preparation method is case studies, where factual knowledge is combined with culture-specific exercises. Case studies present descriptions of realistic situations in order to find appropriate responses by the participants. The aim of this method is to enable the participants to better assess foreign social behaviour and to find creative solutions. Cross-cultural workshops are made of relatively few participants who come from both, the home and the future host country. By interacting with members of such a group, intercultural communication savvy can be achieved. The same aim is valid for critical incident exercises, which are similar to culture assimilator training but holds members of both countries.

2.1.4 Evaluation of culture-specific training

In reality, time and money for a solid cultural-specific preparation is often scarce. “Most companies did not offer very comprehensive training, usually it consisted of short briefings about the country […] and some language training. Usually, the family did not participate.”[12] If a didactic culture-specific training is provided, it is often very short. Consequently, the description of customs and manners can only be brief and superficial. Hence, stereotypes are rather confirmed. In order to avoid generalisation, it is very important to express that a culture consists of individuals who think and act individually. Moreover, the false impression of already knowing a given culture might be created which leads to a strict adherence to behaviour conducts. Hence one would seem to be“play-acting, the expatriate risks making an untrustworthy impression on locals.”[13] On the other hand, some companies assume providing training to be inappropriate, send too few employees abroad to make it worthwhile or the host countries seem to be culturally equal to their own. The other two factors are cost and time constraints.[14] Frequently, just a talk is arranged with a workmate who has already spent some time in the host country for business purposes. Information processed this way, is sometimes filtered and idealized, since the repatriate has already experienced the culture-shock momentum and even disturbing experiences are positively valued by this workmate. Hence, the professional might get a too positive picture of the host country’s conditions. It is often assumed that experiential culture training changes personal traits and cross-cultural competence is inevitably achieved by the participants. This can not be confirmed entirely. However, self-assurance in the dealing with particular cultural aspects of a given country is clearly gained, because experiential exercises illustrate the consequences of verbal and non-verbal ways of communication. As explanations and a final feedback lead to a stronger introspection.

2.2 Guidance during the culture-shock and adjustment phase

Soon after arrival, the professional will recognise that working principles, time keeping and the general relationships between employees in the host company differ from the one at home. As job-satisfaction is a main factor to establish oneself in a new work-environment, the foreign corporate conduct and corporate behaviour must be understood. A mentor could be entrusted to the professional. “Mentoring comprises the functional instruction and personal advising of new personnel resp. executives in order to avoid initial problems and conflicts, whenever possible. Colleagues, supervisors […] [or] experts […] act as mentors. A mentor slips into the role of an advisor, friend, trainer and role model.”[15] This mentor briefs and introduces the newcomer to the firm’s corporate identity[16] and integrates the newcomer in the working environment. When it becomes clear that not only work-related but general cultural differences are larger than expected and the host country’s manners become incomprehensible, accustomed manners do not work anymore and a feeling of frustration and even despair sets it. At this critical point, a culture-shock becomes obvious. The home company should stay in contact with the employee via videoconference or Skype to process work related issues and current affairs. Informal topics, even unoffending gossip by closer workmates, might also work to narrow the territorial gap. A follow-up training in the host company could encourage the expatriate to ask about culture-related difficulties that came up lately. One action an expatriate could take is to ask colleagues for an explanation of certain unfamiliar customs and regulations. However, cultural based behaviour is learnt from an early age, without questioning or even consciously recognising their significance. Hence, behaviour which is shaped by enculturation is hardly explainable. Furthermore, it is very important to “form and maintain attachments with both cultures”[17] and to seek social support. Good places to socialize with like-minded people are restaurants and bars that are usually visited by expatriates. Moreover, the home company could arrange for “periodical visits to [the] parent organisation.”[18]


[1] The term “culture” can be defined as “a shared system of attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviour”. Gibson, Robert. Intercultural Business Communication, Fachsprache Englisch. Berlin, 2010. p. 16.

[2] Social competence is the ability to easily establish and maintain relationships and to deal with interpersonal or communication conflicts sufficiently.

[3] Cardel Gertsen, Martine. Intercultural competence and expatriates, International Journal of Human Resource Management. Dec. 1990, Vol. 1, Issue 3, p. 341.

[4] Cardel Gertsen, op cit. p. 343.

[5] Cardel Gertsen, op cit. p. 343.

[6] Cardel Gertsen, op cit. p. 353-354.

[7] The model bases on a world-wide survey of IBM employees between 1967 and 1973. In 2010 the sixth dimension, indulgence versus self-restraint was added.

[8] Cardel Gertsen, op cit. p. 342.

[9] This pattern can be depicted as a U-curve. By including the re-entry shock phase, a W-curve emerges.

[10] Cf. Gibson, op cit. p. 25.

[11] Cardel Gertsen, op cit. p. 356.

[12] Cardel Gertsen, op cit. p. 350.

[13] Cardel Gertsen, op cit. p. 358.

[14] Cf. Cardel Gertsen, op cit. p. 351.

[15] Olfert, Klaus / Rahn, Hans-Joachim (Hrsg.). Lexikon der Betriebswirtschaftslehre, 7., verbesserte und aktualisierte Auflage. Herne, 2011. Sec.: 698 (translation by the author of this assignment).

[16] “Corporate Identity is an internally and externally coherently presented self-conception of a company, which is expressed: by its visual appearance (corporate design), by its manner (corporate behaviour)by its way of communication (corporate communication).” Olfert, Klaus / Rahn, Hans-Joachim (Hrsg.). op cit. Sec.: 211 (translation by the author of this assignment).

[17] Sanchez, Juan I. / Spector, Paul E. / Cooper, Carry L. Adapting to a boundaryless world: A developmental expatriate model, Academy of management Executive. 2000, Vol. 14, No. 2, Sanchez/Spector/Cooper, op cit. p. 97.

[18] Sanchez/Spector/Cooper, op cit. p. 97.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Preparing an extended business stay abroad
A description and evaluation of the methods of preparing a professional for an extended business stay in a foreign country
AKAD University of Applied Sciences Stuttgart
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ISBN (Book)
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Business English, Business stay, Preparing, Evaluation, culture shock, re-entry phase, intercultural communication
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Sabine Lavid (Author), 2015, Preparing an extended business stay abroad, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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