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A New Kind of Expat

A New Kind of Expat

The mobility of a highly-skilled global workforce has changed radically in the past 40-50 years. The first wave of international work assignments in the 1970-90s saw assigned expatriates (AEs) sent by large multinationals to foreign outposts. Since then, businesses and organizations of all sizes and geographic origins have internationalized in a globally-integrated economy, underpinned by digital technologies and a proliferation of global and regional agreements.

Nowadays, mobility is geographically multidirectional, with countries in various stages of economic development being both the source and destination of skilled expats. The demand for transnational talent that can efficiently work in our hyper-competitive global market is greater than ever. Digital platforms like LinkedIn help the search for borderless talent and careers, while social networking supports the rise of individualized cultures in a globalized world.

In this high-demand, individualistic climate, more and more people are looking for international careers. While many continue to opt for the corporate multinational path, trends in international assignments show a steady growth of individuals personally taking responsibility for their expat lives outside an employer organization – the so-called self-initiated expats (SIEs).

Current trends in global workforce mobility are dominated by SIEs, who are predicted to become the largest group of globally mobile managers in the next decade. As margins for ROIs (returns on investment) on classic expat (AE) assignments become tighter in the ongoing “global war for talent”, the globally minded, culturally sensitive, entrepreneurial, highly skilled and often multilingual SIEs, seemingly unfazed by relocation, become increasingly attractive to multinationals as “ready-made” alternatives for international leadership and social capital.

SIEs are both implicitly and part and parcel of a large international school like FIS. Self-initiated expatriation is not a new trend in academic circles – teachers going abroad on their own initiative and self-managing their international teaching careers and family lives are the way it always was. But there are important job demand side trends: “We’ve gone from job fairs to the teacher voice,” says Bryne Stothard, Upper School Geography teacher and Virtual Reality in education guru, who arrived at FIS with his family three years ago. “It used to be that you went to recruitment fairs to get a placement. Now it’s much easier to look for what you want and initiate the contact yourself.” In addition to direct email, sites like International School Review and platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are also channels to assess and contact prospective employers.

SIEs are a diverse bunch motivated by a variety of individual factors, including starting a transnational career sooner than later, a drive to explore other cultures, having family ties with the host country, wishing to give back foreign-acquired expertise to their home country, or as in the case of third culture people, feeling at home in a transnational community rather than any one particular country or culture. They tend to share a few things in common: a global mindset and a preference for autonomy over corporate safety.

SIEs typically face bigger adjustment challenges than AEs, however. They cross both borders and organizations, and are not typically offered relocation services by host country employers. That’s where a family-oriented school like FIS plays an important role. In the case of the Stothard family, FIS provided for services in line with top notch international school standards, including an allowance for shipping their belongings to Germany and among other perks, a teacher induction week offering cross-cultural and practical training before the start of the school year. “Relocation perks are not what this is about for me,” said Mr. Stothard. “I want to be part of an international community and give that to my children – the ease of getting jobs, finding new friends and being at home anywhere in the world.”

For newly arrived expat families, FIS offers a “Welcome to Germany Workshop” in the beginning of each academic year. Additional events and services to help newcomers adjust to Germany include: summer gatherings before the start of the school year; contact with relevant country representatives in mother tongue language; a tour of the Rhine river; and welcome BBQs on both campuses. Multiple social events and activities are also organized by FIS and the Parent Teacher Groups (PTG) for families and parents throughout the year, typically, but not only, related to local German culture, for example the visit to a Christmas market, an Oktoberfest evening, FISW’s International Festival, and the ever-popular Worldfest celebration in May.

Traditional expatriation literature has shown that failure to successfully adjust is likely to reflect negatively on the personal and professional life. These practical and social FIS events help the wellbeing of FIS families arriving in Germany from other countries that may have wildly different cultures, customs – and even climates. 

“Any move can take a period of adjustment,” says FIS parent, Kelly Sweet. “But that’s especially true when it’s an international one. This is our family’s third international assignment and although each has come with a significant learning curve, there’s always some comfort in knowing that we’re far from alone. We were warmly welcomed into the school and now we can extend the same support we received to those arriving at FIS.” It’s this special resource at FIS that helps ease the transition of new expat arrivals: the individuals in our community. 

This goes to the core of Mr. Stothard’s observation as we looked around the faculty  lounge in Oberursel during lunch time, having just reflected that the turnover of teachers at FIS is “really low.” “It’s a difficult place to leave,” he said “We have it great here.” What makes FIS a hard place to leave is the same thing that makes it such an easy place for anyone to arrive, be it SIEs, AEs, or local families: the uniquely open-armed heart of the FIS community.

Maria Monteiro
FIS Parent


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