JS 59: Expatriate Psychology & Reverse Culture Shock with Dr. Cathy Tsang Feign Author of ‘Living Abroad’November 25th, 2013 by Jason | Comments Off on JS 59: Expatriate Psychology & Reverse Culture Shock with Dr. Cathy Tsang Feign Author of ‘Living Abroad’
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In this episode, Jason talks with Dr. Cathy Tsung Feign, a Hong Kong based psychologist and consultant on living abroad who works with companies around the globe to educate their workforce about expatriate psychology and issues facing employees sent to work in foreign countries. Her new book, Living Abroad, outlines the stages of learning to live in another country, from initial elation and excitement to homesickness and despair and finally, to acculturation and learning to like the new country.
Dr. Tsang Feign also discusses problems facing married couples relocating for work and reasons affairs happen, and the plight of single workers who focus too much on the job. Finally, she describes the little known problems of “reverse culture shock” that happens when these workers return home and find that it isn’t easy to pick up their old lives again.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the JetSetter Show, where we explore lifestyle-friendly destinations worldwide. Enjoy and learn from a variety of experts on topics ranging from upscale travel at wholesale prices, to retiring overseas, to global real estate and business opportunities, to tax havens and expatriate opportunities. You’ll get great ideas on unique cultures, causes, and cruise vacations. Whether you’re wealthy or just want to live a wealthy lifestyle, the JetSetter Show is for you. Here’s your host, Jason Hartman.
JASON HARTMAN: Welcome to the JetSetter Show! This is Jason Hartman, your host, where we explore lifestyle-friendly destinations worldwide. I think you’ll enjoy the interview we have for you today, and we will be back with that, in less than 60 seconds, here on the JetSetter Show.
JASON HARTMAN: It’s my pleasure to welcome Dr. Cathy Tsung Feign, and she is coming to us today from Hong Kong. She’s a psychologist and leading international expert in the field of expatriate psychology. Now there’s a specialty for you. And adjustment, based on over 25 years of experience in working with international executives and diplomats and their families in Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia; she provides psychological counseling and relocation consulting to the international expatriate community from her office in Hong Kong, and I look forward to hearing more about this. Cathy, welcome, how are you?
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: I’m very good, thank you.
JASON HARTMAN: Good! Thank you for joining us today, from very far away. So, tell us a little bit about your manual, which is entitled Living Abroad, and just what it is you do in helping people adjust.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Okay. Now, the most important thing is, moving abroad has become such a very normal thing for companies to relocate their executives to different locations. The world is getting smaller and smaller as global businesses are growing bigger and bigger. So, part of that is, relocating people, or people travel. Nowadays a lot of people travel; they think hey look, just because I can travel to Europe, to different parts of the world, I can live abroad without problems. This whole, the manual, the Living Abroad, is really addressing the issues that people are not aware of, such as the simple things such as, let’s say, for Jason—let’s say if you were to relocate to Belgium—so you say, hey look, I visited Belgium before many times, so moving there is no problem.
But the first thing is—yes, the first couple of weeks are what we call, is the elation. People are just, and get there by traveling, say hey, no problem, exciting, and everything sounds great. But two weeks later, or three weeks later, and people begin to realize, hey, I am not traveling to just visit this new country. I’m gonna have to stay here for one, two years, or longer. And that’s how things start becoming different. Suddenly you feel hey, I have to made myself like this place, work in this place, and even like everything here to make it work, or working with people from this country, or my whole team could be quite diverse, with different people from different countries.
So, this is the part that most people don’t think about. Now, people read a little bit on culture shock. But culture shock isn’t just a culture shock per se. But it’s a whole process, which can include a number of stages, which I would simply mention. About the first stage, elation, the first couple of weeks, it’s excited. The second and third week, one would say, oh my goodness, I will be here. Some people may even feel stuck, like oh, I didn’t realize this. There’s so much I don’t like. Beyond the language, okay? So, if people don’t stop to realize, this is just simply they need to go through the homesickness, and adjustment, and maybe at the, you know, two months later, some people, I actually work with some countries, some executives request to be relocated home. Or sometimes these executives may not be just coming with themselves; they will move the whole family with them. And either the spouse, or the children, are not adjusting. People are thinking, oh my goodness, I gotta go home. So therefore, preparing them to realize, there are stages.
Getting to the third month, even up to six to nine months, is the first part of adjustment. People will go through hard times. Homesick, not liking the place, finding people don’t seem to accept them, and everything hits them all at once. So, but if people can realize this ahead of time, if they can go through these changes, and accepting something has to be kind of slowly adjust—after they get through the stage, and enter the first stage, what we call the transformation, which is, can be by then, is eight, nine months down the road, and slowly people get used to it, and liking what we call the host country. Let’s say Belgium. You know, if you were to move to Belgium, would be the host country.
Your liking it, getting used to it, and then sometimes even compare it to back home, let’s say, the US, oh gee, back home people don’t do this, we like it here in Belgium. So, how to enjoy the host country, and yet not reject your own home country, you know, where you come from. And slowly, and then people settling in, and then maybe by a year, one and a half years, people felt really, really home, and that’s the stage we call, basically, acculturation. People accepting the new culture, and also appreciating their home culture, okay? The simple things seem simple, and yet, I can tell you, from the last 20 something years, moving family, executives, and their family abroad, many many families don’t adjust well, and especially if they’re not prepared for it. So, if we can prepare them, if people become more aware of them, if will make the whole relocation and living abroad experience much better, and beneficial.
JASON HARTMAN: You have some interesting entries in your table of contents, or really the topics you cover. Affairs, and other marriage busters? Are affairs more common in—well, certainly in some countries over others. France, in France they’re like a way of life, right?
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Well, in the first glance, everybody blames oh, like, London is a graveyard for marriage. Or, Hong Kong is a graveyard for marriage. Oh boy, if we move abroad, expect fear. Like I said, in my book, I spend a whole chapter talking about this. It’s really to educate people, and also to prepare them, so that affairs don’t necessarily happen when people live abroad, okay? Let me explain to you. Why this particular issue becomes so big, especially among expatriates, executives move abroad. Now, what the first thing we talk about is, identity insulation. Okay? That’s my term, okay? What it means, let’s say, Joe, back home, is a middle manager in Middle America, being promoted and relocated to Jakarta, okay?
And so, when he moves there, suddenly, he has [unintelligible], and now becomes the regional manager. Okay? For him, it’s a big move. Career wise as well as for himself, of his own confidence, and everything. So he moves with his wife, and maybe a child, without a child, doesn’t matter. So, when he gets there, because he is an expatriate in a new country, the job that he’s doing, the company will do everything to help him to settle in. Meaning, they will have the right kind of people to assist him with the work, and to either show him, support him, guide him, so that he can just hit the ground running, to do his job. And so, Joe’s fine, doing really well, and he’s after three weeks in Jakarta, he starts traveling in Asia, and meet clients. For him, all suddenly, from a middle management in the south, to becoming a regional manager, you can imagine how excited he gets, right? And at the same time, the attention he gets, wherever he goes now, is not the old, you know, just simply him.
Now Joe is the regional manager, which manage Jakarta’s office, or maybe even Australia’s office, okay? So, he gets all the attention, and this is really great. However, his wife, let’s say his wife is Mary Ann. Mary Ann was a teacher, let’s say, back home, and happy working. Because of Joe’s promotion, of course Mary Ann quit the job quickly to support her husband, and move with him. However, when she moves to Jakarta, well, she also needs to settle in, and also in her own role as what we call the training spouse. Her role is also to support Joe to get settled, and then he can go to work, and concentrate on his work. So guess what? Mary Ann is not working in Jakarta. What does she do? She, from a, let’s say a teacher, to be a homemaker. Okay? Now, her identity’s also changed. Now, for Joe, his identity becomes a big role.
Guess what? In comparison, Mary Ann is shrinking, her identity is shrinking from a teacher, going out, doing what now I’m sitting at home. Worse for some people, especially in Asia. She’s not only staying home to be a homemaker. Cooking, and doing the kind of things you see are useful as a homemaker. When you live in Asia, you have maids. You know? You have helpers. You have chauffeur, and drivers. You have people all around you support Joe’s big job. It sounds really great and glamorous, right, but suddenly even that small role of being a homemaker, Mary Ann’s used to, part time, you know, work part time, work and then homemaker, now is being taken away by people that you know, that the company hires to help them. So, she finds herself basically with nothing to do. Her—you know, Joe’s getting bigger and bigger. So, when he comes home, what does she want? She wants him to talk to her, she wants him to share you know, her daily life. Joe is too busy! Joe is needing all this—he’s not diplomat, or people higher up, and you know, colleagues, and traveling around the world. So you can imagine.
JASON HARTMAN: Okay, so what happens. So tell us what’s next.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: So what happens is, Joe’s getting more and more kind of, not distant, but Mary Ann seems to become more and more needy, because all day long she’s waiting for him to come home, or he will be traveling three days in a week, so the tension will build. Right? He finds her like hey, come on, I can give you this great life, you know, you don’t have to do housework, and why are you complaining? Why are you nagging me? And so, many things start from there. And she feels betrayed, because she came all the way, leaving her family, or her support network, to support him. And she has no one to turn to. Again, talking about, if she goes there, let’s say because the regulation she’s not allowed to work, guess what she does all day? Not much. Or she may slowly will take a long time for her to network with other expatriate spouses. So, that’s how the tension grows. The more the tension grows, the fights, you know, Joe finds it easier not to come home, or come home later and later, and not to mention, what people around him admire him. It could be the secretary, it could be the colleagues, it could be people he lunches on the road. Seems a lot more understanding than his good old wife is kind of dull, boring, and so, he finds more interesting people, she becomes more jealous, and she becomes more insecure, and that’s how things start, you know. And then Joe may find someone to really spend more time—
JASON HARTMAN: That is a recipe for marriage disaster. Yeah, that’s a marriage graveyard you’re describing there. So, what about being single overseas? You have a topic where you talk about lonely working men, lonely working women, removing those masks—what’s that all about?
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Again, there’s a myth out there. Since I’ve done relocation, meaning, relocation, helping company to assist in its ability to relocate its executives, I would go in to talk to the executives and see whether they are physical to be relocated. The myth among corporations, they think, oh, moving the whole family, the spouse, or without children, or with children, it was too much trouble, okay? Our guy is not adjusting, okay? So, now we move single individuals. Now, I don’t want to be kind of gender, become a gender issue. Even a lot of corporations move, the person who’s being moved, executive, sometimes can be the wife, okay? Or individuals sometimes can be a female, not only male executives being—
JASON HARTMAN: Of course. Yeah, we all understand that.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Okay. So, we just use, generally, let’s say, another executive being relocated. Individual. Now, companies say, he or she has no family issue to deal with, or he or she can simply focus on what yes and no. But even more important, I find, if we don’t pay attention to support this individual, they become a lot more problem. Meaning, think about individuals moving to let’s say Australia. Okay? Now, Australia doesn’t seem so stressful a person, right? All the people speak English, expressions from America, they can settle in—no! Okay, when they go in, they again, they don’t have the support network. So what do they have? This person? Let’s say young executive.
His main job is to prove himself that his company find the right person to do the big job. Okay? So, this is the first mission. So guess what he does? He spent all his time working, and since no one’s waiting for him to come home, he spend more and more and more time working. So, he’s life entails from office to home. Home may not be even home though. Because for a lot of single executives, they will even just find it serves as apartment, or they may just simply stay in a hotel. It’s very common, okay? So, for them, is this generic sort of apartment. No personal stuff. It’s just four walls. What do I want to go home to, right? For the person. So they spend more time at work, and less time home. Longer time sometimes. So what happens is, the person gets more and more isolated. Just simply focused on work. And more and more burned out, without even realizing. And I even had a case, I will quickly, very briefly talk about. When I was working in London, I had met some young executive. Very quickly he was there for three months.
He was so burned out, and so depleted, and his health deteriorated. At the fourth month, myself and the company decided together to basically send him home. He couldn’t cope. So what I’m saying is, dealing with executives, single executives, we—the company—meaning me, as a psychologist—we need to actually be very careful giving them some guidelines so that they become quite aware of the possible pitfall that living there by themselves. So what I mean by, what they need to do is, yes they can work hard, but they need to create some schedule. They can leave the office, maybe at least a couple times a week earlier, so they can actually have a life. Meaning, building network, meeting people, have a life, and get rested, so that they can continue the assignment and be successful.
JASON HARTMAN: So it’s interesting, though; that the peril, what you’re saying, the peril single people face, is working too much and becoming burnt out, rather than increasing and expanding their social life and their dating life.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Well, as I mentioned before in my book, too, Living Abroad, that people go abroad is not fun and games. A lot of people misunderstand wow, what a glamorous life. Yet it is only part of it. They also have to prove themselves. So, they have to, you know, job to go there not for a big holiday, but to prove themselves. How do they prove themselves? Work hard. Do good job. Spend more time at work. That’s what happens.
JASON HARTMAN: Well, very interesting, very interesting. Anything else you’d like to wrap up with? Any other tips?
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Oh, and the most important part I haven’t even talked about, but I mentioned in my book, called reverse culture shock.
JASON HARTMAN: You know, that’s so funny, because I was just going to ask you about reverse culture shock, as your sort of wrap it up idea.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Yeah. Reverse culture shock is even less thing people are aware of, okay? Let’s say, talk about Joe, okay? The same Joe from Middle America. Live in Jakarta, move to Singapore, and then to another Hong Kong, okay? So, after living abroad for eight years, ready to go home with his lovely wife Mary Ann, okay? Now we’re a junior, okay? A child. They say, he’s saying, and she’s saying, right now we’ve been waiting to go home. Now, they said, well, when we moved to Jakarta, we’re taking enough time to adjust, because this is a foreign country, right? So, now going home, piece of cake, right? We’re going home, that we’re familiar with, and so we can just slide right back in as if we have never left. Wrong. Actually, let me remind, you know—people out there, going home is always harder than leaving home.
When people move abroad, for example, if someone moves to Japan, the person knows I don’t speak the language, I don’t know the culture, so I’d better be more prepared, and psychologically prepared, than I would have to go through some tough times. So, in itself, it would help them to be a lot more patient with themselves. However, going home people think, oh, no problem, I know America, I can just go home. The point is, even though let’s say Joe is from, and his wife, is from America, but they’ve been living abroad for eight years; they’re no longer the same Joe and Mary Ann, because the way they look at America, the view of, the whole way of viewing the world, is very different. So when they go home, they have a different lens on themselves, okay? So, when they go home, they’re saying oh my God, how come people think like this? How come people act like this? How come people don’t seem to be like this and that? So when they go home, they’re not prepared. Unless they prepare. People are not the same. They don’t think like them. Okay? People live abroad not that they’re better, but they do look at things differently, because they have different influences and perspectives.
So, they need to go home with a much more open mind, and be prepared. People may look at them very differently. They themselves may find many things they are not familiar with. Many things change. As simple as even family, even friendship. People cannot just go home and pick up the friendship they left eight years ago. Family member. Even though family loves them, to go home, but again, many things they experienced, their lives, family loves them, want to hear them for the first five minutes. They don’t want to hear them talking about travel, you know, meeting this kind of people, this and that. They’re not interested, nor they can associate with. People like Joe and Mary Ann can easily feel really, really let down. So, they need to understand all this. So, with the chapter on reverse culture shock.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, very interesting, very interesting.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: So, I tell you one why I’m saying is important, because there is many research have been done in support of this. If people are not well prepared to go home, so called, to deal with the reserve culture shock, large percentage of returnees will seek assignment abroad within two years. Meaning, when they don’t find themselves settling in, well, they leave again. Which is one not necessarily good for them. Second is not good for their company, because these people live abroad, work for the company, have lots to offer, to bring home. So, the company also needs to use their talent so not let them kind of slip out of their hand again.
JASON HARTMAN: Right.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Okay. So, for a personal side, for the company’s side, help these people to move home. Prepare them for reverse culture shock, and that will make life easier for the family, and also beneficial for the company.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, and that’s what happens when troops come home, too, from wars.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Yes.
JASON HARTMAN: Especially Vietnam, back in the past, but even nowadays, it’s certainly an issue too. In fact, it’s the major plotline of the TV series Homeland. So, yeah. I completely agree with you. Well, very interesting. Cathy, give out your website, tell people where they can find your manual, and your consulting information as well.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Okay. The book can be found, the book called Living Abroad, can be found livingabroadbook.com. Again the book is Living Abroad: Keeping Your Life, Family, and Career Intact is the book title, but the book can be found at livingabroadbook.com. And the book has a paperback version, and a e-book version.
JASON HARTMAN: Fantastic. Well Cathy, thank you so much for joining us today.
DR. CATHY TSUNG FEIGN: Thank you. Thank you for your time, Jason.
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Transcribed by David