Sebastian Aviles headshot

Sebastian Aviles, MHRIR 21, joined a HR rotational development program upon graduation and began an expat assignment in Dubai with his company in February of 2024. He is a two-time Illinois graduate, also holding an I/O psychology bachelor’s degree. He will be sharing his experiences as a recent LER graduate abroad in a blog that will be highlighted on our site and social media over the coming months, until his return to the United States in December.

A Fresh Start: Adjusting to Work as an Expat (4)

Starting a new job as an expat is a unique experience that requires adaptability, cultural sensitivity, and a willingness to embrace change. As HR professionals, we play a crucial role in supporting expats during this transition and helping them integrate into their new workplace. So, the experience can differ when you’re an HR professional expat. 

I encourage expats to approach their new role with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Ask your company if cultural training and resources are available to help you navigate the nuances of office dynamics and etiquette.

I’d be ready for some surprises in this area. When you’ve been with a company for at least a few years, you begin to be very familiar with the company in the specific country you’re in. It can be confusing seeing all the same branding, slogans, email handles, and computers but not knowing anyone at all. Something surprising to me is how familiar everything looked but how different everything felt. It was like starting a job at a brand-new company. And, if there’s a big enough time difference between you and your home-country office, the colleagues you are used to “pinging” on Slack or Teams might be asleep when you want to reach out. 

The best way I can describe it is like the myriad iterations of existing Barbies. For example, Chef Barbie and Princess Barbie have the same core concept and ‘values’ of the toy, but the accessories and ‘theme’ focus make for a completely different experience. 

Your organization is still your organization, but you’ll likely have different product focuses and laws that govern them. Everything from the economy your new country is in or near to the actual topography surrounding you will impact your experience of your organization there. 

A final note for this is the less-obvious cultural differences. Try researching this in the time you have from the moment you find out to the moment you land. Sometimes, you’ll have months, and sometimes, you’ll have only weeks. However, your new country is going to have a new culture. 

Some examples from my experience are:

  • In some countries, it’s culturally acceptable to shake hands upon meeting someone, which is not the same everywhere, and an attempt to do so could make a colleague uncomfortable. 
  • In some countries, taking someone’s business card with one hand is common. In other countries, careful mannerisms when handling business cards are an expected sign of respect. And in different countries, business cards are largely outdated. 
  • The service industry is very prevalent in some countries, even in offices. Service staff is available to serve office workers similar to waiters (who don’t get tipped).

Many of these ‘less-obvious’ cultural differences are ingrained in the local community, so your co-workers or cultural trainers may not immediately think to tell you. These ‘less-obvious’ differences are quotidian to the local community but may impact your experience if you don’t understand them. Understanding them will expand your knowledge and adaptability and signal to your new community that you are eager to learn about their culture.

Embracing Solitude: Settling into a New City (3)

May 07, 2024

Arriving in a foreign city, far from familiar faces and comforts, can evoke excitement, anticipation, and a sense of loneliness. As an expat and HR professional, I’ve experienced firsthand the challenges of adjusting to a new country. While the initial days may feel isolating, viewing solitude as an opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth is essential. As HR professionals, we can support expats during this transition by fostering community within the organization and providing resources for social integration. Encourage expats to explore their new surroundings, immerse themselves in the local culture, and seek opportunities for networking and connection. Remind them that while the journey may be challenging, it’s also a chance to embrace new experiences and forge meaningful relationships. 

Something I wasn’t expecting was to have connectivity issues. As someone who traveled frequently growing up, I got used to a handful of countries’ connectivity capabilities. Growing up with resources and in a developed country, I assumed connectivity wouldn’t be an issue. I encourage any soon-to-be expat to cover their connectivity bases. Foreign countries have different laws, companies, and standards of what you can and cannot use to connect with people. 

You should check what this means for you. Some questions from issues that I ran into are: 

  • How much do you rely on your phone, and how much will you when you’re abroad? 
  • Can you handle not video calling people if a country disallows that? 
  • Will your current personal phone work abroad, and if not, will your organization support you with that? 
  • If you need to add international plans to your phone, how much will it cost? Many are very expensive per line and are not ‘unlimited.’
  • Will the country allow anyone to buy a phone with data? For example, in Columbia, anyone can get a phone plan from a convenience store, but in some Middle Eastern countries, you’ll need a local government ID or passport, and you may need to apply for a phone and plan. 

When life gets lonely, eat! One incredible thing about traveling almost anywhere alone is the different cuisines you’ll encounter, which are almost always accessible. A significant silver lining of ‘loneliness’ is trying what you want, when you want, and not having to check if someone else is ‘feeling’ that for dinner!

Navigating the Transition: Preparing for the Move (2)

April 30, 2024

Preparing for an expat assignment requires meticulous planning and organization, especially when balancing work demands with the complexities of international relocation. Something that surprised me was the dedicated teams (in some organizations, situated with the HR department) that are dedicated to moving employees all around the globe. 

As someone who has navigated this transition firsthand, I understand its challenges. From obtaining visas and work permits to arranging housing and managing logistics, there are numerous tasks to tackle before setting foot in your new country. As HR professionals, we must familiarize ourselves with the intricacies of immigration laws and regulations to ensure a smooth transition for employees. Larger organizations will have an answer to everything, while smaller ones may lean more on the employee to drive the process. 

My advice to fellow HR professionals and expats is to approach the process with patience and resilience. Seek guidance from relocation experts, leverage technology to streamline paperwork, and prioritize self-care amidst the chaos of moving. Something I wasn’t expecting was the myriad of third parties you’ll interact with. I thought that because my organization has a dedicated relocation team, I would only interact with them. I interacted with about five external teams by the time I boarded my flight. 

Something else I wasn’t expecting was the goodbyes. Your friends and family are busy, and squeezing in a dinner or activity with all the people you’ll miss in life can be a challenge; it’s likely you won’t see those people in person for a while, so prioritizing whom you’d like to see before taking off can be helpful. 

Embracing the Opportunity: Selected for an Expat Assignment (1)

April 23, 2024

Reflecting on the pivotal moment I received the news of being selected for an expat assignment in Dubai, it feels like just yesterday. The competitive interview process, the anticipation, and finally, the call confirming my selection felt like a culmination of hard work and dedication. As an HR professional, I understand the competitive nature of such assignments and the significance they can hold for one’s career trajectory. 

Being selected to represent an organization in a foreign country is a challenge and an opportunity to develop one’s skills, expertise, adaptability, and cultural awareness while delivering high-quality work. I offer advice for those embarking on a similar journey: embrace the opportunity wholeheartedly. It’s a chance to broaden your horizons, expand your global network, and gain invaluable insights into different cultures and business practices. While the road ahead may seem daunting, remember that you have many support systems every step of the way. Lean on your HR peers for guidance, utilize resources available to you, and approach the experience with an open mind and a willingness to learn. My organization uses a competitive interview process for this type of assignment, but not all do. The key is readiness to go wherever the organization’s needs are. While it’s impossible to know the experience you’ll have when you arrive, it’s essential to understand what your ‘readiness’ really means to you. 

Hopefully, these entries will give a view for HR professionals considering expatriate opportunities. My perspective is that of an early career expatriate who moved to a different country alone (with no family, pets, or other coworkers on a similar assignment). I’ve lived in two other countries (not for work): Mexico and Great Britain.