Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

Success as an Expatriate: A Question of Personality?

Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Diversity

Success as an Expatriate: A Question of Personality?

Article excerpt


The phenomenon of globalization can be described as one of the central developments of the twentyfirst century. Transnational cultural and economic endeavors influence the working and living world today (Thomas, 2003; Herbolzheimer, 2009). Especially intensive is a confrontation with cultural differences in the context of vocational foreign delegations. These are very cost-intensive for organizations and are accompanied by high expectations of success. At the same time, the requirements connected with a foreign delegation are very complex. Expatriates face the challenge to privately and vocationally integrate themselves in a new, complex cultural system and simultaneously master professional tasks (Festing et al., 2011).

Different theoretical perspectives exist about the relevant structures, processes, and characteristics of a successful foreign delegation. For example, theories about cultural adjustment and intercultural competence provide central starting points for the conception of the investigation described below. Due to the extent of the empirical results, a further elaboration of the theoretical background is helpful.

Question and Hypotheses

The aim of this study is to investigate the interdependencies and relationships between selected success-predictors and success-measurements of foreign delegations for a target group of German expatriates.

The interdependencies and relationships of the investigated characteristics were specified and examined based on the following hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1

Expatriates with health-beneficial coping-patterns show higher values for success-criteria than expatriates with risky patterns.

Hypothesis 2

The characteristics of openness and flexibility have a positive impact on the shape of the success-criteria for a foreign delegation.

Hypothesis 3

The relationship between the regarded personality traits and the success-criteria of a foreign delegation is influenced by cultural, social, and occupational moderators.

In addition to the literature regarding openness and flexibility (Bhawuk/Brislin, 1992; Mertesacker, 2009), specific patterns of experience and handling of vocational requirements are considered as personality traits. These specific personality patterns indicate the psychological resilience of the employees and are central indicators of how the expatriate adapts to the delegation country and successfully masters the manifold requirements of a foreign delegation.

The model of cultural adaption of Black, Mendenhall and Oddou (1991) presents only some context factors by expatriates. Different occupational characteristics (role clarity, role conflicts, room for maneuver, and workrelated social support) as well as cultural and social frame conditions (cultural distance to Germany, and cultural adaptation of the life partner in the delegation country) are all considered.

The suitability of hard criteria for identifying the success of an expatriate in the delegation country is limited for research and practice. However, criteria like range of leadership, salary, and performance evaluation of the expatriate can be considered for evaluation although arguably questionable reflections of the success of the expatriate employee. Additionally, an independent survey of these characteristics is very difficult.

For the study at hand, the success of the expatriates is considered with the help of self-ratings and is based on different success criteria that have been established in the research literature over the past 20 years, i.e., the cultural adjustment of the expatriate in the delegation country, his/her work-satisfaction, and a personal performancerating.


We decided to apply a quantitative survey design to test our hypotheses. Our questionnaire consists of the existing reliable and valid instruments that have been established in the relevant investigational contexts. …

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