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GenXpat: The Young Professional’s Guide to Making a Successful Life Abroad

"GenXpat" by Margaret Malewskiby Margaret Malewski

There’s plenty of evidence around to suggest that more people than ever before are seeking to earn their livelihoods in a country other than the one they’ve grown up in. A steady stream of surveys tell us that the majority of Britons would prefer to live elsewhere; Simon Payn, a regular contributor to this website, tells us that it’s never been easier to move overseas; and the activity on British Expat’s own fora is a clear enough indication that there are plenty of people queuing up to give the overseas life a go.

GenXpat is author Margaret Malewski’s attempt to ease the transition for those born into “Generation X” – the children of the baby boomers, born between 1964 and 1981 – and seeking to pursue a career overseas. Malewski, a Canadian who grew up speaking English, French and Polish, falls into this category herself, and brings her own experience of living in 10 countries in 10 years to bear on the question of how to make a success of living and working overseas.

The book is divided into 11 chapters, sorted into a logical sequence and each kicked off with an anecdote to illustrate a typical GenXpat experience. The first chapter, “Making the Decision to Move”, examines the possible motivations for becoming an expat, the personal and environmental circumstances to consider, and stresses the need for robust information as the basis for the decision. Appropriately, the second chapter is on negotiating employment contracts – after all, if you’re going overseas to work your contract may determine a much wider range of aspects of your life than would your terms of employment in the UK, from housing and medical benefits to paid holidays and education for your children (if you have them). And Chapter Three gives hints on the first big problem the new expat is likely to face – juggling work and logistics on arrival. Trying to settle into a new working environment is a large enough upheaval itself; add to that the challenges of working out the logistics of living in a strange country, and the need to prioritise tasks carefully becomes clear.

Chapters Four and Five deal with culture, culture shock and their impact on working relationships. Chapter Four is a general introduction into cultural differences, their nature, their causes and their effects on the individual – and how to deal with those effects. Chapter Five breaks down the various aspects of cultural differences and contains some useful tools for analysing their likely effect on working relationships.

The next five chapters deal with the social challenges of becoming an expat. Many expats find it difficult to keep in touch with family and friends left at “home”, or suffer homesickness. Chapter Six deals with some of the causes of these feelings and advises on how to manage links with home. But it also stresses that you may need to drop some links in favour of retaining the most important ones. And, of course, you’ll need to devote some time to building up your social life in your new home – Chapter Seven, on building social networks (with both locals and expats), and Chapter Eight, on dating, give brief guidance on the prospects for doing that. For those who are already in a relationship, Chapter Nine looks at the tricky business of trying to maintain a long-distance relationship – how to make it work, how to keep communicating, and (if necessary) when to call it quits – while Chapter 10 gives advice on the almost as thorny problem of moving with your partner and ensuring that he or she gets a fair deal too.

The last chapter, appropriately, deals with reverse culture shock. People coming to the end of an overseas stint often find that their old home has changed – and that they have. Fitting in can be almost as much of a challenge as the move overseas was, but with the additional problem of a sense of anti-climax.

A brief conclusion wraps up the book. There are also a couple of useful appendices (on recce visits and a cost-of-living calculator) and some useful online and printed references.

The book’s clearly written, well presented and easily digested. It’s not a book for hard-bitten expats, who’ll find much of what’s written is either self-evident or doesn’t match their own experience. But even many of them may from time to time find themselves nodding at a particular anecdote. It’s a good collection of useful advice for those considering life overseas but with no previous experience of such a major uprooting; particularly for those whose companies are less than supportive when sending their employees abroad.

GenXpat: The Young Professional’s Guide to Making a Successful Life Abroad

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Margaret Malewski
Paperback, 219 pages
2005, Intercultural Press
ISBN 1-931930-23-6
RRP: £12.99

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