Friday, January 8, 2016

International adjustment in a dual cultural context: Voices of Western executive expatriates in Shanghai

Jane Feng, School of Human and Organizational Development

Expatriate study has been an area of scholarship and practitioner interest for four decades. Globalization promotes a growing number of multinational corporations (MNCs) to set up their subsidiaries in China. Expatriate adjustment is clearly important but is conceptually overdescribed and empirically underexamined.
This exploratory research study examined the international adjustment of Western executive expatriates in China. It focused on their adjustment in a dual cultural context of the MNC environment that requires expatriates to deal with both headquarters in the West and locals in the East. The research generated new understandings of dual cultural adjustment for senior executive expatriates in China.
The literature review included sensemaking, cross-cultural adaptation, culture shock, expatriate adjustment, and global leadership. Yet, there is insufficient research in these literatures of how expatriates adjust in this dual cultural context. Therefore I designed the research with an explorative approach and interviewed 12 Western senior executive expatriates. I referred to the concepts and models from the literature in the coding of my data analysis.
Central to my findings, and the primary contribution of this research, is the proposal of a dual cultural adjustment framework. It suggests that this adjustment can be explained with three components: background factors, dual cultural sensemaking, and managing in a dual cultural context. The background factors are in place before the expatriation and they influence how the expatriates perceive the dual cultural encounters that, in turn, affect how they act in a dual cultural setting.
As a researcher who is native Chinese and has worked with Western executives for several major MNCs, my contribution to the field is the development of a new, research-based framework that offers a new approach to expatriate study, adding functional knowledge and value to MNCs, scholars, and practitioners.

Key words: expatriate adjustment, dual cultural context, cross-cultural adaptation, explorative approach, coding, dual cultural sensemaking

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