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Young Global Professionals: The 'Hidden' Expats

By: Robin Pascoe Posted: April-17-2008 in
Robin Pascoe

Unlike many of their older counterparts, the new younger breed of global professional will move on a moment's notice and have no dependents to worry about. They are so eager for international experience they are willing to be hired on as 'locals', which just happens to coincide with business needs to cut expensive expat packages to the bone. But the trip isn't all plain sailing, as expat expert Robin Pascoe reports.

So a young person's transition to working in a foreign country and the ensuing culture shock should be easy, right? Wrong.

"The challenge of being a young expat professional today is not just working abroad but living abroad," says Margaret Malewski, a Canadian born in Montreal, who completed her university education in Poland, was based in Geneva and the Middle East for Proctor & Gamble for several years, and is now living in Vancouver. She is 28.

Malewski is currently writing a book for an audience she calls GenXpat in which she examines the needs of young global professionals, a group she can clearly identify with. She believes the culture shock of a new workplace, while formidable, is often outweighed by challenges on the home front.

"On the surface, GenXpat have lots of friends, go out every night, and have great jobs. But on a deeper level they are lonely, have no sense of roots or community, and can be lacking in depth and continuity in their lives as they bop around from airport to airport and city to city," says Malewski. "The challenge is really about creating a balanced, fulfilling, sustainable lifestyle."

Malewski identifies two key issues facing the younger generation. The first one is the fact that young professionals typically move alone and with little or no support. This, she believes, often leads to burnout.

"There is no partner at home to start building a social network while you are at work, on top of handling the relocation paperwork and logistics as well as the professional transition alone," she says.

While single, unaccompanied expats of all ages would likely identify with that challenge, it's doubtful they feel the burden of the second issue she highlights:

"Since they are often hired as locals, young people don't receive any of the usual support which goes into an expat package like language or cross-cultural training. They are like a 'hidden' expat, facing financial and cultural challenges at the same time," she believes.

And then there are the age-related, developmental challenges which don't vanish with relocation, such as finding and maintaining a relationship.

"Today's young expat professional may be single, dating, or living with someone but still at the stage where both partners are trying to prove themselves professionally and more likely to value an international assignment over a relationship," says Malewski. All of those relationships are difficult to sustain.

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