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Expatriate contact with a local host: an intervention to increase social support

One of the ways in which a local host can contribute to successful In Touch with the Dutchexpatriate assignments is through offering social support. Does a local host offer social support? And what types of support do they offer? This is the final blog post about the academic articles that have been published about my PhD research In Touch with the Dutch.

A local host offers social support
Thirty-three expats were put in touch with a local host for a period of nine months, and they were compared to 32 expats without host (read more about In Touch with the Dutch). They undertook all kinds of activities together, from going for drinks or dinner to a Spanish cooking workshop. We investigated the amount and types of social support they received through questionnaires as well as interviews and diaries. The study showed that expatriates with a host received significantly more social support from host nationals than did those without a host.

Types of support
A local host can offer social support in several ways. First of all, it was for many expats a way to meet Dutch people:

It has helped us because we have found it difficult to meet Dutch people socially outside my husband’s work. We are on friendly terms with our neighbours, but that is really just saying hello in the street. [P4Q3]

At the start of the contact, a local host can offer informational support for settling in the new country and understanding the new culture. Also, the host can accompany the expatriate to all kinds of activities, thereby offering social companionship.

It gave me an opportunity to socialise and share some plans to see people at the weekends. It has taken a long time to settle in and we haven’t made a lot of friends yet. [E43Q2]

After a while, when the contact is established and has deepened, a host can also offer emotional support.

At one point I was feeling concerned about mysocial-support work and I talked openly with them about it. They provided me with some websites that might be helpful – and listened when I needed to talk. [E45Q2]

Although the fourth type of social support, instrumental support, might be more often offered when the contact is well established (e.g. loaning something or offering to help out in a stressful situation), small scale offers such as translating a letter written in the foreign language could also occur early on.

We met so that I could become a typical Dutch woman, that is, buying a bike – here that’s a real sign of integration. [E40DW4]

A local host as a way to support expatriates

Many authors have pointed out the need for organisations to promote contact of their expatriate employees with host nationals. Expatriates received a significant amount of social support through the contact with their local host – whether emotional, informational, or instrumental support, or simply social companionship. Organisations can use a local host or buddy-system as a tool to support expatriates in dealing with the challenges posed by living and working in a foreign country, to enable them to perform well at their jobs.

References

Van Bakel, M.S., Van Oudenhoven, J.P. & Gerritsen, M. (in press) Impact of a local host on social support received by expatriates. Human Resource Development International

Photo by Ondřej Lipár via Flickr.

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