Becoming a self-initiated expatriate

The past two months have seen a little less activity on Danish flagthis blog than I was planning on. The reason: I am soon going to be an expat myself! I have found a job as postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern Denmark. So from the 1st of September I am moving to Denmark and am becoming a self-initiated expatriate (SIE). Hence the new sub-category on my blog: Practice what you preach!

When talking about expats, it is important to define who you are talking about. One of the distinctions is between expats that are sent by their company and those who go of their own accord to work abroad for a while. There has been much research into the latter category in the past few years. The definition I used in my PhD research encompasses both categories: “An expatriate is anyone who works outside of his or her home country, with a planned return to that or a third country” (1). I chose this definition because in my research I focused on how to facilitate the adjustment process once abroad – and that is something both a company-sent expat and an SIE has to deal with.

Now I am becoming an expat myself. While I am very excited about my new job, the amount of things that you need to arrange is a bit daunting. Let alone moving to a country of which you don’t speak the language (although still within the EU), and saying goodbye for an undefined period to your home country and your friends and family. Some of these things are extra challenging for SIEs because they are more likely not to get full relocation support as compared to company-sent expatriates. It is important that organisations with a more and more internationally diverse workforce realise that they can do much do support their international employees both before and after arrival. Happily my university helped me find an apartment in Denmark because that is not easy to manage from abroad. The next thing is to arrange the move and figure everything out with regard to insurances, pension etc. So let me get back to it!

(1) Cascio, W. F. (2006). Global performance management systems. In G. K. Stahl & I. Bjorkman (Eds.), Handbook of Research in International Human Resource Management (pp. 176-196). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.


  1. Good Luck M. and, you’ll find something in your locker @umcn because I couldn’t say goodbye face to face this week.
    And, take een Dutch or Heineken flagg with you…That’s how we behave abroad!

  2. Best wishes for your upcoming expatriation experience. Mind the U-curve! In your self-initiated expatriation (SIE) you will join a large group of other academics. Indeed, the frequency of studies utilising the SIE construct appears to be motivated by a desire of academics to investigate themselves, as “many prominent authors writing on SIEs are either living in a country other than their home country or have spent considerable periods living and working outside their home country” (Doherty, Richardson, & Thorn, 2013: 103). Studies of SIEs include academics teaching in Northern Europe, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (Froese, 2012; Richardson & Mallon, 2005; Selmer & Lauring, 2010, 2011, 2012). However, the utility of such studies to management theory may be limited: Froese (2012) notes that the work of academics is relatively autonomous, can be conducted in a similar fashion across different countries, and that “SIEs with other types of jobs that require more interaction with locals and knowledge of the local context may experience more work adjustment problems than the members of the academic profession” (Froese, 2012: 1110). Geographical and cultural distance is also very limited in many of the workplaces described in SIE studies, and Suutari and Brewster (2000) therefore use the expression self-initiated foreign experience (SFE) in neighbouring countries, rather than self-initiated overseas experience in culturally and geographically distant
    countries, noting that “almost everyone can work in other countries without crossing a
    sea” (Suutari & Brewster, 2000: 435).
    Welcome to the club, Marian!

    • Thanks! You’re right, an academic expatriate differs quite a bit from the ‘average’ expat (if that even exists). My general interest is in contact with locals and how that can help expatriates function better in the workplace and feel more at home in the new host country. So although this might also be relevant for academic expats (especially in their private life), it is much more so for expats who need to work with host nationals. So I think I won’t be focusing that much on academic expatriates. Still, I think it’s good to have an expat experience myself if you’re doing research into the phenomenon (while I studied in France and in the UK, this is my first job abroad).

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