Blog Entries

How Can We Better Prepare People for the Field?

An Interview with Lauren Pinkston

My friend Lauren Pinkston is based in Laos and working on her dissertation in cross-cultural work, in particular, working with those involved in sex trafficking. I’ll have a follow-up interview related to her research, but today I’ve asked her to share some of what she’s learning about preparing people to live and work cross-culturally.

What drew you to this topic?

I'm interested in the difference in family dynamics and cultural acquisition of different types of expats in Laos: religious NGO workers, business expats, and diplomats/embassy employees. I want to know how a person's job reflects how much language learning they do, how long they stay in this country, how much they interact with local culture, how they educate their children, as well as their depression and anxiety outcomes.

What are you learning?

Wow—I could write pages on this! There are many factors that contribute to expatriate success. But I'll condense the most interesting findings for ChinaSource:

A. Research suggests that certain personality traits can predict expatriate success and effectiveness. The "Big Five" are: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness (McCrae and Costa, 1987).

B. The concept of cultural intelligence has also emerged, and theorists are claiming that certain persons have higher levels of cross-cultural sensitivity, communication, and effectiveness (Zhang, 2012).

C. Cross-cultural adjustment really involves multiple facets: (1) work adjustment, which encompasses supervision, responsibilities, and performance; (2) relational adjustment, which encompasses interaction with members of the host culture; and (3) general adjustment, which encompasses life conditions in the foreign country (Waxin & Panaccio, 2005).

D. Expatriates with high levels of self-efficacy are believed to interact with others more positively, which helps them extend their social networks. On the other hand, low self-efficacy leads to poor performance, absenteeism, and frequent job changes. It has been reported that self-efficacy enhanced job performance by up to 28%. Researchers have called for self-efficacy to be included in future measures of expatriate adjustment and job performance (Bhatti et al., 2013).

E. It is unknown whether previous international experience can predict expatriate success, although many articles identify this variable in a number of studies. Claus et al. (2011) argued that previous job experience helps an individual to develop knowledge, which is vital for job performance at the domestic level (as cited in Bhatti et al., 2013).

F. Finally, to increase the likelihood of expatriate success based on individual factors, it is necessary to involve the family of the candidate in the training process (Avril & Magnini, 2007; Haslberger & Brewster, 2008; Littrell et al., 2006; Mansor et al., 2014; McEvoy & Buller, 2013; Nam et al., 2014). When international human resource managers refer to adjustment problems, they have generally referenced the spouse, not the employee. In addition, spousal career issues and children’s education were two of the biggest challenges in recruiting qualified expatriate staff, with up to 80% of international assignment rejections being due to spouse career concerns.

How do you hope this information will help/make a difference?

Well, first I think we can never have enough research about cross-cultural adjustment and functioning on the field. The more we know about our interactions with culture and stress the more we can prepare for the hard days adjusting to overseas work. I'm a huge proponent of educating ourselves. We need to come at major transitions with a hand up!

But I think more importantly, we need to know that some people naturally step into cross-cultural adjustment with an advantage. Whether it's an aptitude for language study, cultural intelligence, extroversion, or any of the other indicators mentioned above, we need to be prepared to watch some people truly thrive in overseas assignments. Others of us, by our divine design, will struggle a bit more along the way.

Here's the home run: Comparing ourselves to one another as expatriates accomplishes absolutely nothing for the glory of God. 

When a friend or teammate is building loads of relationships with host country nationals, we don't look at that person with ministry jealousy. We praise God for making that person so friendly and easily relatable in her host culture. If a coworker is barely keeping his head above water at the office, we don't roll our eyes and wish he would go *home.* No, we seek ways to support and help that person become more effective in his work. 

If we can understand that some people will adjust cross-culturally more easily, we can find ourselves on the success spectrum and stop comparing ourselves. We can own who we are, and develop both our strengths and our weaknesses. Because the deal is, God didn't only call the strong. He is most glorified in the weak. And when we find our weaknesses, oh Lord, work some mighty powers through those weaknesses!

If you felt the call to move overseas, but your struggles with cross-cultural adjustment have made you start to question whether you misheard that call, take heart. You can rest well in the fact that you are perfectly human. We all have our days when we long to go back to ministry in our native tongue and in our own country. My dream, however, is that we would boast in our weaknesses. That we could put God on display through our shortcomings and say to the world, "Look! Look at what God can do through a normal person like me!" 

Lauren, thank you for taking time out of working on your own research to share with us. Your insights are invaluable and I expect to see echoes of your work being incorporated into preparing for and maintaining on the field, be it in Laos or China.

The information Lauren shared is part of a paper she wrote called "International Workers and Cross-Cultural Training: A Survey of Modern Expatriate Preparation." She’s happy to email the paper to anyone who is interested in the topic. Write to her at

Image courtesy of Thanaleng, Lao by Clay Gilliland, on Flickr

Amy Young

Amy Young

Amy Young, MA, LPC loves a good story. She served in China for nearly 20 years (plenty of stories there!). As the founder and CEO of Global Trellis, her current story involves helping great commission workers have tended souls and expanding skill sets. Amy has written six books for great …View Full Bio

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